US colleges consider new consolidation options to help cut costs

University systems across the nation are proposing new solutions to grapple with millions in state budget cuts — including merging some of the campuses in operation.

The University of Maryland might consolidate two of its campuses, UM-College Park and UM-Baltimore, to cut costs. Administrators say the proposed merger would improve the university’s standing among its peers.

“The idea is that a consolidation would make one University of Maryland have a much higher national rank in research funding and could drive obtaining additional research funding,” said Mike Lurie, spokesman for the university’s Board of Regents.

The UMCP-UMB Merger work plan, a study that weighs the pros and cons of a potential merger, states that “issues related to mission, quality of learning, reputation and rankings, institutional cultures, administration and costs” will be considered by the board. The final report will be presented to the legislative budget committees Dec. 15.

Although complete universities were not merged, the State University of New York, which has absorbed state funding cuts totaling $1.4 billion in the past four years, decided to merge the presidential offices overseeing individual campuses to maintain academic quality.

“It’s not a campus merging,” said David Belsky, SUNY spokesman. “We’re not cutting spending but shifting administrative funds to academic funds.”

The administrative changes at SUNY won’t result in the elimination of course sections, Belsky said.

N.C. lawmakers have also considered merging community colleges within a 30-mile radius, but students and administrators have expressed opposition to the proposal, said Alexandra Sirota, director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.

Sirota said campus mergers would affect the accessibility of community colleges, forcing students to travel between campuses. Course sections could also be eliminated.

“Once colleges consider merging, there may be changes to the availability of courses,” she said.

Jay Schalin, director of state policy at the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, said administrators have previously discussed combining UNC-system schools, such as UNC-Pembroke and UNC-Wilmington.

But Schalin said it’s important that each campus has unique degree programs to serve different regions across the state.

Universities should strive to eliminate administrative and degree program inefficiencies rather than consolidating campuses, he said.

“Consolidating UNC campus schools wouldn’t work particularly well,” he said.

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