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As rankings continue to cover the spectrum from the serious to the silly, grappling with their impact on and off campus raises crucial questions of equity, the true meaning of student success and the diverse roles of higher ed in modern society.

Eight years ago administrators laying plans for Guttman Community College in New York City set a goal: The school would make getting students to graduation a primary mission. The approach is now proliferating across the community college sector.

Community colleges have been in the news during the current election cycle, due to plans by some politicians—including President Obama and Sen. Bernie Sanders—who suggest the federal government should provide free education for any citizen willing to put in the bookwork.

But so far this is just talk for colleges, which have yet to plan for the contingency of becoming a gratis educational option for the populace.

Health insurance, along with everything from faculty recruitment to information technology, is one of the emerging areas of shared services that regional consortia are now tackling. Their success in saving money and improving efficiencies has fueled a wave of new collaborations.

The new higher education alliances cropping up are not just of the regional variety.

A group of private colleges and universities created a consortium in fall 2015 to negotiate better deals on enterprise resource planning systems, which can account for up to 4 percent of an institution’s entire annual budget. The Higher Education Systems and Services Consortium (HESS) now has 65 members located in 15 states.

Colleges or universities looking to join a higher education consortium have two major options: alliances that are regionally based or those focused on a common goal.

Schools that choose to participate in a regional consortium have the advantage of being able to easily meet with other members to discuss common issues.

Accommodations in action: Administrators from several Bentley University departments worked together to help ensure Deyven Ferreras—who entered college with a mechanical device for his weakened heart—could safely and successfully pursue a postsecondary education.

Increasingly, colleges and universities enroll students with a wide array of physical and mental health conditions. Legal guidelines that put the onus on students to request accommodations—plus the departmentalization of services—can make it difficult to come up with a coordinated plan for a student.

At Juniata College in Pennsylvania, students took Arabic for the first time last fall by enrolling in a course at Gettysburg College via video conference.

Amherst College students, meanwhile, can major in architectural studies by taking classes at four neighboring colleges. And at Cabrini College near Philadelphia, students from five institutions researched viruses last summer in a new undergraduate science program.

Creating new academic initiatives with other institutions relies on three key ingredients: interest in the program from faculty and students; commitment from each campus administration; and a reasonable opportunity for success.

This advice comes from Neal Abraham, a physics professor and executive director of the Five Colleges, Incorporated in Massachusetts. It’s the second largest consortia in the country behind the Claremont University Consortium in California.

Here are some other tips from consortia leaders:

Two- and four-year colleges across the nation have plugged the black hole of remediation with a range of programs designed to keep students enrolled while steering them toward greater levels of success.

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