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In order to stay competitive and attract good faculty and students, “there is an inevitable tradeoff between the administrators’ efforts to moderate the rate of tuition increases faced by students and their efforts to provide generous salary increases for the faculty “(Ehrenberg Tuition Rising 113). The fiduciary responsibility of the administrators is to maintain a balanced budget while being creative in dealing with on-going budget cuts. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled “Whose Professor Is It, Anyway?” (10/22 2004, A 12) points at consortia as a possible solution in retaining professorial lines for small programs.
My aim in this paper is to juxtapose the financial and structural advantages and disadvantages of joining a consortium. Consortia are a way for institutions to pool money and lower administrative burden and cost but they do not necessarily meet the interests and needs of the college and students. I will first look at a few consortia as examples and then give a closer look at the prospect of sharing faculty.
Consortia have been in existence for some time with presently more than 125 Higher Education consortia in the United States proving its popularity and success. The Association for Consortium Leadership (ACL), founded 35 years ago, provides insight into the types of consortia its 65 members have formed throughout the United States. It is the only institution serving higher education with a focus on inter-institutional cooperation. Institutions planning a partnership with each other and/or a community are given advice and a mentor to help them establish their program and meet their needs. Other services include helping doctoral students, search firms and conference planners in their projects as well as administering consulting assistance to and exploring new areas for existing partnerships. Generally, consortia are formed as a cost saving measure in non-academic disciplines and fields, for example by sharing maintenance systems and offering cross registration to students.
Consortia can also be formed on a smaller scale representing particular interests as is the case with the Consortium on Revolutionary Europe established by five universities – Florida State University, the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, the University of South Carolina, and Louisiana State University – in 1972 with the aim to organize an annual conference. It succeeded in its primary goal and includes now seventeen institutions. On a much larger scale, the consortium Five Colleges Incorporated was established in 1965 by five Massachusetts colleges – Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges – who offer cross registration, shared educational and cultural resources and facilities, inter-campus transportation and sharing faculty members. Since the institutions are located close to each other, building the consortium has been successful for both, the universities and the students. Pooling money to hire professors who will teach at different campuses is an option that has been given increased attention since it has allowed new programs and fields to develop and small programs to survive.
Another highly successful and publicized program is The Boston Consortium for Higher Education (TBC) founded in 1995 by the Chief Financial Officers of 11 Boston-area institutions. Its mission is “to act as an external resource in creating a collaborative environment among member institutions for the development and practical implementation of cost saving and quality improvement ideas” (see website: mission statement).
TBC’s emphasis is on non-academic discipline and learning tools, in particular learning a new way of collaborating where collaboration is defined by enlightened self-interest in contrast to defining collaboration in altruistic terms as is common with many consortia. The focus is thus on each school’s particular need and interest acknowledging that not all projects benefit each institution. As the only CFO-governed organization, TBC claims to practice cutting edge management science employing action-learning techniques, emphasizing management skills and seeing itself as an agent for change, a resource for managers and a community of learning.
The expansion of consortia in the US over the years and their success stories speak for their value in finding alternate ways to stream revenues. There are many different types of consortia with agreements varying from sharing libraries only to sharing all facilities and making different institutions available for students. CUNY alone has several consortia between its campuses but not necessarily encompassing all campuses. Examples are “Prelude to Success,” a collaboration between Hunter College and BMCC; the Consortium for International Studies (CCIS) used by Queens College and the College of Staten Island; the Council of Foreign Languages (CFL); and the Lower Manhattan-Downtown Brooklyn Consortium of Foreign Languages encompassing five campuses and seeking to achieve the goals and objectives of the university’s LOTE initiative (Languages Other Than English).
A newer project with some consortia has been sharing faculty, in particular creating shared tenure-track positions. The question that has been debated is whether or not shared professors are cost effective and beneficial to students as well as institutions within the concept of a consortium. The financial and structural implications that underlie the decision to join or form a consortium are as complex as the decision to share a professorial line with another institution.
For students, a consortium agreement is generally a positive development since it enables them to share facilities with nearby institutions and take courses in their studies without complicated and uncertain transfer credit procedures. Financially, students pay their home institution and thus do not encounter beaurocratic complications. However, if students decide to major or minor in a joint program, they could encounter problems with scheduling or advising.