In Otterbein, which enrolled about 2,600 college students final fall, Antioch discovered a companion that might function a feeder for its low-residency and on-line graduate applications, supplied at a small constellation of 4 campuses situated on the nation’s coasts. In Antioch, which enrolled about 3,400 college students final yr, Otterbein discovered an establishment that gives extra alternatives for its (principally) undergraduate college students to pursue graduate levels.
“All the oldsters that join with our universities and join with larger schooling might be enthusiastic about what we’re placing collectively and beginning and launching at this time,” John L. Comerford, president of Otterbein, mentioned throughout a information convention on his campus.
Information of mergers and acquisitions in larger schooling are hardly new and are more likely to improve in quantity in coming years as many faculties grapple with falling enrollment, elevated working prices, and pressures to restrict tuition will increase.
However the mergers and acquisitions of the previous decade, sometimes considered one of two varieties, have had their downsides. In a single situation, a public governing board combines two or extra faculties to create efficiencies of scale, however this results in cuts in applications and layoffs of college. In one other situation, a small, failing non-public faculty is absorbed by a bigger establishment, however this principally eliminates the id and autonomy of the acquired faculty.
The association between Antioch and Otterbein took greater than two years to develop and is supposed to outline a distinct form of relationship between two faculties, a win-win that creates a principally equal partnership somewhat than a takeover. The regulatory approvals are anticipated to take a yr, in keeping with a information launch, and new applications could possibly be accessible as quickly as the autumn 2023 semester.
The establishments have agreed, in precept, to what they’re calling a nationwide “system,” permitting every faculty to retain its title and diploma applications, whereas additionally collaborating on some graduate and continuing-education applications. Additionally they plan to create a 3rd entity to share the prices of some administrative features; one change that’s more likely to end in some employees discount. The end result, faculty leaders mentioned, is a partnership that’s meant to supply college students extra choices somewhat than fewer.
“We strategy this with the notion that one plus one plus one has so as to add as much as greater than three,” mentioned William R. Groves, chancellor of Antioch, which has its headquarters, however no campus, in Ohio.
Larger-education specialists mentioned the brand new association is promising and will set the stage for different establishments to pursue an identical relationship.
The variations are complementary, mentioned David Weerts, a professor of organizational management, coverage, and growth on the College of Minnesota. The enterprise additionally is smart, he mentioned, as a result of each faculties share an identical progressive mission, based mostly on social justice and fairness, and should not simply becoming a member of forces based mostly on geography.
For too lengthy, faculties have resisted this strategy, pondering that their particular id can be misplaced via any form of partnership, mentioned Rick Staisloff, a higher-education marketing consultant with the rpk Group.
However the monetary pressures on larger schooling, pushed largely by falling enrollments, makes this type of deal extra possible, he mentioned, in addition to extra palatable to high schools: “We’ll see much more exercise like this than we’ll mergers and acquisitions.”
Groves mentioned an affiliation has been a part of his plan for Antioch since he took over as chancellor in 2016. The college, with its numerous department campuses, was the surviving half of a earlier partnership with Antioch School, a residential liberal-arts faculty in Ohio that closed in 2008 and reopened three years later as a separate establishment.
Whereas the college stays, it has little endowment to maintain it, Groves mentioned, and wishes a gentle stream of undergraduates to assist maintain it financially.
In December 2020, a working group on the college, together with some 20 college members, recognized a bunch of practically 250 faculties who could be potential companions, mentioned Groves. By late January 2021, that checklist was whittled to 60, who had been contacted to see in the event that they had been , he mentioned. Inside three months, 13 of these faculties had responded with letters of curiosity.
The college additionally engaged the Affiliation of Governing Boards and the Royal Financial institution of Canada to verify the potential companions had been a superb match financially and had an identical mission.
They weren’t about to take simply anybody, Groves mentioned. Like Antioch, the companion faculty needed to be dedicated to social, financial, and environmental justice, and so they didn’t need an establishment that was in dire monetary straits. As well as, he mentioned, the working group set some boundaries over what they needed to protect within the relationship, together with the title of the college and their very own governing board.
“We needed a justice league, not only a enterprise proposition,” Groves mentioned.
Antioch settled on 4 finalists and met with representatives of every establishment in June of 2021, Groves mentioned, after which it continued discussions with two faculties, together with Otterbein.
One establishment was dominated out due to monetary issues, Groves mentioned in an e mail, regardless that its mission aligned with Antioch and it had attention-grabbing prospects for collaborative applications.
“Our concern,” he mentioned, “was the quantity of debt they carried and their declining enrollment numbers.”
Kenneth Baker, chair of Antioch’s M.B.A. program and co-chair of the college senate, mentioned his colleagues had plenty of issues in regards to the final result till they discovered the companion establishment was Otterbein. Selecting a university that has an identical mission eased worries that they must change their enterprise curriculum from one that’s centered on social welfare and the setting in addition to earnings.
For some Otterbein college, the introduced system is a step towards bettering Otterbein’s revenues after some lean years. “I feel the president has been clear which you could’t reduce your approach to success, so rising applications and innovating has been the theme,” mentioned Meredith C. Frey, a professor of psychology at Otterbein.
Frey mentioned she is worked up that her undergraduates may have a brand new pathway to a graduate diploma in that area. “We don’t have the flexibility to develop our personal graduate applications,” she mentioned.
Employment circumstances for college members will stay unchanged at every faculty, with tenure at Otterbein and multiyear contracts at Antioch, in keeping with faculty officers.
Conversations about these sorts of partnerships have gotten normalized amongst presidents and boards. They’re not ready for a disaster to pursue this.
Numerous work stays earlier than any new applications could be introduced. The accreditor that oversees each establishments has to approve the plans, as does the U.S. Division of Schooling. A system board should be established and set clear pointers about how every companion will contribute and, ideally, profit financially from the association.
There are dangers, too, mentioned Comerford, president of Otterbein, together with if the enterprise doesn’t work as nicely financially as they hoped. Each faculties are additionally involved about this association being perceived as a takeover by the opposite, he mentioned.
Larger-education advocates see the system announcement as an indication that partnerships are now not seen as an indication of desperation, a measure to be pursued as a last-ditch effort to avoid wasting the school.
Certainly, different establishments are already expressing curiosity in the opportunity of becoming a member of. Because the announcement, Groves mentioned, greater than a dozen faculties have reached out to discover membership.
Staisloff, the marketing consultant, mentioned what makes this association attention-grabbing and fairly totally different from different consortiums is that it may probably develop to different establishments throughout the nation.
Marjorie Hass, president of the Council of Impartial Schools, mentioned her membership has been very within the partnership between Antioch and Otterbein.
“Conversations about these sorts of partnerships have gotten normalized amongst presidents and boards. They’re not ready for a disaster to pursue this.”