Thursday, December 31, 2009

Proposed Mississippi University Mergers

Several mergers of state universities have been proposed by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour in what he suggests could be a cost-savings measure to the tune of about $35 million. Included in these mergers would be the combination of Alcorn State University (Lorman) and Mississippi Valley State University (Itta Bena) into Jackson State University. All three institutions are historically black. Mississippi University for Women would also be merged with Mississippi State University. The proposed mergers have drawn a significant amount of debate and criticism from alumni and community members as well as media exposure. Supporters of the historically black institutions (HBCUs) have been extremely vocal in that the universities should not be merged or closed. Supporters of the Mississippi University for Women have been similarly vocal. The plan seems to lack the necessary support in the legislature.

Mergers proposed from outside of the institutions always have the hardest time being accepted. It tends to be viewed by the institutions that the merger is being done “to” them and not “by” them. Institutional buy-in is essential to positively effect a merger, and a key means of achieving this buy-in is by having the impetus to merge coming from the institutions. Factor in the notion that these mergers would be controversial due to the institutions’ mission of supporting underserved populations and this proposal likely will not have the political will to get off the ground.

The notion of whether or not HBCUs are still needed today in American higher education is an entirely separate debate. Governor Barbour is suggesting these mergers due to a desire for cost savings – a reason that should not be behind any merger, at least not as a primary consideration. The higher education merger literature suggests that cost savings results from mergers are inconclusive to limited at best, and that institutions that come together out of positions of strength are more likely to achieve lasting, positive results.

Recent articles on the subject are listed below.

Miss. HBCU merger faces hurdle (

Opposition to university mergers strong (Jackson Free Press)

Universities fear effects of merger talk (

Plan to merge black colleges meets with ire (USA Today)

ASU alumni: Merger talk hurts hiring (

Amid unity message, W supporters oppose merger (The Dispatch)

Rep. Flaggs says build up universities (The Vicksburg Post)

MSU's Keenum downplays merger talk (

Update on USU-CEU Merger

A memorandum of understanding has been accepted by the Utah Board of Regents to merge the College of Eastern Utah with Utah State University. This step in the process allows the legislature to move forward in January with formal merger approval.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

College of Eastern Utah, Utah State University merger

The Utah Board of Regents approved a memorandum of understanding Friday outlining the merger between the College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University. This merger has been under discussion for more than a year, and the final approval step will come from the state legislature in early 2010. An attempt to merge the institutions in last year's legislative session failed, but unanswered questions were addressed in recent months.

The move is suggested as a way to increase educational opportunities for students, but it is not proposed as a cost-savings measure. The CEU campus will be governed by a chancellor appointed by USU, but will retain its own mascot, school colors and athletics program. A new tuition rate scale will be applied to CEU upper-division courses and faculty will be grandfathered into USU's tenure track system. The merger is slated to become effective on July 1, 2010.

Of interesting note in this merger is that it is not what I would describe as a "complete" merger. This can happen on more traditional campuses that provide a broad array of student and campus services such as student organizations and intercollegiate athletics. This is opposed to a merger of a comprehensive institution with a free-standing professional school, such as a medical school, that does not have its own identity linked to colors, mascots and athletics. While these two institutions are becoming linked legislatively, administratively and to some extents academically, there is an amount of individuality being retained by CEU. With the CEU name continuing along with USU on the campus and the school mascot and colors and athletics program, some may see the identity of CEU as the same as always; business as usual. General student opinion about the merger seems mixed. Most sentiments from students show concern related to the small classes and one-on-one attention from faculty. Some may feel a sense of pride for the "old" CEU and the colors and mascot that accompany these feelings, but I wonder if some students would like to become more of a part of their new, larger, more prestigious institution. Seeing the USU name, colors and mascot on campus would do more for students' identity with the "surviving" institution in the merger. As a student, I think I would want to refer to and take pride in my alma mater as USU, the more widely-recognized and prestigious institution when applying for jobs, etc. While the institutions are 200 miles apart, and it is unlikely that too many students would regularly travel between the campuses for athletic events, the identity that can be developed for the larger, merged institution can be powerful in students continuing on to other USU undergraduate and graduate programs.

I wonder how much of the retention of the CEU identity over the course of the merger was simply political assurances to bring the merger to fruition, and how much of this may erode in the years to come. CEU may maintain its own cultural identity due to the distance between campuses, but it remains to be seen whether USU will seek to effect more of the "mothership" identity on the satellite campus.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Welcome to my blog on higher education mergers. This topic became a passion of mine while working (and a graduate student) at my alma mater, The University of Toledo (UT). In fall 2005, it was announced that UT would merge on July 1, 2006 with the Medical University of Ohio (MUO), formerly the Medical College of Ohio (MCO). With the stroke of Governor Bob Taft's pen, legislative approval was complete and UT added another campus, a medical school and related fields, an academic hospital and a few thousand more students. The institution also roughly doubled its budget and workforce. Changes of this magnitude are uncommon in colleges and universities, but not unprecedented. The extreme nature of this process piqued my interest, especially considering the politically-charged atmosphere in Toledo in the several years preceding the merger. In fact, in fall 2005 I wrote a paper for my history of higher education class on the history of the Medical University of Ohio and its relationship to The University of Toledo. Over the course of that fall semester, news of the merger became public and my research became more relevant. What was proposed as a University of Toledo medical school in the early 1960s never came to be, as the Medical College of Ohio was founded separately. More than 40 years later, the institutions would end up united as one.

When it came time to decide a topic for my dissertation, little else came to mind besides writing on the merger. It was simply a matter of deciding what aspect of the merger I wanted to study. I was fascinated by the ability of institutional leaders to execute such a tremendous management exercise in a climate of highly organized faculty, a UT campus battered by a failed presidency in the early 2000s and a local newspaper with a history of vigorous criticism of the university. Somehow the two university presidents composed, rehearsed and conducted a masterpiece of a performance to bring this endeavor to fruition. When the merger became public, all major decisions were already addressed. There were answers, and the idea resonated in a climate of continuing decreases of the state-share of instruction. Questions abounded as to how we would cope, and the merger notion provided one enormous way of attacking the problem. While the merger was never proposed exclusively for financial benefit, financial reasons were recognized in a consultant's report. Major benefits centered around enhanced academic and business synergies between the two institutions. In the end, the presidents "had all their ducks in a row," and executed the early stages of the merger with precision.

My study initially centered exclusively around an examination of the UT-MUO merger, but I added other institutions as time went on. In December 2009 I relocated to South Florida and accepted a position as director of development for the Fischler School of Education and Human Services at Nova Southeastern University (NSU). This was a tremendous opportunity for me in several ways, but an added benefit that I realized over the course of the interview process was that NSU had also been involved with a merger. In 1994, Nova University merged with Southeastern University of the Health Sciences. Southeastern, located in North Miami Beach, brought a college of osteopathic medicine to Nova, as well as allied health programs, and built new facilities on Nova's Main Campus in Davie, Fla., just west of Fort Lauderdale. NSU is the pilot site for my study. The other case institution is the University of Colorado Denver (UCD). UCD was formed with the 2004 consolidation of the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. The main campus is in downtown Denver, and the Health Sciences campus relocated to the Fitzsimmons Campus in Aurora. Of note, all of these mergers are of similar type - comprehensive, metropolitan universities merging with free-standing academic health science institutions (adding a medical school).

The topic I settled on for my study is an examination of the executive decision-making processes in the above-mentioned university mergers. I want to know the methods of decision-making employed during the early-onset periods of the mergers and if these methods were along the lines of traditional academic decision-making, or more of a modern, top-down business model. Some have suggested (Eckel & Kezar, 2006) that higher education management is moving away from shared governance, and more towards top-down modern business approaches. My research may reveal that the merger decision-making was reflective of one of the two approaches. My conceptual framework uses the garbage can model of organizational choice (Cohen, March, & Olsen, 1972).

The Blog
I intend for this blog to serve as a repository for relevant news and discussion on current college and university mergers. A scan of the media today highlights several major mergers in the United States and abroad currently under discussion or in various stages of implementation. I will provide links to stories about these mergers and as well as commentary. My intent is that this blog serve as a resource for those seeking more information about higher education mergers. By no means will this be a comprehensive clearinghouse of all possible merger information, but the intent is that it will focus on the major mergers of the day, the impetus for these mergers and political context surrounding them and the implementation of the mergers. Lastly, where appropriate, I will provide commentary including personal views of the mergers in question. My opinions expressed are exclusively mine, and are not representative of any academic institution. Others are welcome to comment on my posts and opinions, and I will not censure or edit these comments unless they are personally or otherwise offensive in nature.

Future postings will provide a brief history of higher education mergers in the United States, as well as highlight certain specific elements of mergers. This will be followed by an ongoing reporting and dialogue of current mergers in various stages.

Please feel free to comment or e-mail me at any time. Thank you for your interest!