The need for many institutions to go beyond [the traditional] model is urgent. College and university enrollments are projected to fall, at least in the next few years, and tuition levels have already created hardships for many students and families and caused institutions to allot more of their own resources to “tuition discounting” to recruit and retain a diverse student body. One of the core advantages of allying with others is to quickly access resources to appeal to new markets; fortunately, the explosion of information technology and the rapid expansion of communications venues are making it increasingly reasonable for institutions to form alliances. Information technology is not just a novel tool that can be tested in a leisurely, experimental way; rather, it may become a vital tool for some institutions to maintain their ability to recruit and retain the students needed for the institution’s continued fiscal health, as well as for keeping their academic offerings responsive to local needs.
So what should trustees be asking administrators in this milieu? The following questions are not exhaustive—and may have been asked previously by some boards—but are useful to ask or revisit given the current challenges:
- Which of our academic degrees or programs need refreshing? Is it possible to do so through alliances with other institutions, particularly online, rather than adding faculty lines or hiring more adjunct faculty members?
- Are there state or local requirements or regulations that present obstacles to doing this?
- Is our board willing to support administrators trying to pursue some collaborative agreements?
- How would this fit with our current strategic plan?
- What does the current research say about experiments such as MOOCs— massive open online courses?
- Is our institution already experimenting with online information technologies? What have the results been? If we have online degrees, can they be expanded through links with other institutions or vendors?
- Are our investments in information technology adequate to support the wide use of some of the newest communications media on campus?