How Smaller Colleges and Universities Team up for Survival

This adapted content originally appeared on October 13th on PBS News Hour online, by Timothy Pratt of The Hechinger Report

More than half of small, private colleges lost or failed to gain students last year, according to the National Association of College and University Business Officers. The number of private, nonprofit colleges eligible to award federal financial aid declined last year by 33, the U.S. Department of Education reports.

Doing such things as purchasing collectively can save these institutions up to 25 percent on such pricey goods as energy and software, Fowlkes said.

He said many still resist abandoning their independence. But for some, money problems have become so critical that they may no longer have the choice. Three or four have dropped out of his consortium because they couldn’t even afford the $500 membership fee, Fowlkes said.

Other collaborations are statewide. The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities and the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, for example, focus largely on pooling the buying power of their members for everything from power to paper.

Now alliances are going national. The TCS Education System is a nonprofit with offices in Chicago and San Diego that helps its five member colleges from different regions save on such costs as financing, marketing and legal services.

This frees up funds for “student-facing services” such as new programs, which contribute to increasing enrollment, President Michael Horowitz said. Benefiting students is his organization’s main goal, he added. Pacific Oak and Saybrook colleges were both operating at deficits when they joined the alliance in 2010 and 2014, respectively, said Horowitz. They both now have growing enrollment, falling student-loan default rates and financial surpluses, he said.

“We don’t do this saying, ‘Look to this for financial success,’” said Horowitz. “But there’s a benefit for small schools to join together.”

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