Introducing the Transformational Partnerships Fund

Many institutions of higher education recognize the need to transform their educational and business models in ways that can help drive student success. One way to do this may be forming a partnership with one or more other institutions.

The Transformational Partnerships Fund (TPF) supports colleges and universities interested in exploring partnerships that could fundamentally improve how they operate and serve students — especially students of color, students from low-income families, and other underserved populations. TPF was established by ECMC Foundation, and SeaChange, with additional support from Ascendium Education Group, The Kresge Foundation, and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Since its inception in April 2021, the Fund has made 18 grants involving 49 institutions.

Institutions of higher education are in a period of profound change.

For many colleges and universities, today’s demographic, cultural, economic and public health challenges are daunting and unprecedented. Whether an institution is interested in exploring sharing administrative services, consolidating academic offerings, or even merging with another college or university, TPF provides confidential, philanthropic resources to help consider the full range of partnership options.


Financial Stability
Only 52% of U.S. college and university business officers are confident their institution will be financially stable over the next five years.


Return to Normal Operations
Only 25% of U.S. college and university business officers expect to be able to ride out the downturn and return to normal operations within in a year’s time.


Probability of Merger
More than 20% of college and university business officers think their institution should merge with another college or university within the next five years

Source: Inside Higher Ed/Gallup 2020 Survey of College and University Business Officers

How the Transformational Partnerships Fund works

Working with TPF, college and university leaders have the opportunity to access technical assistance, grant funding, specialized resources and more. TPF builds on the experience of its funders, managers and advisors, all of whom have deep experience and real-world knowledge in higher education and the creation of successful partnerships.

All discussions are held in strict confidence, and grant funding may be provided to support the exploration of partnerships in many forms — from shared administrative services or consolidated academic offerings on one end of the spectrum, to full mergers on the other.

All Students At Risk

12% of all students currently enrolled in a college or university are attending an institution that is at risk.

Black Students
Students At Risk

19% of all Black students currently enrolled in a college or university are attending an institution that is at risk.

That’s 340,000 students across the United States.

Institutional failure has a disproportionate impact on students of color and underserved populations.

Source: The College Stress Test: Tracking Institutional Futures across a Crowded Market; Robert Zemsky

“The Urban College of Boston is a small institution serving populations for whom educational opportunity too often has been denied.  Recently, the College entered into a truly transformative partnership with an affiliate of Southern New Hampshire University, a global leader in online education dedicated to helping students succeed and to offering affordable educational pathways.  TPF played an important role in making that relationship possible.

One substantial hurdle to a strategic partnership can be the expense of engaging outside experts at a time when an institution is already facing financial challenges.  Another roadblock can be the sense that even exploring a strategic partnership may generate an unduly negative public perception of the organization.  TFP helped UCB overcome both of those concerns. It’s financial support and encouragement were critical to creating and sustaining the momentum that have carried UCB and its students to a more promising future.”

—Peter Ebb
Trustee, The Urban College of Boston

“Our institutions are increasingly intrigued by the potential of partnerships, but taking the first step is hard. It’s wonderful that philanthropic funders recognize the importance of helping them and have established the Transformational Partnerships Fund to do it.”

—Belle S. Wheelan, Ph.D.
President, Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges

“Exploring a merger or strategic partnership is difficult for leaders even when it has the potential to be transformational for the students and institutions involved. The Transformational Partnerships Fund is a welcome resource for colleges and universities interested in taking the first step.”

—David Chard
Dean ad interim of Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development

News & Insights


The Edge: New Ideas Are Emerging to Help Strapped Colleges

The Chronicle of Higher Education

The philanthropy-backed Transformational Partnerships Fund was created to help grease the wheels for colleges to begin discussions about mergers, collaborations, or other kinds of joint projects. The fund has awarded 17 grants totaling more than $1 million since it was announced in this newsletter a year into the pandemic, and I’ve got some insights on it to share below.

Read more >


Learnings From Our Journey: From Creation to Acquisition 

By Deborah Hirsch and Peter Laipson

Five years ago, we launched the High Meadows Graduate School of Teaching and Learning, a new institution focused on…

Read more >


Merger Watch: Mergers in higher education are global. Here are lessons for US colleges.

Higher Ed Dive

The global phenomenon of higher education mergers has, in many ways, presaged the expected consolidations unfolding at colleges in the U.S. While there may be substantive differences in the educational policies, structures and portfolios of higher education in different countries, there are nonetheless lessons that can be learned from the international merger experience.

Read more >


Higher Education Mergers: The Communication Must-Haves

By Gail Benner

As those who work in higher education will tell you – it’s a different kind of place. A unique…

Read more >

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