Russell found that the Georgia mergers decreased first-year dropout rates by 8 percent and increased on-time graduation by 29 percent.
Notably, the Georgia system accomplished all of this without consolidation driving up costs.
In a review of the system’s five mergers that occurred from 2013 to 2018, Lauren Russell of Dartmouth College’s Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences found that “Consolidation increases retention rates and the fraction of students graduating on-time with four-year degrees.” A big reason why is that consolidation shifts spending to academic support services like tutoring and advising, which, Russell noted, helps students complete their degree.
“Consolidations were beneficial for students and most likely reflect productivity improvements realized at the affected campuses,” Russell wrote.
Education Dive has tracked 19 college mergers since 2016 and another 23 consolidations. The biggest motivations for mergers and consolidation are declining enrollments and too much competition among state schools.
Merging and consolidating also gives colleges a chance for reform that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
System administrators streamlined programs, updated faculty contracts, and consolidated tenure and standards, Russell noted, in addition to other actions.
Doing it well means using a school’s resources better and doing more with less.While she found that the data were inconclusive about how consolidations affected instructional spending overall, spending on academic support went up.“USG saved on student services in order to invest more in academic support,” she wrote.Other state systems with ever-rising costs or enrollment declines could learn from Georgia’s example.“Better understanding the sources of productivity gains is critical as other governing boards consider whether consolidations could be similarly successful in their public college systems,” Russell wrote. It moved quickly, ensured consolidation committees had members from both institutions that were merging, and hired outside consultants to figure out how to best use existing space.