Higher education has some famous collaborations—perhaps the best-known among them are the Claremont Colleges, where seven institutions, each with a different emphasis, occupy roughly a square mile in Pomona, Calif. The colleges share library services, some academic programs and student-activity programs, and various administrative functions, like mail services, maintenance, and human resources. There are other well-known partnerships, like the Five Colleges of Massachusetts, comprising Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, or the consortium that embraces Bryn Mawr, Haverford, and Swarthmore Colleges. And colleges of all kinds form consortia for purchasing essentials like paper products, technology, or health care. The Wisconsin Association of Independent Colleges and Universities has helped its members save about $50-million on supplies and services in the past five years.
–You can’t help but notice that the colleges listed as part of these “famous collaborations” and “well-known partnerships” are very good or elite schools. I’m willing to bet that the partnerships strengthened the schools and enhanced the educational experience for students. The partnerships are part of what has made these institutions great. It does seem to me that finding a way to make these kinds of partnerships work without undermining the core identity of partner institutions, will be important to the future of liberal arts education.