After 2 years of the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has fallen by 9.4%. Up to 40% of prospective students have been delaying their college plans either due to financial strain or a desire for instruction to return completely to in-person methods. In the meantime, college mergers are on the rise. Thousands of colleges are serving a smaller population of students, so competitors are making their exit from the market. Mergers are less traumatic to a campus community than a closure, though the process is not without pain.
Most merger deals involve same-state schools with under 5,000 students. 40% of these are private non-profits. For a merger to happen, each institution’s board of trustees and the colleges’ accrediting bodies have to approve the proposal. While not formally a part of the process, it’s preferable for the merging colleges’ business partners, faculty, and alumni groups to also approve of the plan. In the unusual case of Northeastern University acquiring Mills College in California, the alumni of Mills College filed a lawsuit to prevent the merger from taking place. Concerns that can sink a merger include loss of campus identity, loss of voice for faculty or student leaders, and increased tuition costs.