From 2018 to 2022, 95 college mergers occurred. For many, these mergers were a last ditch measure to avoid financial collapse. While the US government has invested $76 billion to help colleges weather the effects of COVID-19, as many as 500 4-year colleges may close in the near future. That’s because the causes of declining enrollment go beyond the pandemic, and college mergers may not be enough to address the issues of limited offerings and diminishing returns to a college degree.

Since the pandemic, undergraduate enrollment has fallen by 9.4%. 2-year colleges saw a 16% drop in immediate enrollment from high school graduates while 4-year institutions faced a 6% decline. While public colleges and universities saw the highest enrollment declines, the most common merger deals were private and non-profit schools. About 43% of closing or merging institutions were Christian-affiliated schools. 

Mergers can save some colleges from closing their doors, but many still have concerns. When Boston’s Northeastern University acquired California women’s college Mills College, Mills alumni filed a lawsuit to stop it. Schools acquired fear losing their campus’s distinct identity, voice, and support for minority students. Merged colleges also tend to raise tuition rates anywhere between 5 and 7%.

The College Merger Explosion: Why Colleges are Failing