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Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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Trends in Higher Education: Consolidation, Collaboration and Partnerships


The U.S. higher education sector faces an uncertain future. Costs continue to climb, and enrollments, state funding and philanthropic giving are on the decline. In December 2017, Moody’s Investors Service downgraded the sector to a negative outlook.
 
In response to these challenges, many colleges, universities and other institutions are exploring opportunities for collaboration, partnership or consolidation. When planned and executed properly, these ventures can result in a number of benefits for partnering organizations, including operational efficiencies, better access to funding, stronger mission impact, and expansion to new markets and populations.
 
Here’s a quick overview of how the higher education landscape is shaping up for 2018.
 
Mergers and acquisitions. Predictions of merger and acquisition activity in higher education are all over the board. Some pundits predict a significant uptick in 2018, while others say the increase will be marginal at best. The mergers and acquisitions that do happen in 2018 will be “far more strategic than in previous years,” said Terah Crews, higher education strategist at Entangled Solutions, in a Q&A by EdSurge.
 
One thing is sure: All eyes are on the Purdue University acquisition of Kaplan University. The deal would give Purdue access to a sizeable adult student population, while the online university gains the cachet of a respected name.
 
Academic alliances. A growing number of academic consortia are popping up across the country. By sharing resources and faculty, they open up new opportunities for their students that might be cost-prohibitive otherwise. For example, through its Center for the Study of World Languages, the Five College Consortium in Massachusetts offers classes in 40 less commonly taught languages, which students can attend via videoconference.
 
Other collaborations tackle important societal issues. The Virginia Cyber Range is a Virginia Tech-led collaboration between 10 Virginia colleges and universities that aims to make the state a national resource for cybersecurity education.
 
There can also be strength in numbers when it comes to funding. In 2013, the Colorado Helps Advanced Manufacturing Program, comprising nine academic institutions, received $25 million from the U.S. Department of Labor to create courses and certificates focused on technology-based manufacturing.
 
Corporate partnerships. The relationship between universities and corporate employers has always been an important one. Over the years, that relationship has taken on new facets. The University of Virginia promotes opportunities such as research collaboration and joint application for grants, licensing of research and technology, and development of custom executive education programs.
 
In the for-profit world, corporations seek to streamline operations by outsourcing certain functions. Corporate learning is no exception. Expect to see more educational institutions, including not-for-profits, partnering with corporate learning and development programs.
 
Shared investments in technology. While in some ways technology can be seen as a threat, especially for colleges and universities losing enrollments to online universities and open educational resources (OER), it also is a key ingredient of success. Expect to see institutions striking deals with technology companies to fund programs such as digital learning and development of active-learning classrooms.
 
In 2017, Ohio State University announced its collaboration with Apple to launch a university-wide digital learning initiative, complete with iPads for first-year students, an Apple-designed iOS design laboratory, and “opportunities for students to learn coding skills to enhance their career-readiness in the app economy.”
 
Look Before You Leap
Choosing the best path for your college or university is not a simple matter. Consolidations and partnerships are fraught with some potential pitfalls, from mismatched missions to organizational complexity.
 
You must consider the needs of your target market and your potential partner's.  If yours is an urban institution with access to lots of young professionals, then you might explore opportunities to develop executive education programs, for example. Universities that compete heavily for students with neighboring institutions might propose an academic alliance.
 
Explore opportunities early on, before funding challenges or competitive pressures force a hasty decision. By considering your options when your institution is in a position of strength, you will make the decision that is best for your students and other stakeholders.

 

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