Colleges and universities face daunting challenges that put students at risk.

In some cases, the right partnership can help.

The Challenge

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) face a complex set of financial, technological, political, social and demographic challenges that have intensified significantly over the last decade.

Traditional focus on revenue generation has failed to address the fundamental need many institutions of higher education have to transform their educational and business models in ways that can help drive student success and social mobility, especially for students of color, students from low-income families, and other underserved populations.

Colleges collectively enrolled about 560,000 fewer undergraduates in the fall of 2020, a 3.6 percent decrease from 2019. The losses were much steeper at community colleges and among first-time students.

Collective Enrollment (-560,200 students)

Fall 201915,467,001
Fall 202014,906,750
Source: National Student Clearinghouse Research Center

As one response, institutions are increasingly open to exploring partnerships of various kinds, including: mergers (full or partial); early, well-planned and well-funded teach-outs; sharing of facilities and infrastructure, co-curricular offerings and student services; and business/administrative consolidations.

Most college and university leaders, however, have limited experience in this realm. Partnership explorations are particularly challenging in higher education, given the competitive market, the importance of shared governance, the role of alumni, the centrality of location and facilities, and the complex regulatory framework within which they operate.

Despite these challenges, partnerships may be essential for some IHEs (particularly those at risk of faltering or failing to provide adequate instruction and support) to remain strong and fulfill their promises to students. In such instances, successful partnerships can help the institutions better serve students by becoming more efficient, effective, and stable.

The Opportunity

The Transformational Partnerships Fund helps institutions explore partnerships in a thoughtful, timely way by offering:

  • A safe, confidential space for IHEs to discuss and explore strategic partnerships;
  • Information about the continuum of partnership options and support in identifying the strategies best suited to each institution’s unique circumstances;
  • Referrals to appropriate experts who are well-versed in academic partnerships;
  • Catalytic grants (up to $100,000 per exploration) to engage third-party technical assistance providers knowledgeable in law, finance, governance, fundraising, human resources, and other related fields;
  • A visible advocate to share knowledge about the value of transformational partnerships and work in conjunction with other stakeholders interested in the success of IHEs.

A new way to explore partnerships in a safe, confidential space

TPF provides institutions with relevant resources collected from its advisors, its network, and other third parties. University and college leaders can approach TPF with the assurance that all discussions will remain confidential until an appropriate and mutually agreed time.

Each institution must determine how best to proceed; partnerships are not always the answer. Nevertheless, TPF seeks to build awareness of and advocate for the role partnerships can play as a proactive strategy to be considered by mission-driven, student-centered institutions.

Find out more about grants, frequent questions, case studies and IHE perspectives below.

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