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New Fund Aims to Help Colleges Pay for Merger Explorations

March 18, 2021
 
 

A new fund will attempt to assist colleges and universities seeking collaborations, partnerships and mergers.

The Transformational Partnerships Fund launched Wednesday with a $2.5 million budget, enough to assist an estimated 20 pairs of institutions over three years. To qualify for support from the fund, at least one institution exploring a partnership must serve a student body that is at least a quarter people of color or where at least 40 percent of students are eligible for the federal Pell Grant, which is widely considered a proxy for low-income status. A potential partnership also needs to be able to produce “materially better academic outcomes” for students.

Driving the fund is the idea that many institutions facing financial trouble -- institutions that often serve a large number of low-income and underrepresented students -- could stabilize their operations and better serve students through mergers, sharing facilities, co-curricular offerings or sharing administrative and overhead operations. But such arrangements in higher education are complex, and many cash-strapped institutions lack experience navigating them.

The fund was established by the Los Angeles-based ECMC Foundation, which is the charitable arm of student loan servicer and guarantee agency Educational Credit Management Corp., and New York-based SeaChange Capital Partners, which was founded in 2007 with the aim of bringing experience from the finance, technology and real estate sectors into the nonprofit world. SeaChange will manage the new fund.

Also providing support for the fund are the Kresge Foundation and another student loan guarantor, Ascendium Education Group.

“The Transformational Partnerships Fund supports institutions interested in exploring creative solutions that could fundamentally transform how they operate, for the benefit of students and schools alike,” said Nadya Shmavonian, a partner at SeaChange, in a statement. “When eligible academic institutions want assistance navigating these unique times, we can help identify third-party experts equipped to assess their needs and guide them toward collaborative partnerships that deliver long-term stability.”

Seed grants will be available to support tie-up explorations, or catalytic grants worth up to $100,000 will be made available so colleges and universities can pay for technical assistance in areas like law, finance, governance, fundraising and human resources. The fund is also offering access to relevant resources from its network of third parties and a group of advisers that includes administrative, governing and accreditation experience. It promises confidentiality.

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