Ricardo Azziz, University at Albany – Mergers in Higher Education: The Need to Consider

Mergers are a fact of life for some institutions in higher education.

Ricardo Azziz, research professor in the school of public health at the University at Albany, says mergers are not always a bad thing.

Ricardo Azziz is former founding President, Georgia Regents University; former President, Georgia Health Sciences University; and co-author of ‘Strategic Mergers in Higher Education’, published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Mergers in Higher Education: The Need to Consider


Higher education in the United States is in crisis, with declining enrollment, negative demographics, excess capacity, and increasing fiscal pressures – all exacerbated by a pandemic of historic proportions.

While the top 200 or so universities and colleges seem to be doing well — that is not the case for the majority of the remaining 4000 or so institutions of higher education in the U.S.

So, it’s not surprising that the past 20 years has seen an increasing rate of institutional mergers — not only in the U.S., but also in Europe, China, Australia, and other parts of the world.

Our research on mergers in higher education has led us to several observations.

First, mergers in higher education have often been used as the strategy of last resort. Which unfortunately means that most of the institutions looking for a merger partner will have exhausted their enrollment, financial, political, and brand equity — with poor merger outcomes. In fact, the most common failure in mergers is the failure to consider them at all.

Second, mergers should be all about student success and opportunity. Well planned mergers and acquisitions will provide added value to students far beyond any financial savings identified.

Third, there are seven key elements that most successful mergers exhibit:

  • A committed and supportive governing board.
  • The right kind of leadership.
  • A compelling unifying vision.
  • An appropriate sense of urgency.
  • A robust and redundant communication plan.
  • Sufficient dedicated resources.
  • A strong project management system.


While having these in place does not guarantee success, not having them does increase the chance of failure.

Many colleges and universities will benefit from a more regular and determined consideration of mergers, consolidations, and acquisitions in their annual strategic planning – early and before the institution is in crisis. And the decision should always be driven by what is best for their students.

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