The past 4 years have seen 95 college mergers, the most in a generation. Most colleges don’t merge entirely by choice but are motivated by a declining list of ways to keep doors open. Between the COVID-19 pandemic, aging demographics, and the shifting national attitude towards higher education, colleges are struggling to compete over a smaller pool of students.
Unless trends reverse dramatically, as many as 500 4-year colleges are at risk of closure in the near future.
How does a merger keep colleges alive?
The benefits vary by the type of merger taking place. Mergers between nearby schools can bring economies of scale and help campuses expand locally. For example, in 2021, Delaware State University announced plans to acquire neighboring Wesley College. In the digital realm, universities can expand their online offerings by acquiring small online institutions, as Purdue did with Kaplan.
On the global stage, joint-ventures with foreign universities can serve international students and expand study abroad. NYU Shanghai is a collaborative effort between New York University and East China Normal University. While there are many variations, the most common deals take place between small schools (fewer than 5,000 students) located in the same state. Mergers consolidate resources and expand the offerings of each campus involved.
The Rigorous College Merger Process
Mergers go through a rigorous approval process before they can be finalized. When a merger is proposed, each institution’s board of trustees and accrediting bodies must approve. Though they don’t formally vote, a college’s business partners, faculty, and alumni community have a strong influence on the outcome of a college merger proposal.
After Northeastern University and Mills College announced merger plans, Mills College alumni filed a lawsuit to stop it. Mergers may face opposition due to their potential to erase a campus’s identity or dilute the voice of students and faculty leaders.