With the exploding costs of tuition and fees, college educations are becoming harder for the average student to afford, and College Consortiums may be the answer. The cooperative arrangement between schools could help colleges provide better and more resources to students while giving faculty additional support.
A consortium is a coalition of two or more schools with the intent of sharing resources, improving finances and educating students. Usually, consortiums are between schools in the same general geographic location, but some result from the melding of virtual campuses.
Why a Consortium?
College tuition has steadily risen. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition for a public college is $16,188. Tuition at a small private not-for-profit college averages $37,424.
There is considerable disagreement about what fuels the increase in tuition. One factor may be a decrease in the amount of government subsidization available to schools;, however, this is in dispute. Another may be that fewer students choose to go to college, especially a four-year college, immediately after high school graduation. A third issue, according to The New York Times, is that colleges have become big business, with a burgeoning administration and accompanying costs.
Regardless of the reasons, higher education seems to have become an industry with the accompanying competition between corporations in attracting students and in paying higher compensation to administrators. All that means it costs more to sustain the business. That results in fewer dollars available to spend on the real business of schools: educating their students. Resources falter and things like study abroad might disappear if not for one innovation: the consortium. By uniting, schools pool resources like cultural centers, libraries, and labs. Usually, the schools are within commuting distance from one another, allowing students to take courses at several of the schools. Additionally, the consortium allows faculty to network and support one another. All of that keeps expenses manageable.
A Successful Consortium
"The Five College Consortium" is an alliance between Amherst College, Hampshire College, Mount Holyoke College, The University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and Smith College. The schools share a joint, automated library, cultural resources, open theater auditions, joint departments and transportation between campuses. The consortium maintains that each campus has its own diversity and culture, which contributes to the inclusiveness of the group. It seems to be working; the beginning of the collaboration was in 1914.
Value to Students
Students who pursue their degrees on a traditional campus have additional resources through collaboration with other schools. A computer sciences student who is registered at a small school without the newest high-tech lab equipment could access the experience of working with that technology by utilizing the cooperative lab at another school. A student taking a newer major or a self-tailored major can find the courses he needs by using the resources of another school in the consortium. In addition, the pooling of resources and administration should lead to lower costs. Students who are earning their degrees online through a consortium of virtual campuses would find their course listings expanded. They would not have to settle for courses to meet their program requisites.
A student who chooses a school that is a consortium member decides for himself how much value there is in the coalition. That is, it is the students who drive the success of the consortium by utilizing the shared resources. If the college consortium results in a better educational experience and manages to contain rising education costs, it is a valuable investment.