There are fewer colleges today than there were 4 years ago. Both closures and mergers have reached their highest peaks in a generation. COVID-19 created a short term crisis that furloughed staff and forced online delivery onto students and faculty, that’s true. Yet in many cases, the pandemic exacerbated existing problems in higher education. Changing demographics and shifting sentiments regarding college are resulting in over a million fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs. If a college can’t compete and it doesn’t want to close, its last option is to merge with another school.
How do college mergers work? Any proposed merger must be approved by each organization’s board of trustees and the colleges’ accrediting bodies. Outside the formal process, business partnerships, faculty, and alumni groups have a strong influence in how likely a merger is to succeed. Most mergers take place between small schools (less than 5,000 students at each) located in the same state. While they are more common at private schools, public universities can also use them to consolidate resources. For example, 6 of Pennsylvania’s public universities are merging into 2 new universities this year. Mergers have their own risks, but most consider them preferable to shutdown.