Colleges That Join Forces Will Have a Future Five Schools in Boston's Fenway Area Have Formed a Strategic Alliance That Could Set a Pattern for Higher Education Countrywide

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How does starting the academic year by serving turkey dogs to 1,000 students next to a hospital parking lot in Boston represent the future of higher education?

If you're from New England, you may have read about the new "Colleges of Fenway," an innovative alliance of five venerable institutions nestled in Boston's Fenway neighborhood, not far from the famous ballpark. The grouping of colleges - Emmanuel, Simmons, Wheelock, Wentworth Institute of Technology, and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Allied Health - represents a striking departure from traditional methods of delivering higher education to demanding student consumers.

These institutions are on the cutting edge of a trend to affiliate colleges, even across several states, to eliminate duplication of costly programs, achieve economies of scale, and, most important, provide enhanced educational services and professional development opportunities for students and faculty. Sister Janet Eisner, president of Emmanuel, a Roman Catholic women's college, notes, "The colleges in our group had been working together for 25 years on traditional cross-registration and a library consortium, and it seemed to all of us the right moment to achieve a new vision for a 'university.'" The presidents decided against naming it the "University of Fenway" because they believed it would send the wrong message to students - and to contributing alumni. Instead of force-fitting their faculties and programs into a shapeless campus conglomerate, they designed this alliance to provide the "creative academic resources that small colleges are going to have more difficulty providing to their students and faculty in the future," according to Marjorie Bakken, Wheelock's president. Put simply, these colleges have gone against the grain and designed a strategic institution that ends duplication and provides a small college experience backed by the resources of a large university. Some have countered that these affiliations may work in Boston, America's most "college rich" city, but will they work for the rest of the nation's 3,500 colleges and universities? The answer is emphatically yes, since strategic alliances, consortia, co-ventures, and even formal mergers have begun to transform not only traditional liberal arts colleges, but also religiously affiliated schools, community and technical colleges, and even major research and land grant universities. Imaginative campus executives, activist trustees, and consumer-oriented students have joined a movement that has already restructured the country's banking, insurance, and health care industries in little more than five years. In 1950, only 2 percent of the American population over 25 held bachelor degrees; by 1990, that figure had risen to 21 percent. …