Mergers may be key to keeping small colleges afloat, study suggests

Report encourages higher ed leaders to reassess their views on mergers and acquisitions

Small colleges at risk of closing may benefit from merging with other institutions, Jeffrey Selingo argues in the Washington Post.

Selingo supports his argument by citing a study that he contributed to researching. According to the study, more than 800 institutions show signs of closing. Risk factors include enrollment under 1,000 students, tuition discounts of more than 35%, and high debt payments for campus updates. About 80% of these institutions in jeopardy are colleges with fewer than 1,000 students. Almost all of the 72 colleges that have shuttered in the past decades also had enrollments under 1,000 students. 

Popular tuition models and enrollment incentives, compared

While mergers and acquisitions have not been a popular topic in higher education, Selingo and his fellow researchers suggest that now may be the time to embrace them.

Leaders in higher education are also warming to mergers and acquisitions, according to a survey conducted for the study. Eighty-five percent of campus leaders said they have taken part in some kind of collaboration, but pushback from trustees, faculty members, students, and alumni remains the biggest obstacle to developing partnerships.

However, Jarrett Carter argues in Education Dive that small colleges can thrive—if they make smart decisions about their academic programs and enrollment goals. He points to Fisk University and Sweet Briar College as examples of institutions that have found strategies for succeeding in spite of obstacles (Selingo, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 9/7; Carter, Education Dive, 9/9). 

Why enrollment should be at the center of your next academic program review

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