Our institution is a four-year residential institution that merged with a primarily two-year non-residential institution. Both institutions were successful and performing well. The two-year institution had a satellite campus, and we jointly opened a two-plus-two campus. The institutions have been consolidated for a decade and, looking back, there were some critical issues we had to diligently address. Was it difficult? Of course, change is hard, but we learned a lot through the process. Some of the lessons learned are obvious but often overlooked.
Constituents will be concerned and may feel a sense of loss. The need for frequent and open communication is paramount. Transparency is a must. Our consolidation committee, composed of representatives from each campus, included members of the faculty senate, the staff council, the alumni association, the student government, and the corps advisory council. We held virtual townhall meetings frequently. Participants were able to send questions and each question was answered thoroughly by the president or a vice president. Committee members were also on each campus periodically for question-and-answer forums. We spoke with faculty senate, staff council, and student government.
Students need to be included in the process. Our student governments across our campuses created a plan that consolidated the Student Government Association on each campus into one. The officers for the combined Student Government Association were selected from all campuses; thus, the serving president might be from one campus for a year and from a different campus the next year.
Having outside consultants matters and is necessary in most cases. Not only do they offer guidance, but they can add a stamp of approval beyond the internal process. They can also introduce new ideas and information that the internal committee has not yet considered. We brought in a communications consultant who advised the consolidation committee on a new name, a logo design, and other communication considerations.
Alumni may struggle with the changes, particularly if they are proud of their university and the name it once held. What we learned was that, even though a name change is difficult, the new name can be robust and meaningful. Many of our alumni have asked for an additional diploma bearing our new name.
Remember to keep trustees/board member apprised of every step. You will need their support and guidance, as well as their concerns.
The number of new mergers is increasing, and more are predicted to follow. Merging may seem like a daunting task; however, the result can produce a stronger institution for each campus. It is imperative to rely upon guidance from those who have extensive knowledge about why mergers succeed and why they fail.
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Writer: Bonita C. Jacobs, Senior Consultant, SPH Consulting Group