Merger mission

RCC president continues quest for university partner

Jack Bryant, Redlands President

By Tim Farley, News Editor – Redlands Community College President Jack Bryant is continuing his mission to find a four-year university partner, which will become a state mandate for community colleges in two years.

However, Bryant is hoping he can secure a merger within one of three university systems before that deadline. The three systems are the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents, the Oklahoma A&M Board of Regents and the Regional University System of Oklahoma.

“Our plans are still on course as we try to set up meetings with those three boards,” he said this week. “We need to get our board officers to meet with their boards and discuss what the best fit is for us. I don’t think it will take us until June 30, 2019 to get a partner.”

Two-year colleges can voluntarily merge with a four-year school by June 30, 2019. After that time, a two-year college and a four-year institution will be paired by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.

Gov. Mary Fallin presented an executive order in 2017 mandating two-year colleges merge with a four-year institution by June 30, 2020. In addition, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education initiated the Task Force on the Future of Higher Education in March 2017.

Subcommittees have worked on various issues for the past year. The state regents accepted the task force’s final report and recommendations Feb. 1.

Among the recommendations was the mergers between 2-year and 4-year institutions.
In the final report to state regents, task force members recommended lawmakers create a seed fund to provide financial incentives to encourage voluntary mergers.

“Institutional mergers should be undertaken with the following objectives: improve student success; maintain access and maximize cost savings,” the report states. “To enjoy the benefits of mergers, institutions will need to undertake considerable and thoughtful planning efforts, as well as develop significant communication strategies. Done well, mergers have proven to be highly beneficial to institutions and students, but they require a dedicated investment of time and resources. Institutions are much more likely to engage in this effort if it does not require reallocation of already scarce resources.”

Bryant hoped to set up meetings with representatives from the three public university systems this week or early next week.

Bryant submitted degree transfer information to the Redlands Board of Regents Thursday night.

“We want to see what degrees are going to which institutions,” he said.

Last month, Bryant gave Redlands regents information about the number of students who transferred to various four-year schools during the past five years. Oklahoma State University has the largest number of Redlands transfers followed by Southwestern Oklahoma State University, the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma.

Bryant said it’s important for the public to understand Redlands Community College is not shutting down.

“We want to concentrate on talking to students and community members on what this will look like for us. We want them to know Redlands will always be here. It may not look the same, but we will still be fully accredited and we’re still moving along like we’ve always done,” he said. “There may be a different name on the door, but we don’t know if the school’s name will change. We’re hoping it doesn’t, but if it does it won’t change our mission.”

Other four-year colleges under the OU and Oklahoma A&M regents have independent names. For instance, the OU regents oversee Cameron University in Lawton and Rogers State University in Claremore. The Oklahoma A&M regents have control over other schools besides OSU, including Connors State College, Langston University, NEO Oklahoma A&M College and Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

For the most part, the merger will consolidate back-office operations such as finance, human resources, the business office, registrar operations and transportation services. In addition, Bryant could be out of a job since the four-year institution already will have a president.

“What comes from our partner discussions depends where Redlands goes to,” the RCC president said. “But partnering with other colleges is not new to us.”

Redlands has working relationships with other institutions in connection with several academic programs.

Bryant requested the total student transfer data and the degree information so Redlands regents and the other higher education boards can make an informed decision.

With the voluntary merger deadline more than a year away, Bryant said it’s too early for him to consider recommending a partner university.

“It’s way too early for that,” he said. “We still need to talk to each board, get our board’s input and go from there. I don’t know what the end line looks like. It’s too early.”

The report shows that Oklahoma has many independent higher education governing boards, such as the RCC board of regents. By contrast, California has three and New York has two.

The merger requirement does not prevent institutions from retaining their own identity, mission, admissions requirements and tuition structures.

Following the mergers, regents and trustees currently serving on a school’s governing board for single institutions such as Redlands will be converted to advisory board positions with gubernatorial appointments, the task force report shows.