Otterbein and Antioch plan a private, not-for-profit national university system


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Diving Brief:

  • The universities of Otterbein and Antioch, two private, non-profit institutions that each enroll several thousand students, are working to affiliate and start a national university system to share graduate and university programs. adult education, they announced on Thursday.
  • Institutions have defined two goals for the planned system that are often seen as incompatible in higher education: to train students for careers and to pursue a set of non-economic priorities associated with the liberal arts, such as advancing the common good, justice social and democracy. They will also seek to contain costs through shared services and expand educational offerings beyond what individual universities can provide on their own.
  • System members must maintain their own undergraduate brands and programs. It could offer courses as early as fall 2023.

Overview of the dive:

Thursday’s announcement comes at a time of heightened interest in higher education mergers, affiliations and closures. Institutions ranging from large public systems to small private, not-for-profit universities have undergone institutional mergers in recent years in the face of financial pressures, declining numbers of traditional-aged students in many markets, and growing sensitivities to prices.

But carrying out mergers is not easy for college leaders. Higher education institutions have many different constituencies that view campuses as mission-driven institutions, and the concept of shared governance means that faculty members have their voices heard on issues affecting scholars.

Different affiliate and partnership models have been tried over the years with varying success. One of the best-known and longest-lasting private nonprofit alliances is Claremont Colleges, a consortium of seven institutions in California. Students enroll in individual institutions within the consortium, but may use the academic resources of the entire group.

The plan for Otterbein and Antioch looks different. Exact details have yet to be determined, but the system is expected to operate under a single council that will draw its members from current Otterbein and Antioch councils, as well as elsewhere, according to William Groves, chancellor of Antioch University.

Leaders say they have started talks to bring in other possible partners with compatible missions.

The system would house shared services such as a learning management system. He would also likely have a shared chief executive, although that position is unlikely to be created immediately.

“It’s not a contractual affiliation or a contractual articulation agreement,” Groves said in a video call with reporters to discuss the announcement. “There is going to be legal and corporate integration in a way that is much more than a contractual type of consortium.”

Antioch’s programs include graduate programs and an undergraduate graduation program. It enrolls approximately 3,800 students at campuses in Yellow Springs, Ohio; Keene, New Hampshire; Seattle; Los Angeles; and Santa Barbara, California. It also has students in low residency and distance learning programs. The university does not include Ohio’s Antioch College, which spun off from the university more than a decade ago and is not part of the planned new system.

Otterbein, located north of Columbus, Ohio, serves approximately 2,400 undergraduate students and 500 graduate students.

Otterbein will not abandon its traditional liberal arts education, its president John Comerford said, also speaking on the video call.

“But we will, with Antioch, work jointly in the area of ​​adult education,” Comerford said. “I.e. graduate programs, professional development certificates, adult graduation.”

Otterbein and Antioche still have work to do in their affiliation process. They must complete the verification of the agreement and then seek approval from regulatory authorities and accreditors.

Antioch decided to start pursuing a multi-agency system three years ago, Groves said. It evaluated many possible partner institutions, and Otterbein stood out for its mix of academic, history, and mission programs.

Today, partnerships with businesses and making it easier for students to enter and exit studies are key components of higher education access and affordability, Groves said.

Employers can pay for students to pursue studies or earn certificates and badges that can be stacked. And this new system could spur accelerated pathways for students to earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees quickly, according to Comerford.

Other expected benefits of the system include the ability for constituent institutions to offer more degrees and programs in additional locations. Leaders also believe the plan could help members offer different forms of learning, such as online, hybrid and low-residency programs.


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