There have been continuous outcries in recent years for colleges and universities to lower their costs, yet in almost every area those costs continue to rise.
We all know that health care premiums, utility bills and food are among costs that are beyond a college’s control. Institutions also must spend to deliver new or enhanced degree programs, and these costs are often overlooked by the public.
Colleges must offer and support a vast array of technologies, each with its own price tag. For many programs, accreditation regulations demand advanced courses, smaller class sizes and intense clinical experiences. Colleges that maintain and exceed these standards offer a high-quality education. Institutions that fail to meet these standards will be viewed as marginal, and graduates will feel that the value is less than the cost of their education.
Some institutions have tried to affect the bottom line by deferring maintenance, reducing staff and curtailing renovation. While these measures may work temporarily, failure to stay current results in higher costs and loss of students.
So how can colleges contain costs while providing students with the programs they demand? I believe partnerships and collaborations among institutions—and between the academy and the marketplace—offer great promise. Finding and creating synergies, defining areas of strength at each institution, and sharing resources and expertise is a formula that works.
One example. In recent years, Massachusetts has become a national leader in life sciences research and development, and at Endicott College, we strive to continue developing academic programs to prepare students for careers in these expanding fields.
Four years ago, we launched an ambitious plan to advance bioengineering, biotechnology and other programs in the sciences. We planned our Ginger Judge Science Center as a state-of-the-art facility for teaching and learning, and also provide incubator space for local startups. Tight budgets meant equipping the facility in steps. It seemed an impossible task.
Then something exciting happened. We formed a partnership with North Shore InnoVentures, a nonprofit technology incubator that helps early-stage companies increase their probability of success. Three North Shore colleges—Gordon College, North Shore Community College and Salem State University—joined us to form the Life Sciences Consortium of the North Shore (LSCNS). Building on our unique strengths, each institution added pieces of the puzzle by developing a specialized biotechnology focus.
A primary goal of the consortium was to eliminate costly duplication, allowing our shared expertise to create the best options for students. The five organizations worked to define unique curricula, to streamline ways for students to move easily between institutions, and to identify equipment and renovation needs as each institution delivered its specialization. We moved from isolation and competition to collaboration.
Today, startups and small biotech firms in the region have access to laboratories and equipment at each of our institutions. In return, they provide expertise and internships for our students and career opportunities for our graduates. An unexpected gain has been the donation of equipment to each college. The shared benefits now seem limitless.
The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center—a state-funded investment agency—saw the value in this collaborative approach and awarded our consortium a $5 million grant that will fund further facility and equipment upgrades.
At one time, a grant of this type would be awarded to just one institution for its sole use. Now, hundreds of students at each of our institutions will benefit each year.
This is just one example, but a significant one. It demonstrates that public and private institutions with very different missions can work together. We must all learn ways to maximize impact and control costs to provide high-quality education now and in the future.
Richard E. Wylie is the president of Endicott College (Mass.).