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Mergers and Acquisitions in Higher Education – What Provosts Should Know

According to a July 2023 report by McKinsey & Co, since 2020, the number of mergers and acquisitions in higher education has increased nearly threefold from 11 between 2001-2005 to 31 between 2016-2020. Since 2016 Higher Ed Dive has been tracking college closures and mergers.  Last updated on April 29, 2024, New York has had the most activity with 11 schools closing, merging or planning to do so. Massachusetts follow with 10 schools, 9 in Illinois and 8 in California.

The National Student Clearinghouse Research released in January 2024 reveals that there are still more than one million empty seats on college campuses as compared to five years ago, and there is still no growth among Freshman 20 years old and younger (this number is 5.3% below 2019 levels).  Further, undergraduate enrollment overall is down and remains 3.3% below pre-pandemic levels. 

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Authentic Leadership

I’ve spent my entire career in higher education, primarily as a faculty member and mid-level administrator. Ambitious since I left my mother’s womb, I knew I was drawn to executive level leadership.  Throughout my tenure in academia, I grew more and more convinced I would not be selected for c-suite leadership because of one thing: my honesty. My approach to working with people seemed so entirely different to all the examples I had witnessed. Top leadership most often seemed hidden, secretive, and certainly not wearing their hearts on their sleeve as I do. I feared there wasn’t a place for my style which emphasized relationship building, transparency, and authenticity.

I was steadfast in my belief that I could only be myself and I interviewed demonstrating this.  To my astonishment, one (very smart) president gave me an opportunity to live my dream of serving as a provost. One of the countless strategies and tactics I employed when I began was to send a weekly message, often with a motivational bent, to my extended team.  The messages typically came from a personal space and included quite a bit about me alongside some academic theme.  They appeared to be well received and I would often receive responses from staff sharing their opinions and insights. As the years progressed, I slowly began to send fewer of these messages. I felt I had established a very strong relationship with my team and wanted to save them from reading one more email.

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