How higher ed consortia are structured

Alliances are regionally based or focus on common goals

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.

“If I were looking to join or form a consortium, I would focus on peer institutions facing similar challenges, which are geographically close enough to enable fairly frequent face-to-face interaction,” says Brian Douglas, executive vice president for finance and administration at Wheaton College in Massachusetts and board member of the Boston Consortium.

Other consortia are organized around specific objectives colleges and universities hope to tackle. OSHEAN (Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network), for example, provides information technology services, including internet and on-campus networking, to 155 universities, libraries, hospitals and government agencies in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

As each consortium has a different focus, each also has a different formula for determining membership fees. The cost of joining a higher education consortium can range from $500 to more than $500,000.

Technology benefits drive up the cost of joining a consortium. The fee to join the Colleges of the Fenway in Boston ranges from $240,000 to $410,000, depending on the student and employee participation in programs the group offers, shared staff members, and the delivery of direct services, such as management of fiber-optic network for the schools, says Claire Ramsbottom, executive director of the consortium, which has 10 full-time employees.

Academic library consortia are among the most expensive to join because the groups provide access to electronic journals, many of which have skyrocketed in cost over the past decade. In addition, academic library consortia can provide library management services, including operating online catalogs.

The DePaul University Library in Chicago, for example, paid $41,000 in fees to the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI) for operation of its online catalog and acquisition system and resource sharing in 2015. The cost is part of the $627,000 total membership fee the DePaul library paid to CARLI last year, most of which covered access to online academic journals.

“For academic libraries,” says Scott Walter, university librarian at DePaul, “the future is really in these consortial approaches to meet the challenges we face and to insure that the university’s investment in academic libraries has the greatest impact.”


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