In the past 4 years, 95 American university mergers have taken place. It is not the case that these universities want to merge. Rather, they see joining forces as the only way to keep doors open. Why are American universities suffering? What does their propensity to merge or close mean for UK students studying across the pond?
One obvious answer seems to be COVID-19. In 2020, the pandemic closed universities and created a short-term crisis. While the US government invested $76 billion in higher education’s survival, 500 4-year institutions may close in the near future. The main issue is shrinking enrollment. Undergraduate enrollment has fallen over 9% since the pandemic in America. That is a difference of nearly 1.4 million students. Up to 40% of prospective students (secondary school seniors) are delaying college plans in the US.
Why are Americans foregoing higher education? Studies show that US adults value postsecondary degrees less than they used to. In 2013, 70% thought a university degree was “very important.” In 2019, only 51% did. While the typical university degree holder still earns higher incomes, more exceptions are appearing to the rule. Online certifications are offering a cheaper path to a high-wage job in America today.
While some universities are closing, others are merging in hopes of finding a better path forward. In the US, a proposed merger must be approved by each institution’s board of trustees plus the college’s accrediting bodies. Other stakeholders, such as nearby businesses, university faculty, and alumni groups have a strong influence in securing a merger’s approval. University mergers typically happen between private schools located in the same state as one another. These deals commonly involve campuses with fewer than 5,000 students. Smaller, less prestigious private schools saw high declines in enrollment.
What might this mean for students from the UK? It’s true that their options for American universities are shrinking. However, the most desirable American schools will remain open. Prestigious institutions like Harvard or Yale are in no danger of closing or merging. Some public universities (like the University of California system) may reshuffle some campuses.