How to Handle a College Merger

By Genevieve Carlton

Published on August 18, 2021

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Many colleges are considering mergers. A merger could drastically change a student's college experience. Two colleges merging can result in faculty restructuring, a loss of majors, and location changes. This guide covers how learners can handle a college merger.

Why Do Colleges Merge?

According to a February 2021 Forbes article, college merger discussions are increasing. Students may worry about possible mergers. However, a college merger does not necessarily indicate a school closure risk. State university systems often consider mergers to reduce waste. Georgia recently merged its community colleges and four-year schools, which increased retention rates.

Colleges merge for many reasons, such as financial concerns. Institutions typically rely heavily on tuition, which causes issues when enrollment drops. And college enrollment decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This enrollment drop could lead to an increased number of mergers, unless enrollment increases.

A college merger can help schools reduce expenses and increase enrollment. The recently launched Transformational Partnership Fund provides cash infusions for college mergers.

Colleges also merge for strategic reasons. Schools may merge to offer complementary degrees or obtain more grant funding. Historically, women's colleges have merged with coed institutions to increase enrollment. For example, Radcliffe College merged with Harvard University in 1969.

Political reasons can also drive mergers. Politicians, college boards, and state legislatures may support public school mergers to reduce higher education expenses. Shareholders at private, for-profit schools may also demand mergers. If possible, students should research the reasons behind their school's merger to understand their options better.

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What Are Your Options?

When a college announces a merger, students have many options.

Before considering next steps, learners should research the merger. Ask questions about how the merger will change the college experience. For example, mergers may lead to name changes and relocations. The new, blended college may feature different majors, graduation requirements, and departments. A school merger can also impact course options, including available online courses.

Students should determine whether they will be able to graduate from their school after the merger. Plans could include restructuring departments, admitting no new students to certain majors, and laying off faculty. These changes can make graduating difficult for current students.

Mergers can also affect a school's accreditation status. Students should obtain accreditation details as soon as possible. Learners attending unaccredited schools may not qualify for financial aid programs. Graduates may also not meet professional licensure requirements.

School mergers typically do not affect federal financial aid eligibility. However, if a school closes, students may qualify for financial aid forgiveness.

After researching these topics, students can decide whether to stay at their school. Learners may need to change majors or consider transferring to a different college.

Make the Best Choice for Yourself

During a college merger, students should make the best choice for their needs. Learners should begin by researching to ensure they can make an informed decision. If your college does not provide details about how the merger will affect students, pursue more information. Learners can contact their department, student government, or the merging school.

Mergers can be stressful for students. During the process, schools may not effectively communicate with current students. But in most cases, students do not need to do anything in response to a merger. Unlike college closures, mergers may not drastically change students' plans.

However, if a merger negatively impacts your college experience, speak up. Contact school administrators and the faculty assembly. If these avenues do not result in the change you need, you might consider transferring schools.

Genevieve Carlton

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

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