Higher education is an unusually competitive enterprise.  College and university leaders understand competition, and their organizational cultures and educational programs tend to focus inward, but not entirely.  There is growing recognition that collaboration must become an important part of future planning.  The Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program is eager to support partnerships between research universities and liberal arts colleges in order to address the multiple, shared challenges facing undergraduate and graduate education.

Grantmaking to Support Collaboration in Higher Education

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View a sample of recent grants to support consortia in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities.

The program in Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities supports a network of domestic and international consortia organized around the complementary research and teaching missions of research universities and liberal arts colleges.  These collaborations, which may also include other educational and cultural institutions, take many forms, from sharing administrative operations such as purchasing, facilities management, and health services, to sharing library collections, instructional technology, academic appointments, scholarly projects, and faculty development activities in emerging areas of interest such as the digital humanities and cognitive science.

The program recognizes that one size does not fit all, that it takes time for competing institutions to get comfortable with the idea of sharing, and that distance is a complicating but negotiable factor.  Geographic proximity may be helpful for some collaborations, but it is far from sufficient.  The keys to successful partnerships are closely correlated to mission and to faculty members’ appreciation of the potential scholarly and pedagogical benefits that may result from economies of scale and a more expansive intellectual community.  Just as important, presidents, provosts, deans, and boards of trustees must recognize that competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive.

The Foundation notes that liberal arts colleges and research universities often represent their missions as occupying mutually exclusive positions with respect to teaching and research, but the reality is more nuanced.  In spite of obvious differences in scale, research universities and liberal arts colleges have a mutual interest in resisting specialization, sustaining their commitments to general education, demonstrating that teaching and research are integrally linked, and controlling costs.  Research universities have the resources and infrastructure to enable liberal arts colleges to expand their curricular offerings and to build intellectual community, and liberal arts colleges have much to share with their university colleagues about getting undergraduates involved in research and community engagement, and in introducing new PhDs to the intimacy and professional opportunities available in a residential liberal arts community.  Another incentive for the research universities is the opportunity to recruit liberal arts college students into their graduate programs.

Liberal arts colleges and research universities are directly connected by their mutual interest in the preparation and development of future faculty and in the goal of continuing to diversify the professoriate.  This underdeveloped partnership is as important for the purposes of improving undergraduate teaching as it is for the potential changes in graduate school training that may better prepare aspiring scholars for successful careers at liberal arts colleges. 

The Higher Education and Scholarship in the Humanities program will support formal and informal collaborations across sectors and among like and unlike institutions.