Higher Ed Mergers – Alliances and Partnerships

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The Change Leader's Higher Education Alliances and Partnership Consulting

In today’s ever-evolving higher education ecosystem, institutions often find themselves seeking new avenues for growth and innovation. The strategic options of alliances and partnerships hold immense potential to achieve these goals, especially if you are looking to become part of a consortium that enables you, to reduce expenses, become more efficient, and expand your course offerings to give your students more opportunities. 


Benefits of Higher Ed Partnerships and Alliances

Good  strategic alliances and partnership practices enable a higher education institution to: 

Enhance academic offerings by bringing together institutions with complementary strengths

 Leverage many of the benefits of an acquisition without the regulatory burden or expenses 

Leverage resources and cut overhead costs through sharing backend services

Create a “system-like” consortium without the expenses or oversight burdens 

Streamline operations, improve research opportunities, and foster a collaborative environment 

Create new revenue streams that improve your institution’s bottom line

Create a new shared vision of institutional excellence across your campus  

Ensure the financial health and sustainability of the institution

Signs Your Institution Should Consider an Alliance or Partnership

There are many telltale signs that an institution should consider an alliance or partnership. Unfortunately, many of them are things that institutions have done and/or lived with for many years, saying “This is our institutional culture, it’s  just the way we do things.” In reality, these are red flags that tell us that your institution is at risk of closing.


You have excessive infrastructure costs that are hurting your bottom line


Your programs are missing key elements that would make them more attractive


You are missing out on enrollment because of limited offerings in key areas


Your institution wants to compete for greater research grants


Your institution doesn't have the expertise or staff needed to offer key student services


Your institution would like to expand its academic offerings for less cost


Your institution desires to leverage other resources without having to go through a merger


Your institution needs more faculty but cannot afford to hire the senior tenured faculty needed for key program offerings


You need expand your offerings but do not want to go through the full regulatory review required with a change of ownership

Best Practices for Higher Education Alliances and Partnerships

There are a number of higher education alliances and partnerships best practices that institutions should follow to ensure they are helping their institutions be successful in gaining new enrollments, improving programmatic offerings, and reducing infrastructure costs. These include:

Higher Education Alliance and Partnership Best Practices Include:

Create a consortium that enables your institution to share faculty and courses to offer new programs to potential students

Improve your institution’s enrollment by offering new courses at a fraction of the cost of organically building them 

Share student services functions such as financial aid experts that allow for cost sharing across institutions

Create more financial efficiencies by leveraging system-like features with other consortium members

Achieve merger-like efficiencies without the regulatory burdens associated with a merger or acquisition

Share backend infrastructure that enables your institution to share costs with other institutions

How We Help Our Clients

The Change Leader provides higher education alliance and partnership experts who can help guide you through the development of consortiums as well as the regulatory and compliance processes needed. Our merger experts will be your guide whether you are looking to establish an alliance, partnership, or a full merger or acquisition


We’ve been there before – our partners and team have worked on multiple projects such as yours and can help evaluate potential partners, examine your curriculum to see where it can be improved, and develop plans to move forward toward higher enrollment. Plus, with our experience in accreditation, we can help you navigate the complex world of regulatory compliance. 


Higher Education Alliance and Partnerships Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What are the advantages of entering into a partnership or alliance with another institution or group of institutions?

Higher education alliances and partnerships can be very beneficial for institutions that wish to increase their programmatic and student services offerings, reduce backend costs through sharing services and/or technology, or conduct joint research with other institutions. 


  • Partnerships help institutions improve their services to their students by “partnering” with other institutions to provide services they would not be able to because of costs of staffing and other reasons.

    • Two examples of this are Kentucky State and Bethany College, which have adopted a novel approach to administering federal financial aid by outsourcing their financial aid offices. This enables them to offer federal financial aid at a fraction of the cost of hiring the staff to administer these programs. 

  • Alliances serve higher education institutions in multiple ways to reduce costs and increase enrollment. Three ways come to mind.

    1. Increasing programmatic offerings and growing enrollment. An example of this is the University of Bridgeport and Connecticut State, who are sharing courses and faculty to allow students to take courses for full credit at the other institution. This is done as a way to increase enrollment. 

    2. Research innovation. Many institutions form research consortia to bid for and work on larger research projects. One example of this is the research grant awarded to a consortium of the University of Colorado and Virginia Polytechnic and State University by the United States Space Force.

    3. Innovation in education. This is an example of how institutions come together to share innovation to improve their state. One exemplar of this is REP4, an initiative started by Grand Valley State University and Dr. Philly Mantella. It consists of seven institutions that share innovation and ideas to improve their institutions and higher education. 

Why are alliances and partnerships considered to be "mergers light"?

Higher education alliances and partnerships are sometimes considered “merger-light” because they don’t usually need the increased regulatory compliance that a full-on merger or acquisition encounters.


For example, when an institution undergoes a “change of ownership,” i.e., a merger or acquisition, the newly created institution must receive approval from the Department of Education (in the case of Title IV authorization), institutional and programmatic accreditation bodies, NC-SARA (in the case of online programs), and state licensure bodies, at a minimum.


In the case of an alliance or partnership, there usually isn’t a need for Department review, and depending on what the alliance or partnership entails. there may not be a need for accreditation review. Most of the changes can be approved through your accreditors’ “substantive change” process.


However, each case may be different depending on the structure of the deal, and if you are contemplating entering into one of these arrangements, you are urged to contact your accreditation bodies for their guidance. 


There are multiple reasons why higher education institutions partner. One of the primary reasons is that an institution wants to attract more students by offering a greater range of programs and/or improve the reputation of the institution and/or its programs.


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