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 (Clarionledger.com)

Opposition to university mergers strong (Jackson Free Press)

Universities fear effects of merger talk (Clarionledger.com)

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

ASU alumni: Merger talk hurts hiring (Clarionledger.com)

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

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

MSU's Keenum downplays merger talk (Desototimestribune.com)

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.