Successful College Mergers: A Blueprint for Future Consolidation?

Successful College Mergers: A Blueprint for Future Consolidation?
  • Opening Intro -

    With more than 4,000 accredited colleges and universities in the United States, the likelihood of consolidation remains strong.

    Indeed, higher education is facing disruption, not unlike what businesses have faced over the past few decades as the Internet has taken hold.


Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen — known as the “father of disruption” — believes that it is inevitable colleges will evolve. Some schools will likely take on a hybrid model by working with online providers such as Coursera to license some classes.

Beyond the hybrid model it is clear that some smaller colleges and universities will not survive, lacking the resources —including endowments — to sustain them for the long haul. Some schools may go out of business, while others may be fortunate enough to merge with another institution. If history offers a good predictor of a possible trend, then the following successful college mergers may offer a blueprint for future consolidation.

Fordham University, Marymount College

Established by Roman Catholic nuns in 1907, Marymount College in Tarrytown, New York, was a woman’s college that enrolled fewer than 1,000 students. It was one of several colleges operated by the Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary order.

In 2002, Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, acquired the school and renamed it Marymount College of Fordham University. Fordham had planned to keep the Tarrytown campus open, but eventually closed it due to its high operating costs. The last class graduated in 2007; the remaining students were given the opportunity to transfer to Fordham’s four other undergraduate campuses.

Harvard University, Radcliffe College

Radcliffe College in Cambridge, Massachusetts, long served as the female complement to all-male Harvard University. Founded in 1879, an informal merger agreement with Harvard was announced in 1977, then later fully integrated in 1999.

Harvard’s acquisition of Radcliffe had little to do with finances. Instead, it was the Ivy League institution’s move to fully consolidate what had been similar institutions. The Radcliffe arm was renamed the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, operating three programs in areas such as the sciences, humanities, the arts and social sciences.

University of Toledo, Medical College of Ohio

Merging public universities with medical colleges is nothing new. Bringing together two very different institutions under one umbrella is not without its challenges. Even so, state of Ohio legislators recognized that two neighboring institutions — the University of Toledo and the Medical College of Ohio — could benefit from a merger.

Today, the University of Toledo is Ohio’s third largest public institution of higher education. The teaching hospital assumed the name “University of Toledo Medical Center (UTMC)” and has helped give the the University of Toledo the distinction of being only one of 17 public universities having colleges of business administration, education, engineering, law, medicine and pharmacy.

Vanderbilt University, Peabody College

In 1979, Vanderbilt University absorbed Peabody College, a school that traces its history to 1785 when it was chartered as Davison Academy. Nearly a century later, in 1873, Vanderbilt University got started and grew to become one of the largest and most prestigious research universities in America.

Financial challenges were the undoing of Peabody and the school successfully petitioned Vanderbilt for a merger. Today, Peabody educates approximately 1,600 students and is formally known as Peabody College of Education and Human Development or Vanderbilt University, Peabody College.

Looking Ahead

Not all colleges and universities on the brink of closure will be taken over by a stronger institution. For one, competing programs mean that there is little to gain by a merger except perhaps the student body through transfers. For another reason, most mergers are in fact acquisitions, therefore the acquiring school must raise the funds to take over another school. Unless the school is being offered at fire sale prices, the cost of acquiring may be too great especially for a college or university with its own financial challenges.

See Also5 Colleges That Have Shut Down in Recent Years


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