What does collaboration really look like?

karen-talentino-saint-michaels-200Consider consortia to expand resources

By Karen Talentino, Saint Michael’s College

As the challenges to our futures expand and increase in potential impact, it has become clear to many of us that most individual institutions do not have the capacity to develop successful strategic responses completely on our own. For institutions of higher education today, collaborations are essential.

In order to provide a transformative student experience we work across institutional divisions to create an engaging and integrated curriculum and co-curriculum. We accept that students are learning 24/7 and we work together to articulate learning outcomes and create learning opportunities that acknowledge that fact. We are no longer independent silos of academics, student activities, residence life, financial aid, athletics, and career and health services. A number of schools have combined offices, or created student “hubs” that provide comprehensive, one-stop support for students. Without serious and intentional collaboration, these efforts could not be successful.

With constrained budgets and increased competition for students, most institutions are looking for creative ways to expand resources for student learning by looking beyond campus boundaries and budgets. For example, most, if not all institutions are members of at least several consortia, which may be aimed at administrative cost-sharing, cross registration opportunities (both local and online), joint academic or student life programs, or any number of other objectives. In addition, many undergraduate colleges have articulation agreements with various universities to facilitate post-graduate education for their students. Inter-institutional collaborations are some of the most exciting initiatives in higher education today and will continue to an important aspect of cost-savings and expanded opportunity in the future.

Regardless of the type, here are a few suggestions about how to make the most of any collaborative experience:

  • Set aside enough time to work on the collaboration – it will require time, trust and compromise
  • Articulate a clear assessment plan and exit strategy
  • Learn from successful models – there are lots of them
  • Consider collaborations with institutions of all types, not just those that are similar to you
  • Be aware of infrastructures and processes that are set up for silos, not collaborations
  • Publicize your successes

Although a collaboration can require more effort than going it alone, at its best a collaboration can lead to shared knowledge, enhanced creativity, additional resources and better thinking. A collaboration encourages introspection and clarity of articulation about goals and expectations, creating a greater likelihood of a successful outcome.

Karen Talentino is a professor of Biology and vice president for Academic Affairs at Saint Michael’s College (VT).  She has been an academic administrator and biology faculty member for nearly 40 years at several private liberal arts colleges in New England.

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