Skip to main content

Across the academic landscape, institutions of all sizes and Carnegie classifications are grappling with some significant strategic decisions — sometimes, these lead to the consideration of a strategic partnership.  Strategic partnerships exist across a continuum of opportunity, moving from a merger or an acquisition, to consortiums focused on administrative services.

Case study: sample strategic partnerships

Institutions across the country have shown the courage to explore strategic partnerships, discovering powerful new ways to bring their mission forward and serve their students.

While the number of mergers and acquisitions in higher education has been relatively small, some early case studies provide good lessons for the field.

Where 1+1 Equals More Than 2 – Berklee College of Music, known for its celebrated jazz program, joined forces with Boston Music Conservatory, which focuses on classical training, to create Berklee. This merger allowed the institutions to better address the high costs associated with music education, while creating new program opportunities for all of their students. 

Waiting Too Long – Mt. Ida College provides a glimpse into a situation where negotiating power was lost. After a protracted period seeking out institutional partners, the leadership team found themselves in a disadvantaged state—at which point they were acquired by the University of Massachusetts system. This was purely an asset transaction, and no element of the institution remains.  If Mt. Ida had acted more proactively, might some semblance of their programs and their brand remain today? 

Making the Hard Decisions – Boston University bought Wheelock College. Here, a larger institution acquired a smaller one, but the smaller institution’s legacy lives on. By actively seeking out partners while it still had value to bring to the table, Wheelock had more say in how its mission might be carried on.  Today, the institution name and mission survive through the Wheelock College of Education and Human Development at Boston University. 

Moving to New Markets – In a bold strategic move, Purdue University recently acquired Kaplan, a for-profit, major player in the online education space—enabling the institution to launch revenue-producing programming through Purdue Global, an expanded online offering. 

Higher ed has entered into a more precarious era, and we haven’t yet seen the end of colleges closing their doors. For many, however, strategic partnerships could be the springboard to a new future.


Deck — rpk GROUP Sample M and A Analysis
Deck — Fiscal Headwinds Facing Higher Education
Article — Creating a Sustainable Future for Higher Education with Strategic Partnerships
Article — Failing Forward Toward a New Alliance
WebinarFiscal Headwinds Facing Higher Education Institutions and How to React

“It was essential to have rpk put numbers to the vision to show how our two institutions together could thrive.”

Cynthia Zane, President Emeritus, Hilbert College

“While our institutions didn’t get married in the end, rpk GROUP helped us figure out how to create a better business model by living together.”

Sr. Margaret Carney, President Emeritus, St. Bonaventure University