Colleges and Universities Join Together to Survive Enrollment and Financial Problems

TalkingEDUSmall.jpgFor a number of reasons, including changing demographics, tuition pricing, student loan debt and a move away from liberal arts in favor of science and math, a number of private colleges and universities are feeling the pinch when it comes to enrollments, one which could ultimately threaten their financial survival. Writing for The Hechinger Report, Timothy Pratt looks at some of the institutions joining forces to meet these challenges. One such alliance is the Atlanta University Consortium which brings together Clark, Morehouse, the Morehouse school of Medicine, Spelman College, and the International Theological Center. While this particular alliance dates back almost 90 years, the concept is suddenly gaining momentum among private colleges dependent on tuition revenue.


The goals of these alliances include reducing the cost of business, leveraging combined purchase power and, “collectively operating everything from shuttle buses to security and from course offerings to classroom space.” Other alliances discussed include one in Kingsport, Tennessee where four public and private colleges have joined together to create, “a $12 million dollar academic village,” the Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association.

Successes include:

  • increased productivity 
  • lowering expenses by “purchasing collectively”
  • improving student services
According to Loretta Parham, Director of the Woodruff Library, “The Atlanta schools, for example, get a far grander library by sharing the costs that they could not afford individually.” Students can enroll in classes at alliance schools and administrators can join forces to host job fairs.

Supporting and encouraging these efforts in collaboration is the Higher Education Systems and Services Consortium (HESS). “The HESS Consortium is focused on collectively lowering costs and increasing collaboration between specifically private colleges and universities in the area of administrative systems and services.” Negotiating pricing of ERP vendors and developing tools for comparing vendor pricing, features and benefits are just two of the ways HESS aids its members. In the past three years HESS membership grew from 3 to nearly 100, but  while the number of HESS members has increased, other institutions fearing a loss of independence have stayed away. Others have been put off by the $500 annual membership fee.

Pratt notes that these alliances don’t always succeed in bolstering struggling schools. The Colleges of Fenway, an alliance that brought together six campuses in Boston, Massachusetts was still not able to save Wheelock College from closing its doors.

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Additional Resources:

Between Collaboration and Merger: Expanding Alliance Strategies in Higher Education by Michael K. Thomas, New England Board of Higher Education for TIAA CREF

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