The Pacific Northwest College of Art and Willamette University have agreed to merge.

The institutions jointly announced the news last Thursday night. The agreement is expected to gain accreditation and regulatory approval early next year.

The art school will become one of the university's four colleges. Though Willamette University is located in Salem, PNCA will maintain its staff and campus in Portland.

PNCA has struggled financially in recent years. During the pandemic, the school laid off 9% of its staff, furloughed another 15% and indefinitely postponed its search for a new president. The college's former president, Don Tuski, left for the College for Creative Studies in Detroit in spring 2019.

Even before the pandemic, small higher education institutions have struggle to stay afloat. Recently, other small Portland-area schools have folded entirely, including Marylhurst and Concordia universities. After several failed attempts at a merger with PNCA, Oregon College of Art and Craft closed last year.

But the merger appears to be something of a lifeline for PNCA during an uncertain time for higher learning and art institutions, and the economy in general.

"The decision by PNCA to enter into discussions with Willamette University was intentional and strategic for the college's future," PNCA board chair Scott D. Musch said in the announcement. "We are confident as PNCA joins Willamette that the college's legacy and long-standing commitment to our students will be further enhanced."