Joining consortiums and consolidating services with other colleges can save institutions money and improve the quality of services at the same time, Sherrie Negrea reports for University Business.
Schools are sharing health insurance, faculty recruitment, and information technology.
"Consortia are really fundamental to our lives these days," says Mary Case, a University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) librarian. "I think they will be with us for a while."
Consortiums enable schools to save money while also freeing up funds and personnel to target other priorities.
"It's all about collaborating and creating economies of scale," says Edward Summers, executive director of Brooklyn Education Innovation Network, which has nine members and focuses on creating internship opportunities for students. "Everything we're doing allows the institutions to save resources sand divert them to other areas they need to fund."
While the cost to join a library consortium may be thousands of dollars, administrators say the benefits are worth it.
For example, Depaul University's library paid $627,000 to join the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries. But leaders estimate that they receive at least $2 million in services and products from the consortium.
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Furthermore, institutions may be able to get a discount on services after joining a consortium. The list price for the Association of Computing Machinery access is $20,600—but because the UIC Library is a member of the Greater Western Library Alliance, a 36-member group, they paid just $5,100.
In 2009 Smith College, Hampshire College, and Mount Holyoke College—all members of Five Colleges Incorporated—consolidated their police departments. Sharing services allowed the department to provide more training to its officers and create more sophisticated procedures for them to follow, earning the new force its own accreditation. Additionally, officers are now able to collaborate on investigations that stretch across all multiple campuses.
"As life gets more complex and students get more complex, there's just more and more need for the policies and procedures and training to be in place," says Shannon Gurek, Mount Holyoke treasurer and VP for finance and administration.
Six schools under the Colleges of Fenway moved their computer networks to a central optic hub in downtown Boston that linked the campuses to large internet providers. The schools are able to negotiate collectively for better prices and know that no matter what happens on campus, administrators can still send out emergency alerts because the infrastructure is safe.
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In 2010, the Lehigh Valley Association of Independent Colleges began a self-funded insurance program for the employees of its six member schools. Alone, the institutions were too small to offer such benefit programs, but together, they had enough employees to launch one.
The original three member schools have saved $2 million each since the plan began.
"The consortium has allowed us to accomplish some things that we could not accomplish on our own and to realize some efficiencies and savings that we could not achieve if we were acting independently," says Wheaton College's Brian Douglas, who serves as executive vice president of fine and administration (Negrea, University Business, accessed 4/20).
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