Mergers In Higher Education: A Proactive Strategy To A Better Future?

The decision to consolidate or merge higher education institutions is never easy, and the process is nearly always painful and costly. But given the potential benefits, and current fiscal realities, leaders need to consider mergers in their long-term strategic plans.


As financial support for public colleges and universities declines and the drive for efficiency increases, higher education leaders have considered options ranging from developing systems of shared services to shared campuses, affiliations, partnerships, and co-branding efforts. In this context, mergers and consolidations often are presented as the option of last resort. They shouldn't be, argue this report's authors, who delineate the decision-making criteria and implementation details of mergers, as well as the critical what, why, and how of successfully merging and consolidating institutions.

Key Insights

  • Mergers should not be considered only in extremis, when political goodwill, staff morale and energy are low. Nor should they be viewed as an isolated tactic or endpoint. Instead, to be successful, mergers must be part of a larger strategic plan.
  • By creating greater size and scale, mergers provide opportunities for cost savings, operational synergies, and the chance to engage and re-energize stakeholders.
  • Notwithstanding their benefits, mergers also can entail costs related to infrastructure enhancements; branding, communications and university relations; addressing human capital needs; promoting programmatic growth and synergies; and other objectives.
  • Successful mergers share seven characteristics: a compelling unifying vision; a committed and understanding governing body; strong leadership; a sense of urgency; a good project management system; a robust communication plan; and dedicated resources.

A large share of today’s mature higher education institutions are the product of, or have been participants in, at least one merger at some point in their history.


Drawing on their direct experiences leading successful mergers within higher education – and their deep knowledge of the history of mergers in the sector – the authors provide a rigorous analysis of the potential gains and costs of mergers and outline specific criteria for achieving success.


Ricardo Azziz

University at Albany, SUNY

Guilbert C. Hentschke

University of Southern California

Bonita C. Jacobs

University of North Georgia

Lloyd A. Jacobs

The University of Toledo

Haven Ladd

Parthenon-EY, Ernst & Young, LLP

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