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An analysis of the mergers of American institutions of higher education

Thomas M Mulvey, University of Massachusetts Amherst


American higher education has been affected by spiraling cost, declining college-age population, decreasing financial aid and defense grants, budget reductions from state governments and concerns about quality. The merging of two or more institutions into a single entity is one strategy to cope with these changes. The literature on the subject of merger, however, is fragmented and dwells mainly on the reasons why institutions merge. This study examines the tensions and elements that constitute the merger phenomenon in its totality and identifies implications for implementation.^ The study analyzed 18 doctoral dissertation case studies of 20 higher educational mergers that took place during the period 1964-1985. Similarities and differences were identified and the findings compared with the merger literature. The data were then interpreted from the perspective of organizational change.^ The analysis indicated that three major tensions shape the merger phenomenon: the clash between maintaining the status quo and implementing change; the emergence of one institution as the dominant party thereby exacerbating the change for the subordinate party; and the accomplishment of organizational objectives at the expense of individual needs. A pattern emerged indicating that change was not managed, decision-making was top down and self-centered, crisis was not anticipated, power was used to dominate, conflict was divisive, planning was non-existent or poorly done and implementation was characterized by limited strategies to facilitate the process.^ Several important distinctions were identified according to the type of control of the merging institutions. Differences were found in the impelling reasons, motivation, process stages, type of risk, degree of consultation and outcomes. Exceptions to the conventional wisdom that financially troubled institutions should not merge were noted. Also, a simple legal maneuver frequently employed in the corporate world was identified as an alternative to the standard merger approach.^ In order to facilitate the complex process of a merger and to address the identified problems, the application of the integrated frames approach for managing organizational change as developed by Bolman and Deal (1984) is recommended. Strategic planning is also recommended as an effective tool for coping with change. ^

Subject Area

Educational administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Mulvey, Thomas M, "An analysis of the mergers of American institutions of higher education" (1993). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9316698.