Why M&A in Higher Ed Might Differ from that in Health Care


March 17, 2023

Why M&A in Higher Ed Might Differ from that in Health Care

Filed under: virtual school — Michael K. Barbour @ 9:11 pm
Tags: cyber school, education, high school, Innosight Institute, virtual school

An item from a neo-liberal…  This one is an item from a business professor with little direct experience in education, but who believes free market economic principles are the answer to education’s (and pretty much all other society’s social) problems.

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March Madness is in the air—from the banks to the basketball courts.

Since I last wrote a free update, we’ve released two new episodes of Future U. The first, “A Looming Wave of Mergers and Acquisitions,” addressed a topic with which, for better or worse, I’m associated—college consolidation. My prediction that at least 25% of colleges will have closed, merged, or gone through financial exigency (college’s version of bankruptcy) in the period from 2013 to 2033 (and, I’ll add, that that activity will be less dramatic than the higher ed media thinks it will) is often cited. And, as Jeff Selingo pointed out right away on our latest podcast on the topic, it’s a prediction that many thought would happen during COVID—and just didn’t.

But in the episode, Sally Amoruso, chief partner officer at EAB, and Mary Ludden, who, among other roles, serves as the head of a committee that reports to Northeastern University President Joseph Aoun on merger and acquisition (M&A) opportunities for the university, told us that the conditions are now ripe for more such activity.

With that said, this isn’t your normal podcast just sharing all the macro trends that may lead to M&A. Both Amoruso and Ludden have unique perspectives on M&A informed by their work in another industry that’s often compared to higher education: health care. And in this podcast, they point out all the reasons that higher education is distinct from that sector and others where for-profit activity leads to M&A.

Among their top reasons are:

  1. Lack of access to capital markets;
  2. Although both health care and higher education have third-party payer systems, there’s no downward pricing pressure exerted on higher education like there is in health care;
  3. Divergent incentives for the leaders of hospital systems versus colleges and universities.

I learned a lot from this conversation and suspect many of you will, too.

Will the Teens Be OK?

With new CDC data showing that more than half of teenaged girls in the United States felt persistently sad or hopeless in 2021, teen mental health is firmly in the news. With data showing that it’s not just girls who are struggling, Lisa Damour, author of the new book The Emotional Lives of Teenagers, joined us on Future U. to break down the struggles of teenagers and the implications for colleges and universities from admissions to graduation and beyond.

Damour is a New York Times best-selling author, cohosts a podcast called Ask Lisa, and is a regular contributor to CBS News, in addition to maintaining a clinical practice in psychology. I found parts of the conversation quite reassuring and comforting—even as I certainly had more questions. Among the comforting points were that, as Lisa said, “the definition of mental health that circulates in the culture doesn’t match very well with the definition that we use as psychologists.” Blame the wellness industry perhaps, but the difference matters. As Lisa said, “Mental health is not about feeling good or happy or calm or relaxed. It’s about two things. One, having feelings that fit the moment that make sense in the context. So if we think about college students, the transition to college is wildly stressful. That is entirely appropriate. And then two, handling those feelings effectively. Handling those ways, those feelings in a way that brings relief and does no harm.”

That gives way to another important facet of this topic, and Lisa had some good thoughts on it. Check out the whole conversation—and Jeff and my takeaways from it—here at “Will the Teens Be OK?

At the same time, there is mounting evidence that social media is really having a terrible impact on teenagers’ declining mental health (particularly girls). I joined the Fordham Institute’s Education Gadfly podcast with Mike Petrilli and David Griffith to discuss the impact of social media on kids’ mental health. I shared how I find @Jonathan Haidt’s ongoing research on the topic persuasive.

We then flipped the conversation to talk about what schools could or should do about it. My suggestions might not surprise you. Moving to mastery-based learning is critical so that we can help students build their agency (with a hat tip to Ian Rowe), resilience, and self-efficacy. Why? So that they can learn to embrace failure as part of the learning process, not a comparison to their peer set that dooms them. In other words, let’s teach students how to cope with challenges (just what Lisa was talking about). In my estimation, that means that schools will have to tackle the challenges of mental health, but they don’t need to necessarily do so in a way that is outside of teachers’ expertise (as Robert Pondiscio and others have warned). Instead, teachers can address these questions in an integrated way as they help students learn academic knowledge and skills. And that means making academics more, not less, rigorous in my estimation.

I also talk about why I think blanket bans on technology aren’t the way to go either and that schools must accept the fact that students are using these tools outside of school—and that schools’ job is, in part, to prepare students to use the digital devices for more substantive purposes after high school, namely for work and further education. Does that mean an individual teacher shouldn’t be allowed to ban cell phones from class? Not at all. They need that ability. But I don’t think districts or states should be making these blanket bans from on high. You can listen to our conversation here.

Speaking of Mastery-Based Learning

That’s a big push of course in my book, From Reopen to Reinvent. There was a nice feature story in my town’s local online newspaper—the Lexington Observer—about the book, which you can read here in “Covid’s Silver Lining?

As a reminder, if you’re interested in having me speak at an event about reinventing school for every child, send me a note. Here’s a nice picture from a recent talk I gave at George Mason University as part of a two-day Dell Technologies Innovation Summit for school districts.

From left, Provost Mark Ginsberg, Dell’s Tara Nattress, Michael Horn and Dean Ingrid Guerra-Lopez. Photo by Stephanie Aaronson/OUB

And here’s a video of a recent book talk I did for a set of teachers in the Teaching Fellows Institute.

Scaling the Successes and Sunsetting the Old

Finally, on the most recent episode of Class Disrupted, Diane Tavenner and I tackled another critical question for schools seeking to innovate: how do you scale a pilot once it’s proving successful and embed it in your daily operations? And how do you sunset old practices that are no longer needed? Have a listen here.

As always, thanks for reading, writing, and listening.

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