Five College Strategic Plan

Letter from the Board of Directors

Four Colleges, Incorporated, was founded in 1965 to formalize library collaboration and student course cross-registration among Amherst, Mount Holyoke, and Smith colleges and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Earlier, in 1958, four faculty members of the four colleges were commissioned to write The New College Plan, which ultimately led to the founding of the continually experimenting Hampshire College, which admitted its first students in 1970. With the creation of Hampshire College, the consortium became Five Colleges, Incorporated, in 1966.

From its inception, the consortium has posed the following provocative questions about collaboration in higher education, both for its members and for the national conversation: Working together, how can we collectively improve our ability to meet the intellectual and pedagogical needs of students and faculty members? Where are the most productive points of curricular intersection and innovation? How can strategic cost-sharing strengthen educational excellence?

Today, the consortium is recognized as one of the oldest and strongest consortia in higher education, serving 35,000 students and 2,500 faculty members, and supporting two joint departments and a joint major, thirteen interdisciplinary certificate programs, and nearly 6,000 course cross-registrations each year.

The value proposition of the consortium is clear: Through collaboration and cooperation, there are greater academic and intellectual opportunities for students and faculty members than could be offered at any single campus, greater efficiency in operations and administration, and greater opportunities for innovation. We should take advantage of these opportunities while remaining mindful and respectful of the differences that create the separate identity of each campus.

As higher education’s business model—rising tuition, growing need for financial aid, reliance on less certain public financing, investment earnings and philanthropy—comes under increasing pressure, the advantages of collaboration are ever more apparent. Five Colleges, Incorporated, has a leadership role to play in demonstrating a model for higher education that is both pedagogically and financially sustainable.

In undertaking this comprehensive strategic-planning process—the first in a decade—we charged the members of our campus communities to look beyond the immediate moment, beyond many of our own personal relationships with the five colleges today, so that we might envision a consortium for those yet to come—students and faculty members for whom agile movement—real and virtual—among disciplines, social contexts and institutions will be not merely an attraction but a reality.

The opportunities presented by new and emerging technologies suggest that the geographic proximity that originally defined the consortium need not delimit its scope today. Individually and collectively, our institutions are engaging worldwide audiences, pursuing national and international collaborations, and educating students for multicultural understanding and global leadership. At the same time, we are partners with schools and organizations in our immediate communities. We must strengthen those connections and expand our reach to other communities in our region, particularly the urban centers—vital environments for partnerships in education and service.

Underlying every aspect of this plan are three core ideals:

  • Seamlessness: maximal opportunity and minimal barriers to collaboration, where pursued;
  • Thoughtful convergence: synergistic program development, resource sharing and cost-containment, where appropriate; and
  • Scope: a consortium of local impact, regional influence, national importance and global reach.

The strategic directions in this plan represent the collective wisdom of hundreds of faculty members, students, staff members, trustees, and administrators, whose insights were gathered in focus groups, retreats and online forums over the course of more than a year. The goals will be realized over time through working groups, relevant administrative bodies and, in some cases, the engagement of external specialists. A number of matters identified in the course of the planning process as requiring urgent attention already have improvements under development or being put into practice.

To succeed—to optimize the consortial advantage—we must raise awareness of the valuable outcomes of collaboration across our organizations, recognizing these as compelling incentives for collaborative decision making and investment. Doing so will result in more successful and distinct member institutions, allied productively in a more powerful consortium.

-Board of Directors, Five Colleges, Incorporated (December 2010)

Neal B. Abraham, Executive Director, Five Colleges, Inc.
Anthony W. Marx, President, Amherst College 
Marlene Gerber Fried, Acting President, Hampshire College
Lynn Pasquerella, President, Mount Holyoke College
Carol T. Christ, President, Smith College
Robert C. Holub, Chancellor, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Jack M. Wilson, President, University of Massachusetts System