Mergers, Acquisitions & Higher Ed

Monday, November 22, 2021 - Mergers and acquisitions are common in the corporate world but not so much in higher ed. With so much talk about colleges going out of business as we come out of the pandemic, Jeff and Michael explore the idea of mergers and acquisitions with Jeff Senese, the president of Saint Leo University, which recently acquired a college thousands of miles away and wants to build a national network of Catholic colleges.

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Transcript

Jeff Selingo:

So, Michael, as you well know, the predictions of closures in higher ed always grab the headlines in the pieces that you tend to be quoted in. Yet it seems like mergers and acquisitions of higher education institutions don't get as much press attention, even though we've had a few high profile ones in recent years.

Michael Horn:

Yeah. It's been an interesting contrast in the discussion about the future of higher ed Jeff. In the past few years, Delaware State acquired Wesley College, Pine Manor merged into Boston College and more recently, Mills in California was acquired by Northeastern. And then we have Saint Leo University in Florida acquiring Marymount out in California. We'll be looking at the broader discussion about M&A in higher ed today with Jeff Senese, the president of Saint Leo, who has ambitions of creating a national network of Catholic colleges on this episode of Future U.

Sponsor:

Support for this podcast is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is proud to support the work of the Postsecondary Value Commission. Because the question, what is college worth deserves answers. Learn more at postsecondaryvalue.org. Subscribe to Future U wherever you get your podcasts and follow us on Twitter at the handle futureupodcast. And if you enjoy the podcast, please leave us a five star rating so others can discover the conversations we're having about higher education.

Michael Horn:

I'm Michael Horn.

Jeff Selingo:

And I'm Jeff Selingo. With the demographic in financial headwinds facing higher ed, the conventional wisdom is that the sector will follow other industries in a wave of consolidation, either through closures or mergers. Even healthcare, which might be most akin to higher ed, has seen a wave of consolidation of hospitals in the last decade. Still, higher ed with thousands of institutions has suggested it is different, and that the reform of their business models will actually lead to their ultimate survival. Now, the question is whether the pandemic will shift this debate. Overall, undergraduate enrollment in higher ed this fall is down 3.2% and down 6.5% from two years ago. It's a good question about whether these past 19 months will change the conversation. Beyond the mergers and acquisitions mentioned at the top of the show, we also see a massive consolidation plan underway in Pennsylvania with six institutions becoming two, which we discussed last year in an episode with Dan Greenstein. Other states, including Georgia have consolidated their public systems as well.

And on the private side, Wheelock College was absorbed into Boston University, Philadelphia University merged with the Thomas Jefferson University. But many of the examples until now were mergers and acquisitions of real estate or institutions located near each other or in strategic locations like California. I think that's the big impetus, for example, behind Northeastern and Boston going after Mills in the Bay Area. Today, we're going to talk about whether there is an approach for a broader M&A activity in higher ed. And with us, we have Jeff Senese, president of Saint Leo since 2018, and before that, provost there. Over the summer, Saint Leo, a Roman Catholic liberal arts institution in Florida announced it would merge with Marymount California University, another Roman Catholic liberal arts institution near Los Angeles. Now, Michael wasn't able to join me for this interview for Jeff, but he will for the second half of the show. So welcome to Future U, Jeff.

Jeff Senese:

Great to be here, thanks.

Jeff Selingo:

So to get us started, since M&A is such a foreign concept to much of higher ed, could you tell our listeners more about your path in higher ed and what maybe within that path leads you to perhaps think differently about the idea of acquiring or merging campuses?

Jeff Senese:

Sure. I mean, it's a great question and I get it all the time. Really relates to, I worked for a couple of institutions that were struggling, quite frankly. And we had to be incredibly creative. I've worked for 10 presidents. I would say six of them were really creative and had to deal with situations that were difficult and I helped them in a lot of ways deal with those difficult situations. So in my quote, unquote, formative years, as a budding administrator, I was mentored by people that knew how to think in an innovative and creative way. My background is I have a PhD from Michigan State in the quantitative area, so statistics. So I tend to look at things from an evaluative standpoint based on data. And now, I was a provost for more than 20 years and now president for four years, we always look at things from the business side of the equation.

As a provost, you can look at both academic and business, but as a president, you really have to pay attention to is the model working. I came to Saint Leo because Saint Leo had, when I got here, about 27 centers across six states. So, but these were small adult centers that many of them were staffed well. And I looked at it and I said, what about a better model? What about a bigger, more richer model that involves larger entities? So our biggest center was about 500 students, and then they went down to 70 students. They were too small to staff at the appropriate level. So I came across a couple of articles on mergers and acquisitions. Just started reading my head off on it and talked to our board and talked to the senior team. And we have a plan for developing really a nationwide system, we'll see internationally even. So I've been approached by a couple of internationals about their interest in working with us as well.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. And I want to dig deeper on that national network, national system. So Jeff, tell us about the path to merge with Marymount, California, which had really sought a buyer for the last two years. And to clarify, do you call this a merger or an acquisition?

Jeff Senese:

Well, it depends on who I'm talking to. So for SACSCOC, this is what they call a merger consolidation. For us and for Marymount, it's an acquisition. So we signed in July an asset acquisition agreement that both our boards authorized Brian Marcotte the president there and myself to sign. So it is an acquisition in this case. All land, buildings, equipment, so on, so forth comes to Saint Leo University when we closed. This will go before SACSCOC in December. This, for acceptance, SACS has a crazy process compared to the rest of the country where it takes a year for them to get to approval for us to close the transaction. And they've done that for the right reasons to make sure that we're following a process and make sure were integrating in a way that supports both institutions, most importantly, supports the students at both institutions.

So, the president out there, and I started talking about two and a half years ago, and just when he was going through trying to find someone that would partner with them, and just friendly conversations. I use this term called member and partner rather than merger and acquisition. And it remained friendly like that. It remains friendly actually to this day, and there's lots of reasons for that. But in any case, we talked and right at the height of the pandemic last year, Brian called me and said, look, I had this thing going and it didn't work, what about Saint Leo? So we had a go about eight months ago where we decided that we were going to go forward. One of the things that I've learned, so this is my sixth attempt at this, right? So three of them are still active.

Three of them we walked away from because the money, I couldn't make it work. I couldn't make the business case work. I have a firm that does due diligence for us. I have a outside legal counsel that does the legal for us. I have outside IT assessment and outside identification firm as well. So we identify potential members in that way. It allowed the president and I, and the senior team and my senior team to begin to talk, but also be very cordial. There was this interstitial group asking the difficult questions, collecting the data, really grilling them on creating a financial model for the next five years. So we have developed over the course of those six attempts, a very complete and thorough due diligence process and getting from nondisclosure to a letter of intent, to a definitive agreement. And I would argue that at this point, we could probably do that in less time, in half a year's time at this point.

We have two models now, too. So while MCU was a straight acquisition, the other model that we're exploring with a couple of partners, potential partners is an LLC model where Saint Leo would be the parent company. The system will be the parent company and the partner will be an LLC. They'll retain their name, their local presence. Because what we're finding is some of these institutions are strong and they have good market penetration. They just don't have the back office, IT, they don't have the admission system, national network of admissions people. I got 300 people all across the country-

Jeff Selingo:

Wow.

Jeff Senese:

... in addition to people here, right? So most of these smaller places don't have that, but they do have good market penetration. So I want to use their name. So the LLC model is an alternative to acquisition in our mind.

Jeff Selingo:

So there are several reasons why a college might acquire another one. To add new programs or bolster existing ones, to gain scale, to acquire certain assets, maybe in a certain geography, or to save a failing institution. But historically speaking with certain exceptions, it really seems that most of these mergers in higher ed have been of institutions that were geographically proximity, with some geographic proximity to each other, and that's not the case here. So what are the strategic objectives for Saint Leo for doing this, 2,500 miles apart?

Jeff Senese:

Yeah. And it's interesting. So we have a educational center in Savannah. It takes longer to get to Savannah by plane than it does to California. So there's a direct flight out of Tampa to LA, I'm there in four and a half hours. So you're right, that the distance is the distance. Here's the real distance, is Florida is opposite of California and California's opposite of Florida on just about any way we do business. They're heavily regulated, we're not regulated and so on and so forth. So the reason California is so attractive to us and MCU is attractive to us is beyond the culture we like. But I did a study when I was first appointed. I had a company come in and do a national study. And I said, where is our next center? Where should we be?

So before I cooked up the merger model, we were thinking about locating additional centers to grow, to get to a even bigger scale. And they did a study and LA was the number one market, Dallas and Houston were second and third. I didn't have the resources at that time because we were moving other things around. So I didn't really engage in finding a place or building a place if you will, in California. It was more expensive and regulated and so forth. So we were working on Dallas right before the pandemic. Here's the play though in Los Angeles. So they've got about 500 students right now, heavily Hispanic student population, heavily first generation, very similar to our main campus population, although we're African American and white is the mix here. And what we found out there is there's not as much competition in online programming.

We have 70 fully online programs. So we see MCU and you can look at the literature on online. When there's a physical location, you do better in that market. Florida has 21 million people. California has 39 million people, 14 of them, 14 million of them are in Los Angeles. So the play is going to be, we will have a thousand students on campus. We think we can get them back to that, and then we'll have 2000 students online, and we'll be able to service them through the LA location, and maybe other locations in California, in other parts of California, we're looking at. But we see LA as really our number one market. It crosses over diversity. We are 35% Caucasian students at Saint Leo University overall. So it hits our diversity mark, there's military presence out there, it's that. We have 6,000 military active or veteran students, and it hits the first generation mark and the Catholic mark. So there's lots of things about LA that are very attractive.

Jeff Selingo:

So Jeff, you caught my attention on LinkedIn when this deal was announced, because you said you wanted to build a national Catholic university system. And our first partner, you said, is you Marymount California University in Los Angeles. Now, I hail from Pennsylvania where there are a bunch of Catholic colleges and universities that in my opinion, could potentially merge. And we know in places like Buffalo and other places that once had a significant population of Roman Catholics in particular, but yet we still have all these schools because the hurdles to mergers have been high, largely around mission or affiliation with certain religious orders under the umbrella of the church. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you're thinking of this system or network of institutions?

Jeff Senese:

Yeah, so at this point, Jeff, I've talked to 57 presidents across the country, Catholic institutional presidents, and talked to them about the model, talked to them about the advantages. And before the pandemic, those conversations were, that's interesting, but we're not ready for that. So the company that I have that's identifying these institutions, looks at their financials and looks at their scores and tries to understand a little bit about what their situation is. So it's been methodical even on that end. We've developed a way to identify people we should talk with.

Jeff Selingo:

And how do you do that? So are there certain metrics you're looking for, certain locations you're looking for? What are you looking for when you talk to these presidents?

Jeff Senese:

Yap. So one of the first ones that we did not follow through on, and I started it because I like the president and I like the situation, was in Iowa. And when we looked at it, we said, Iowa, interesting. There aren't very many online programs there, so maybe we can make a go of it there. After we did the due diligence, we said, no, that doesn't make sense. So right now we've developed our process where we're looking at larger markets. So you think about the LA market or Dallas, Houston, Chicago, Philly, probably not Pittsburgh, maybe Seattle, maybe Northern California, maybe Denver, maybe not [crosstalk 00:15:42].

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. By the way, I know there's a lot of colleges up in Buffalo, they would probably love to talk with you.

Jeff Senese:

Correct.

Jeff Selingo:

Buffalo used to be a bigger city than it is now.

Jeff Senese:

And Buffalo, there's some advantage there of thinking about Canada. So, I think, given our cost structure or what we need to take in, Buffalo could work with respect to Canada.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. So Jeff, you mentioned online as part of the strategy out in LA, and I'm kind of curious about this because you've grown, as you said. You have 70 online programs, you have 10,000 plus students, I think now right on online?

Jeff Senese:

Yap

Jeff Selingo:

And especially that's grown a lot during the pandemic. So we've seen other online universities essentially create community around an affinity. In this case, a religious affinity, for example, across geography. Think about BYU-Idaho and BYU-Pathway Worldwide in the Mormon community. Is there room for something like this to occur in Catholic higher education? Is there a need perhaps around the affinity of Catholicism perhaps around online?

Jeff Senese:

Well, there's this phrase that I don't take credit for, it's some Bishop came up with this. We teach others, not because they are Catholic, but because we are. We have a value system, that's a value add. I grew up in University of Maryland, Penn State, that kind of place. We are different. There is a value layer that people that are Catholic or non-Catholic see in advantage too. We're the fourth largest Catholic university in the country. So think about out the larger ones, DePaul. DePaul's bound by Chicago, great place, but they've got all they can handle in that area.

Notre Dame, are they going to do this? There really isn't another Catholic that has geographic distribution like we do. And I think there's enough value in affinity to the value system that we offer, the kind of approach to community, the kind of approach we offer toward achieving excellence or service. So you look at Millennials, what are they thinking about? They want a job, but they want to make a difference and where else, but to learn that at a Catholic institution. That's cooked into our DNA, that we're trying to make a difference, we're trying to serve the other rather than just ourselves. And nothing wrong with that, is just our value system is different.

Jeff Selingo:

So Jeff, we've talked a lot about the pros of mergers and acquisitions, but in the 2019 book, Strategic Mergers in Higher Ed, which came out of Johns Hopkins Press. The authors pointed out that institutional survival for its own sake, without considering the direct impact on students is kind of misguided. In some cases, an institution may find ways to survive of as an organization. Yap. They become what they termed a zombie college because too many mergers are really pursued too late, resulting in an institution that is weak. So should some colleges just be allowed to just die, and if so, how do you respond to those who say, all you're doing is really buying assets and not really helping students or help the brand or the mission survive?

Jeff Senese:

Well, I mean, they don't understand the model if they're saying the latter. Look, you don't need multiple presidents, multiple provosts. You don't need the senior leadership and Michael Crow, or Paul Paul LeBlanc have demonstrated that you can run quite large institutions with fairly lean leadership. And that's where the value add, the financial value add is. You're right on the mark, right? I think many of these institutions have come to us in particular. We had one that we just walked away from because they came too late and their debt to income ratio was terrible and we couldn't do anything about it. But where there's value, where there's value to the students or to the local market, mergers can work. They are painful. We are in a painful stage of trying to figure out who's going, who's staying.

That part of it, it takes a lot of intestinal fortitude to get to that where we say, hey, these people are going to go and they need to know now that they're going. They're not going to be at the institution any longer. And that's a downside too. From a Catholic perspective, we don't like doing that. But you look at the longer, longer term. We're here 133 years. We got to look at the long term, the next 133 years. And if you look at that long term, you're going to make those decisions about who goes, who stays, which program stay, which go.

If it's an acquisition, the programs of the acquired institution disappear. If it's an LLC, we talk about it and figure out what's good, what stays. You got to go through a lot of conversation to get to that point. But you're right on the money. Too many places wait too long, too many places are placed in the wrong. Like today, the markets are crazy that we're all competing against each other. And if you don't have enough scale, you're dead. You could be in Washington, D.C. and still be in a problematic position because you don't have scale.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. I mean, scale may be the biggest issue for a lot of these institutions to survive because what, 40% of the US market is under a thousand students. So some of these may just be too small to survive. Well, Jeff, thanks so much for joining us on Future U and we're going to be right back after this break.

Sponsor:

Support for this podcast is provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is proud to support the work of Postsecondary Value Commission, because the question, what college worth, deserves answers. Learn more at postsecondaryvalue.org.

Michael Horn:

Well, welcome back to future you and Jeff, that was a great interview with Jeff Senese, president of Saint Leo. So, I'm sorry to miss it, but I took a lot away from it. And I'd love to start with asking you a question. Given that you have a lot of familiarity of the small Catholic schools that cluster in different regions of the United States, what's your take on the wisdom of using acquisition to make a play, to create this affinity based online education that both transcends geography, but also uses these geographically disparate centers to create more traction among certain populations? Is there room for more of these in the Catholic community, given the different orders, or does St Leo have perhaps a first mover advantage in your mind?

Jeff Selingo:

So, Michael, I'm not kind of a wayward Catholic, so I'm not sure I'm the best one to ask, but I think there's affinity and then there is affinity among the Catholic church. And what do I mean by that? In the small town I grew up in Northeastern Pennsylvania, for instance, there were about 7,000 people in this town in the 1980s. And we had three Catholic churches in this town. One for Slovaks, one for Irish, one for Polish, right. And never as child the three meet. Now, of course like Catholic church churches everywhere by the early 2000s, the three churches combined into one. And I think Catholic colleges are in some ways in the same places the churches were in the 1990s, knowing that they have to combine in some places, but that maybe they have another hurdle compared to many of the non-denominational institutions out there that are trying to figure out if they should combine.

Every college of course has its own mission, its own history. And many of these Catholic colleges were founded to serve a particular set of students who weren't being served by other institutions. But then on top of that, we have to lay on the different sponsoring congregations, right? The Jesuits, the Sisters of Mercy, the Holy Cross, et cetera. I was looking before this discussion and there are 200 members of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, so 200 institutions. But within that, there are more than two dozen sponsoring congregations. So, that 200 is split in more than two dozen different ways. So in many ways, this is political and in so many ways, not much different than trying to merge a set of public universities. So I like the affinity play that Jeff was talking about.

But I wonder if there are nodes. So for example, in Buffalo or in Philadelphia, or maybe there are nodes among sponsoring congregations. Because in many ways, these sponsoring congregations already cooperate. I spoke at Stonehill College, not far from you in Boston a few years ago. And the president from one of the other Holy Cross institutions actually sits on their board. The same is true at Notre Dame, which is also a Holy Cross institution. So there's some precedent for this among those sponsoring congregations. But that brings up the question about whether Saint Leo is the answer or whether these institutions try to do it themselves and how much time do they have.

I guess the first question is, can they do it themselves, right? What Saint Leo brings is the expertise. And I like how Jeff is thinking about kind of the online piece of it, working with the in-person piece of it that they have to work together. In some ways that I guess makes Saint Leo almost an OPM for these schools.

But as he said, they can't do it everywhere. He talked about the density of population. So it might make sense in Philadelphia, but not two hours north in my hometown of Northeastern, Pennsylvania. And then I think there's how much time do you have before you're essentially just buying a distressed asset. Buffalo area, which I think is really ripe for this area. There's places like Canisius, which have a structural deficit of more than $7 million even before the pandemic. So there is room, sure, but this doesn't seem like the savior for most of the Catholic colleges out there. What struck you the most Michael?

Michael Horn:

Super interesting, Jeff, just to hear your reflections. I think three things struck me up front. First, I agree. There's definitely a play for these affinity-based online education movements, and more broadly than outside the Catholic set of orders. The BYUs that you mentioned and the Mormon community, obviously have done this with BYU-Pathway Worldwide and BYU-Idaho, creating very large online presences. Or it seems to me that Liberty University in some ways has taken advantage of this to grow the size of their online undergraduate school as well. But I love adding in the geographically rooted centers. And you mentioned it too, the play of in-person with online. I think you're not just leveraging existing brands to lower the cost of marketing, but also to create a critical mass of students in a community that can support each other and create more student success movements.

We haven't talked in a while, Jeff, about the rise of hybrid colleges, these online competency based learning paired within person supports, in a low cost model. Places like Duet in Boston or Peloton in Austin. But I think that community will matter more and more in these online environments over time. The second thing that struck me would be the importance of having a long term mindset around these M&A efforts. I was really struck by the time horizon that President Senese is using when he thinks about these moves and thinking about some of the short-term painful cuts that they have to make in certain areas. Obviously there's the here and now, but he's really thinking about decades from now. And what I take away from that, I think Jeff is so many college leaders think about self preservation, reacting in the moment to changes as opposed to what's right for the long run of an institution.

You see overreactions in my opinion in all sorts of things, as opposed to standing on principle and what's the values of an institution, and there's obviously a balance here. But it seems to me that leaders at these... What they always remind us, right, these long running institutions that way outpace the lifespan of corporations, they should take a longer view, I think, both to student movements on campus, to questions of merger and acquisition and everything in between. And I'll give you an example. I'm not sure if many listening will know of the Sheffield Scientific School. It was founded in 1847 in New Haven and Yale acquired it in 1945, to essentially, in my reading, give the school a far more robust presence in the sciences, which Yale had not had historically. Now, the DNA of the Sheff School is felt all over Yale's campus today.

And I think it was clearly a smart move given where the world has gone. But Jeff, I can imagine in today's world there might be an uproar from alums saying we're losing our institutional identity and on and on, but standing here 76 years later or whatever it is, I'm not sure the alums of the Sheffield School really bemoan the fact that the school got acquired by Yale or that this is a problem, I guess. The third and last thing I'll just say quickly is I was struck by how long and painful this M&A process is. And he justified in the interview with the accreditor's actions in making it go over some duration of time. But I did feel like he was being PR-savvy there a little bit, the way he said it.

And I get that these accreditors have to do their due diligence, but discouraging institutions from going through this process right now, when I think frankly, a lot more should be considering merger and acquisition activity, I don't think that's terribly wise for the broader higher ed sector nor for students in it. What's your take on that piece of it, Jeff?

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah. And I think Michael, part of the problem is that there's not a safe space to really discuss these issues in places, right? So a couple of years ago, I suggested that there should be a BRAC commission at the public level to help consolidate public university. So, essentially taking the idea of the base closure commission from years ago and that there would be a vote up or down in a state legislature so that you wouldn't have these debates over whether you're closing the college of my backyard.

I think the same thing probably has to be now brought into the accreditors. Obviously, you're not going to have a similar BRAC commission within the accreditors, but is there a commission within each of the regional accreditors, for example, where there could be this community of practice where presidents and others who have experience in closures or mergers or acquisitions come in and have a discussion in a safe space, so that accreditors are not looking at these as a one off or that there's really no place that presidents could talk about this without word leaking out on their campuses or where everybody walks into the room and there's always a stronger partner and a weaker partner.

Because it's clear that in all of these mergers and acquisitions, that there's always the stronger partner and the weaker partner just feels like they're being taken advantage of. And so that they kind of walk away or they drag these things out and then they drag them out so long that it doesn't, in some cases, make sense. And I think that brings up a good point about really thinking about these far earlier. And I think part of the problem is, Michael, is that we've talked a lot about boards on this show over the years.

And one of the interesting things about college and university boards compared to corporate boards for example, is that college and university boards, especially in the private sector, are loaded with alumni of that institution. And in many ways, even though they're supposed to have this fiduciary responsibility over the institution, they also have this love of the place, much like alumni in general for most of these institutions have. And so that's a very different than being on the board at P&G or being on the board at Boeing. I don't have to fly a Boeing jet or love Boeing to sit on their board. I come in there with a little bit more of a outsider's perspective.

I'm supposed to ask questions. Sure. I'm supposed to, in the end, hope that we continue support this organization, but at the end of the day, if I think the best thing for this organization is to be acquired or merged with somebody else, or we've seen in the last couple of weeks, all these big conglomerates, of course, split apart, and the boards obviously think that's in the best interest in this case of the shareholders, well, the same thing should be true of boards of colleges and universities. But the problem is, is that many cases, they're alumni first and second, they're they're board members. What do you think about that?

Michael Horn:

Yeah, it's a good point, Jeff. I think it points to a larger challenge, which is fiduciary duty. As you sit on a board in a for-profit context has all of the debates it has around shareholder primacy versus other stakeholders, but there is some clarity around it. At least when you get into the nonprofit context in particular, I think fiduciary duty on a nonprofit board is a less clear to people. Like, what is the organization's interest? What does that mean in the long run? How do you serve a mission, right, as a board member over the long run and weighing when you're serving the stakeholders of alums versus the longer opportunities and for students, right, who are going to become both into this institution or a merged institution, I think are a lot less clear and are not widely discussed, Jeff. So I think that's a really important point.

And then the other quick thought is I think you're right. Boards need a lot more reps at these conversations and much earlier because President Senese said it, when it gets to the point that it's a fire sale, you're not doing anyone any good. You often have these terrible quick exits for students. There's not great teach out options. There's not great transfer pathways, there's debt without a brand, without a clear pathway. Maybe you get a school, the shell of which gets merged into another school. It's not much value. I think we need to really reframe the conversation around merger and acquisition, not as a failure, but as a strategic move. And I will say that Jeff, because that probably means people like me should stop calling it a failure when you merge or get acquired, but I know that's a key part of our failure recommendation, but, hey, I guess we can throw me under the bus, right?

Jeff Selingo:

Well, I guess Michael, there if you stop calling them a failure, maybe we'll start seeing more of them because people will say, hey, Michael Horn's now going to congratulate us, right, if we end up having this instead. Maybe that's part of the problem here is how we frame this in the media.

Michael Horn:

I think it's a good point, and we all have a public role, I think, in wrestling with these deeper questions.

Jeff Selingo:

So we've come to that point in the show where we're going to take audience questions. And just a reminder, please get us your questions, and if we ask your question on the air, you'll get a great Tervis tumbler in the mail. And this week's question comes from Michael Fahey, who's from the Glastonbury High School in Connecticut. And Michael, he asked, do you think we will see more colleges closing in the future? So a perfect question for this episode of Future U. And if the answer is yes, I think this was kind of an interesting piece of this question, is, will it make it more difficult for the marginal student to get into college?

Michael Horn:

Such a good question on multiple levels? So I'm clearly on the record on the first one as saying yes, more colleges will close. I actually think more will merge than close, just for the record. But so I think the answer is yes, but in terms of the second half, I think we got to dig into it a little bit more. So the majority of schools are relatively open access in the US today. So that marginal student, I think will continue to have a place to go to college, Jeff. And my own consumption is that we may have fewer institutions, but serving many more students. And the other piece of this, that the third piece, I guess I would say, is that demographic cliff that we're talking about.

There's no rebound right now, in sight as you know, Jeff. And so, we're talking about a smaller number of student base and really in some ways, it's just a contraction of higher ed to right-size itself for a different population of students. So I don't think it's going to really impact that marginal student, in my opinion, Jeff. But I'm curious your take, you're closer to the admissions side of this.

Jeff Selingo:

Yeah, I agree with that because I think that it also might push us to think differently about other pathways for students. I think again, we think too much in the US, particularly that it's college or bust, that we don't have great pathways for students who may want to try out other things, including more job training and more job skills and things like that. And so, it's not that we don't need more post-secondary options out of high school, but I think that to just think it has to be a college. And in this particular case, when we're talking about closing colleges, we're usually talking about four year colleges. I think that in this case, we can think about other options, perhaps, if we had a smaller base of institutions.

Michael Horn:

It's a great point. And I'm not sure we want that marginal student to go to that struggling college in the first place. So that may be a great place to leave it, but fascinating conversation. Thank you all for joining us as usual. We'll see you next time on Future U.

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