Mr. Kline said the merger was the best possible option to ensure the future viability of Watkins, which was founded in 1885 and offers courses in graphic design, cinematography, video production, studio art, interior design and photography.
Under the merger, which has been approved by the boards of both institutions, Watkins students will transfer to Belmont’s campus in the fall and Watkins property will be sold to create an endowment to support scholarships for Watkins students.
“We have known for some time that critical changes needed to take place for Watkins’s mission and legacy to endure,” Mr. Kline said in a statement. “While we are unable to disclose specific financial information, our lack of an endowment and low enrollment numbers meant the future of Watkins was unstable and unsustainable.”
For Belmont, the acquisition represents its latest expansion into arts education.
In 2018, it acquired O’More College of Design in Franklin, Tenn. The university has also raised its profile nationally. It is scheduled to host the third and final presidential debate in October, and it hosted a presidential debate in 2008.
Once a small Baptist university, Belmont severed its ties with the state Baptist convention in 2007 after a debate about whether the board could include non-Baptist trustees. It now calls itself an ecumenical Christian university with no denominational ties.
Much of the concern on the Watkins campus focused on the future of L.G.B.T.Q. students.
In 2010, Belmont University drew widespread attention when the women’s soccer coach abruptly left after telling the team that she was a lesbian, and that she and her partner of eight years, the team’s former assistant coach, decided to have a baby.
At the time, the university did not comment on the circumstances of Ms. Howe’s departure, nor did Ms. Howe, citing contractual reasons. Both referred to it as a “mutual agreement.”