W&J among 10 Pennsylvania schools to form consortium

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Washington & Jefferson College is among 10 liberal arts colleges across Pennsylvania that have joined to form a consortium in an effort to cut costs, improve the quality of programs and enhance inter-institutional collaboration.


Dr. Tori Haring-Smith, the president of W&J, said she and officials at Gettysburg College birthed the idea of the consortion, which also includes Bryn Mawr College, in Bryn Mawr; Dickinson College, in Carlisle; Franklin & Marshall College, in Lancaster; Haverford College, in Haverford; Juniata College, in Huntingdon; Muhlenberg College, in Allentown; Swarthmore College, in Swarthmore; and Ursinus College, in Collegeville.


“Liberal arts colleges across the country face serious challenges – shifting demographics, student access, affordability and the pressure to keep up with new technology,” Haring-Smith said. “Bringing Pennsylvania liberal art colleges into a consortium helps us leverage our collective strengths to better serve our students.”


The colleges received an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in the spring to create the Pennsylvania Consortium for the Liberal Arts. Haring-Smith said the grant will fund the consortium for the next three years, providing seed money for collaborative programs. After that, she said the individual colleges will hold fundraisers to replace the grant money.


Each college will explore and develop collaborative programs in seven core areas: academic program improvement; faculty development; study abroad; library resources; administrative services; compliance and risk management; and enhancing the institutional climate for diversity, according to a news release from W&J.


The consortium also plans to contribute to national discussions about improving access to higher education and improving affordability for families, the release said.


While there are a variety of consortiums across the country, Haring-Smith said the PCLA is a first for Pennsylvania.


“We do think we need to find ways to maintain expectational quality, while keeping costs low,” she said.


Haring-Smith said she and the other presidents have discussed creating a consortium for a number of years. They began to finalize plans and meet regularly over the last 18 months.


“This will help everyone,” she said. “Take, for instance, the issue of cybersecurity. We can hire one person for all 10 colleges. We can also share underenrolled classes for the 2015-2016 school year. We are really trying to increase access.”


Randy Helm, the president of Muhlenberg College, agrees.


“Working together, we can all be stronger and more effective and efficient in our missions,” Helm said. “This consortium will serve as the foundation for new, collective institutional efforts to tackle some of the pressing issues facing higher education.”


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