As pressures continue to squeeze American higher education, some campuses are looking to alternatives beyond closing or conducting a queen sacrifice. One option is merging institutions. Inside Higher Ed points to recent cases of merged campuses, suggesting that number might be on the rise.
The drivers for mergers are the same ones leading to queen sacrifices, and my readers know well the litany:
Financial difficulties, declining enrollments and a shrinking number of high school graduates in multiple U.S. regions — such as the Midwest and Northeast…
How would a merger help, while avoiding deep cuts to curriculum? Mostly by combining support mechanisms. Smaller institutions, for example, can realize better economies of scale if they share HR, IT, office support, security, and other functions. Sharing campus space can make more sense in an age of shrinking populations. And non-overlapping faculty proficiencies can expand the new entity’s curriculum and research agenda.
A physical merger is online learning’s doppelganger. Inter-institutional digital collaboration can bring similar benefits, starting with sharing information services. Shared online classes, like the ones so ably offered through the Council of Independent Colleges, can expand curricular offerings.
If I’m right about these twin strategies, merger and digital collaboration, it’ll be interesting to see which ones are more appealing to which campuses. Put another way, what’s more scary: diluting your identity by fusing with another school, or seriously extending your campus online?
Back to the IHE article: Kellie Woodhouse does an excellent job of outlining the benefits, challenges, and complexities of mergers, from troubled alumni to office redundancy. Read it through. The comments, too, are interesting.
I noted mergers last year. This might be a slow trend, only gradually rising.