As enrollment numbers continue to decline, many schools must make difficult decisions. Some look for alternative revenue streams to help fill the financial gap while others must take bigger steps. Consolidation of schools or programs is something more schools consider as financial futures are strained.
Schools engaged in consolidation efforts
Consolidation isn’t always merging two schools together. It could simply be combining several middle school sports programs into one. In Joplin, Missouri, the Board of Education was recently asked to do just that. Encouraged by the positive parent and student responses to consolidating their middle school basketball programs, they were asked to consider consolidating more middle school sports. The proposal could save the district up to $10,000 each year.
Holy Names University and Samuel Merrit University in Oakland, California, are working toward an agreement to share a campus. The institutions would remain separate, but they would share a buildings and grounds and, potentially, some newly created programs. The schools would have to invest in more classroom space and in the facilities necessary to handle the increased campus population. Schools that look toward solutions like this hope to lower the overhead costs that threaten student affordability.
The University of Wisconsin System is considering forging deeper ties among the state’s two-year colleges and its university system. Those in favor of the idea say that students all over the state will have better access to education and a better experience because transfers would be simplified. Some bachelor degree programs could also be added at two-year campuses.
These are just three examples in a sea of many as schools look for financial solutions. However, the idea of consolidation does leave some questioning efficacy of such a move.
The pros and cons of consolidation
Consolidation is far from a new solution. From 1939 to 2006 the number of elementary and secondary education school districts decreased by 88%. Often the reason to consolidate is to save money. The cost of education per student can be lowered because campuses can save on facility and administrative costs. Some states even offer incentives that help promote consolidation.
Proponents voice concerns. Often when programs are consolidated, smaller schools are lost, diminishing more personalized education and weakening the student and parent interaction with their schools and faculty. Transportation costs increase because students must travel greater distances. Also, some question whether or not the long-term cost per student is actually lowered at all with consolidation.
Schools considering consolidation must weigh both sides of the argument before making their decisions. However, that is only part of the battle. They must also be prepared to win community support, shoulder the initial cost and navigate potential political backlash.