Higher Ed Mergers – Buy Side

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The Change Leader’s Higher Education Mergers – Buy Side Advisory and Consulting


Higher Education buy-side refers to the institution initiating the merger or acquisition, seeking to expand its operations or offerings by acquiring another institution.


In today’s ever-evolving higher education ecosystem, many institutions find themselves seeking new avenues for growth and innovation. The strategic option of a merger or acquiring an institution holds immense potential to achieve these goals. 


At The Change Leader, we understand that these decisions are not merely transactions; they are transformative journeys that redefine the future of your institution and its faculty, staff, and students.


Benefits of Higher Ed Mergers and Acquisitions

Good strategic merger practices enable a higher education institution to: 

Grow enrollment by offering more and better programs and student services

Improve institutional reputation by creating best in class programs

Start up new programs for a fraction of the cost of growing them organically

Grow your institution’s revenues while diversifying your revenue streams

Enhance academic offerings by bringing together institutions with complementary strengths 

Create a new shared vision of institutional excellence across your campus

Streamline operations, improve research, and foster a collaborative environment 

Ensure the sustainability of your institution without tapping into your endowment 

Signs Your Institution Should Consider a Merger Process

There are many telltale signs that a college or university should consider an acquisition 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/just the way we do things.”


In reality, these are red flags that tell us that your institution needs a jumpstart to grow.


Your enrollment is stuck in neutral or trending backwards


Your institution's degree programs are not distinct from your competitors


You wish to jumpstart enrollment growth by offering more programs


Your institution's backend technology needs upgrading and improvement


Your institution is not receiving the recognition it deserves


You need to normalize faculty and administrative costs, including salaries


Your institution has too many "we can't touch that" programs that are holding back real growth


Your faculty are not open to new things and the shared governance model isn't working as it should


Your research isn't pulling in the grants that it should to improve your reputation and standing

The Three Primary Considerations

Three things university presidents on the buy-side must consider before a merger are:

  1. Cultural harmony: The buy-side needs to assess how effectively its values and practices can integrate with the acquired institution’s culture.
    Compatibility is crucial for a smooth transition and long-term success.

  2. Academic synergy: The buy-side must evaluate how the target institution’s programs, faculty expertise, and resources fit with its own academic goals and offerings. A strong strategic alignment is essential for maximizing the benefits of the merger.

  3. Financial viability: While always important, the buy-side may have more flexibility in absorbing some financial risk for strategic gain. However, they still need to ensure the target institution is not overly burdened with debt or struggling programs.

Best Practices for Higher Education Mergers - Buy Side

There are a number of higher education merger best buy-side practices that institutions should follow to ensure they are helping their institutions be successful in gaining enrollment and stature in the higher education marketplace. These include:

Higher Education Merger Best Practices Include:

Determining the value wanted with a merger, and finding acquisition targets that are synergistic and elevate the institution’s positioning

Doing due diligence on the institutions, including ensuring the two cultures are complimentary and will work together

Ensuring the boards of trustees of the two institutions see the value of merging and are on board and supportive

Determining who the leadership will be of the merged institutions and giving them the support they need to ensure a successful merger 

Creating a compelling shared vision for the merged institutions that will be a unifying rallying cry for faculty, staff, and administration

Designing the future organization structure of the merged institutions and ensuring personnel are empowered to do their jobs 

Working with the many regulatory and accrediting bodies to ensure all compliance requirements are satisfied 

Building and executing a strong communication plan that includes open forums and participation with key stakeholders when the timing is appropriate 

Having robust project management practices to track the multiple details of combining two separate institutions

Ensuring that there is a cadre of dedicated personnel who execute the merger process and ensure completion of the myriad details required

How We Help Our Clients

Dr. Drumm McNaughton and our higher ed merger experts provide colleges and universities with the opportunities to grow enrollment and increase institutional reputation through inorganic growth.


Our experts and partners can help guide you through the Higher Ed merger process and will be your guide whether you are looking for an institutional partner that will help you find potential merger partners, realign the org chart to gain efficiencies or build a shared vision around the process.


We know what is needed to get you through the merger process, including the regulatory portion with your accreditor and the Department of Education. 


Our consultants have helped higher education institutions not only get back on track but create strategic plans that ensure they stay in good standing in the future when it comes to mergers and regulatory compliance.


Some of the services we provide include:


  • Strategic Alignment: We meticulously assess the goals, strengths, and potential synergies of institutions, identifying how their union can create a stronger educational institution. This involves understanding the academic programs, research focus, and cultural attributes of each institution.

  • Design and Implement the New Organization: We work with your boards and key leaders to determine the new organization structure, including key leaders, and help you merge the functions and programs to come out of the process a stronger, more efficient institution.

  • Stakeholder Engagement: Transparent communication and stakeholder involvement are key to securing buy-in and ensuring a smooth transition. Our experts facilitate open dialogues among faculty, staff, students, leadership, and other key stakeholders to address concerns and align visions.

  • Cultural Integration: Uniting diverse institutional cultures requires sensitivity and strategic planning to create a unified environment that respects each institution’s heritage while fostering a collaborative spirit.

  • Navigating Regulatory Bodies: Navigating the complex regulatory landscape is essential to ensure compliance and maintain accreditation. Our regulatory experts guide institutions through the legal and compliance intricacies of higher education mergers and acquisitions.

  • Change Management: Our change management strategies ease the transition process and mitigate disruption, fostering a seamless integration of processes, systems, and people. 


Higher Education Merger (Buyer's Side) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why do higher education institutions merge - Buy-side?

There are multiple reasons why higher education colleges and universities acquire another institution. One of the primary ones is that the 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.

What are the steps to acquiring another higher ed institution?

Generally, there are five steps for your university or college to acquire another institution. 

  1. Identifying potential acquisition targets. There are multiple considerations for this step, including the vision for the acquisition, institutional synergies and compatibilities, financial obligations of the acquiree, and what you want to accomplish by acquiring another institution.

  2. Signing the LOI and conducting due diligence. Once a potential acquisition target is determined and the boards of the two institutions are in agreement, a letter of intent is generally signed. This enables you as the acquirer to do your due diligence to ensure that everything the acquiree says is correct.

  3. Contacting your regulatory bodies. Higher ed mergers are significantly more complex due to the various federal, state, and accreditation compliance and regulatory bodies that oversee institutions. Each of these has its own regulatory standards that must be met.

  4. Closing the deal. This is probably the most anti-climactic of all the steps in a typical acquisition. The two institutions sign the agreement and exchange whatever the terms of the agreement say.

  5. Post-merger restructuring. This may be the most complex of all the five steps in that major organizational changes must be made. This is one of the main areas in which The Change Leader assists institutions with their mergers. Some of these include:

    •  Determining who will be on the governing board.

    • Selecting the new president

    • Designing the new organization structure, e.g., who will be the new Provost, deans, etc.

    • What programs will be retained and what will be eliminated?

    • What positions will be retained what will be eliminated, and the terms for those released?

    • What services are retained?


What services does The Change Leader provide for mergers (buy-side)?

Higher education acquisitions  can be very complex, especially  when dealing with the regulatory and accreditation bodies and the post-merger restructuring. The Change Leader leads the way in providing the necessary tools and expertise to help you understand the path forward, as well as assisting in the post-merger restructuring and change management efforts.

Whether it be developing your new org chart, determining which programs to keep and which to teach out, combining staff and eliminating overhead, or navigating the myriad regulatory bodies, The Change Leader’s team of higher ed experts can help you get to the other side of a merger so you realize the efficiencies and expertise that drove you to the acquisition in the first place. 

Do you have questions or want to better understand how you can use the acquisition of another institution to drive enrollment growth and institutional reputation?



Do You Want To Grow Your Higher Education Institution?

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