Are college mergers worth it?

'Sometimes you're trying to take an apple and merge it with an orange, and you don't get anything that's good'

College mergers can help separate institutions become stronger by combining their resources, but consolidation may not offer long-term benefits, Jarrett Carter writes for Education Dive

A number of public institutions have either recently merged or are planning to join forces as a way to save money in the midst of increasing state spending obligations, as well as to become more competitive.

Facing deficits, both Johnson State University and Lyndon State University in Vermont are planning a merger to make faster revenue gains. 

Since November 2011, 12 campuses in Georgia have consolidated. Most recently, Albany State University (ASU) merged with Darton State College. ASU became the sole institution, with a new mission statement, leadership, and framework for service.

"We are creating an institution of nearly 9,000 students, which would be the largest institution of higher education in Southwest Georgia," says University System of Georgia Chair Neil Pruitt. "We have the opportunity to transform how we serve the community and the region."

But consolidation is not always the right move. In Massachusetts, Salem State University and the Montserrat College of Art decided against a merger last fall after realizing that the costs of upgrades, restructuring faculty salary structure, and reducing student aid outweighed any financial benefits of merging. 

In 2011, Louisiana state officials considered merging the University of New Orleans (UNO) and Southern University at New Orleans, a historically black institution. However, many advocates viewed the merger as harmful to black students, and black elected officials helped to kill the bill. Even though there has been talk of trying to consolidate the schools again, UNO President Peter Fos says he doesn't support a merger.

"I've had people ask me if there's a consolidation plan, and there isn't," Fos told the Baton Rouge Advocate.  "I'm not sure the cost of educating a student would change ... Sometimes you're trying to take an apple and merge it with an orange, and you don't get anything that's good" (Carter, Education Dive, 8/1). 

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