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.System administrators streamlined programs, updated faculty contracts, and consolidated tenure and standards, Russell noted, in addition to other actions.Aligning so many moving parts and getting support from everyone involved in the merger isn’t easy, and hints at the pitfalls of consolidation.As the cost of college creeps up and more small colleges close, consolidation has become a lifeline of last resort.To survive, dozens of small institutions have either merged or have been absorbed into larger ones.
Merging and consolidating might not help marginal students, either.
“Consolidation may have made it possible to implement more dramatic advising and instructional changes that would have been impossible without consolidations,” Russell wrote.
In a normal situation, cutting unnecessary services and academic affairs positions or changing how a department works is much more difficult.
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.Restructuring a college can eliminate duplication and micromanagement, and identify problems with keeping workers accountable.