There is news out today that Hampshire College in Amherst might not admit a freshman class this fall. The college has said it is exploring a possible mergerwith another institution and it is delaying plans for fall admission until there is a clearer picture of the school's future. Hampshire College, like many small colleges, is feeling financial pressure. Paul Bockelman is a Hampshire College alum and the town manager of Amherst. Bockelman spoke with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the possible merger. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: So as town manager, did you have a whiff of this in advance?

Paul Bockelman: We have always been in communication with Hampshire College, and they're very good at communicating on this. They've kept it pretty tight until today.

Howard: But you knew about this in advance?

Bockelman: Not about not admitting a new freshman class.

Howard: Well Hampshire is what some might call a quirky school: no grades, students designing their own majors. We're now in a STEM and STEAM-centered atmosphere, with colleges shifting away from humanities and building giant science complexes. Will there be a place for a school like Hampshire?

Bockelman: I think Hampshire actually models the future of education, in the sense that you don't progress through the college through normal box-checking by taking classes. You have to pass a series of exams and show your proficiency in various subject matters.

Howard: A lot of financially-stressed small liberal arts schools like Hampshire have been looking to merge in recent years, or shutting down altogether, like Mount Ida in Newton. That college caught a lot of heat for shutting down rather abruptly and leaving students stranded. It seems that Hampshire is going in a different direction by being very deliberate in its process. Talk about that, as Amherst's town manager.

Bockelman: So I applaud the college for being proactive in communicating their future planning goals. I think that sends a signal to their community and to the broader public that they're really looking to, in essence, crowdsource the solutions for education. Nearly 50 years ago, Hampshire was started on a dream of what higher education could look like. They had this crazy idea to put a college in the middle of an apple orchard in South Amherst. Then it grew and became a pretty dynamic force in higher education. So I think that this might be the next phase of Hampshire College.

Howard: You are in the Five College area. Are any of those schools possible prospects for a merger with Hampshire?

Bockelman: I don't know about prospects for a merger. As you know, we also have Amherst College and the University Massachusetts located in Amherst. I don't think that they'd be looking to expand their footprint in this town. I think Hampshire will be really open to lots of different models. I don't think they'll just say, 'We are Smith College West,' or 'Mount Holyoke College North.'

Howard: If Hampshire College does not survive, what kind of impact will it have in Amherst? What do you see happening?

Bockelman: Hampshire is one of the largest property owners and one of the largest employers in Amherst. They have about 1,500 employees, so losing those jobs and having uncertainty for the land will be pretty dramatic.

Howard: As this news has been coming out today, what’s been the reaction of people who you work with in Amherst?

Bockelman: It was not a surprise, necessarily, because the challenges that are facing small colleges are just obvious to everyone. And I think a lot of small liberal arts colleges are having trouble, especially when you have a limited endowment like Hampshire does. Hampshire has a balanced budget. They project a balanced budget next year. They have very little debt. So I think that they have been well-managed over the years. But at this point, I think they're looking forward and saying, 'What does the future hold when there's declining enrollment across the board?'

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Howard: The school is only about 50 years old, and you were in one of the earlier classes. How is it for you personally?

Bockelman: It's very difficult, because it's a place that I love. My oldest and dearest friends are from Hampshire College. People will always tell you that graduates of Hampshire College are almost always the most interesting people they meet. And there have been a lot of people who have gone out and done remarkable things. But I think we're getting ahead of ourselves in a sense, because Hampshire hasn’t announced that it's closing, it's just announcing that it's looking at a new strategic partnership and looking for a new path going towards the future. I think that they're really going to find a path forward that's going to be successful. I mean, I don't like the news. I'd rather have stability. But I think given where they are economically, this is a wise way to go forward.

Howard: And I'm sure you'll be working with them as Amherst's town manager, to help them survive.

Bockelman: We care a lot about the college, and we care a lot about the students at the college. We want it to thrive, not just survive.

Howard: That's Paul Bockelman, town manager of Amherst and a Hampshire College alum. The school says that because of financial pressures, it's looking to merge with another institution, and it may not admit a freshman class this fall. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.