Recently, I had the chance to participate on a panel at Antioch College. They relaunched a program, a fond memory for many Antiochians, called Friday Forum. Our forum focused on the Financial Sustainability of Liberal Arts Colleges in the 21st Century.
The moderator asked me to reflect on the financial situation facing colleges and universities across southwest, Ohio. I apologized upfront for the gloomy picture I would initially have to paint: 1) declining state support for public universities coupled with increase in unfunded mandates; 2) extremely competitive, therefore expensive, environment for recruiting students; 3) tuition discount rates rising north of 50% on average (north of 75% for some; north of 90% for others) and climbing steadily; 3) more than 70% decline in applications from international students (for some campuses, their cash cow) due to the presidential race and election results; 4) escalating costs of infrastructure and general operations; and 5) poor decision making by boards and administrations.
These scenarios, and many others, are stressing already tight budgets at colleges and universities, and certainly contributing momentum to the disruption of its business model.
In the face of this reality, the value-proposition for collaboration is rising. However, we need to advance beyond your typical practice of collaboration; the time for hyper-collaboration has arrived. While purchased goods and services saved campuses a few dollars in the past, these strategies are not enough to transform the business model. Higher education must transcend traditional cost savings methods by forging deep partnerships.
What does hyper-collaboration look like? It is a deep partnership that is resilient, substantial in cost savings or revenue generation, and mutually beneficial to all parties. It can include sharing faculty, facilities, and courses. It can include a research collaborative that garners significant external support. It can be the centralization of backend services. It could be a tuition management system for multiple campuses. It could be…whatever we can challenge ourselves to envision and implement!
In the case of Antioch, there is definite opportunity to partner with several nearby liberal arts colleges, as well as look for partnership opportunities with the Village of Yellow Springs, a uniquely charming and progressive community.