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TC and CU - Just Friends, or Something More?

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TC President Arthur Levine and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger

TC President Arthur Levine and Columbia University President Lee Bollinger have enjoyed a cordial working relationship.

Should Teachers College have a closer relationship with Columbia University? What are the various ways that could happen and what would be the pros and cons for each institution?

Two years ago, TC made the exploration of those questions part of its strategic plan and, more recently, Columbia and TC engaged the consulting firm McKinsey & Company to seek some answers. McKinsey has now submitted a report that, based on analysis of the financial and academic strength of both TC and Columbia, lays out a number of options--from combining back office functions to full integration.

The report paints a very clear picture of TC's strengths. On the academic side, the school boasts a growing enrollment, increasingly selective admissions and top-ranked programs in several areas, and a compelling new mission focused on educational equity. Financially, the school has been balancing its budget for 10 consecutive years, maintains an A1 credit rating from Moody's Investors Service (which was increased four years ago from A3), and boasts a sizable endowment of more than $160 million-'"resulting from a hugely successful and sustained capital campaign.

Yet as a stand-alone graduate institution, TC is more dependent on tuition as a source of revenue than other leading schools of education, has higher student-to-faculty ratios, and is seeking to boost its financial aid offerings. Meanwhile, academic costs are rising. The College has "limited -'degrees of freedom' to make material changes to the scale and mix of the college," the McKinsey report says.

TC and Columbia share key objectives (education, globalization, and the desire to find better links between academic research and "the real world") and their current presidents enjoy a cordial relationship. This makes the present time opportune for considering closer ties to the mother ship, the report says. Yet at present there are few joint initiatives between the two institutions and the collaborations that do exist depend chiefly on relationships between individual faculty members.

So what could be changed and how might TC benefit?

One obvious route would be to create closer academic ties. At the simplest level, these might include allowing students to cross-register for courses, developing jointly hosted public lectures, enabling faculty-'"from both institutions on search and senate committees-'"to guest lecture, cooperating on research grant applications and increasing the number of joint appointments. More ambitiously, the two schools could combine certain programs, seek joint research grants, develop dual degrees and combined continuing education programs, develop shared summer institutes and collaborate on inter-disciplinary programs such as TC's Campaign for Educational Equity.

Students and faculty interviewed by McKinsey at both TC and Columbia said they would welcome efforts along these lines.

TC and Columbia could also help each other -- and save money -- by sharing space. TC's classrooms are largely empty during the day, when most of Columbia's classes meet. Columbia needs more classrooms that can accommodate large-sized classes (70 or more students), while TC has a number of such spaces in which it typically convenes classes with only 15-20 students. 

What about fully merging TC into Columbia? The report finds that there would be no material benefits to TC from doing so, while risks might include loss of autonomy over processes such as tenure and resource allocation.

 "The findings in the McKinsey report represent potential opportunities for cooperation that we wish to explore further," wrote Jack Hyland and Bill Rueckert, Co-chairs of TC's Board of Trustees, in a letter to the College community that accompanied the newly released report. "They are not recommendations for action."

To view the report, visit www.tc. columbia.edu/strategic-planning/Comments are welcome and can be expressed through the site.

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