Skip to main content

Years ago, when I was still serving as a CFO at a higher education institution, I initiated an effort to create shared services across a dozen private institutions. Hopes were initially high, and we collectively pursued opportunities like workers’ compensation and health insurance, IT support, energy purchasing, and procurement.

After a year of effort, our final reward was…….a joint purchasing agreement for copier paper. 8.5. x 11 white copier paper!

I laugh now, in thinking back on this unsuccessful effort. At the time, however, it was daunting to think that a group of institutions couldn’t find more common ground around basic administrative services.

Higher education institutions have long operated under the premise that each of their programs and services is unique. This philosophy has prevented institutions from actively exploring opportunities to band together for higher quality and lower cost services. But this resistance may be starting to break down.

Of course, there are some bright spots when it comes to shared services models. The Claremont Colleges Services was established in 1925 to provide administrative and student support services across the seven independent colleges known as The Claremont Colleges.  Today, this organization supports 10,000 students and almost 4,000 faculty and staff. Successful shared services approaches even extend to academics, as seen in the model provided by The Five Colleges and their shared academic programs and faculty.

Recently, I was struck by the new partnership announced by Otterbein and Antioch Universities. These two institutions are combining forces—but not merging—in an effort to create a national university system focused on graduate education and adult learners.  What was especially interesting was their intent to welcome other institutions into the system.

So, perhaps higher education is becoming more open to shared services models. This seems hopeful, and likely represents a more palatable pathway than mergers and acquisitions. Who knows? Maybe the days of celebrating a pallet of copier paper will soon be behind us.