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President John Comerford provides updates on potential partnership with independent universities

The system would primarily be aimed at adult and graduate students

President John Comerford provided substantive updates on his plan to create a system of independent universities during an April 7 town hall meeting.

After recapping the statistics and market research he discussed in the last town hall meeting, President Comerford began to address the results of the surveys distributed to alumni, faculty and staff, as well as general developments.

Comerford took some time to respond to the survey results and address some of the concerns expressed in the survey, assuring the audience that Otterbein’s undergraduate program would remain distinct in the partnership and that the system wouldn’t be used to eliminate faculty positions. Additionally, he emphasized that the system would be primarily marketed towards the adult and grad student markets.

One of the other concerns that cropped up in survey responses was that the plan may make Otterbein seem worried about the future, something that Comerford did not deny. “The truth is this: we’re worried about the future, and we have an opportunity to do something from a position of strength that’s innovative and different to serve more students now.”

He explained that Otterbein is still in early talks with potential partners, and that certain details of the final arrangement are still unclear. “This all looks great at 30,000 feet, but it's getting the plane to land that's the problem, right? The devil is in the details…how exactly do we share the revenue? And how exactly do we share the costs? This is where we get into some of those real tough discussions.” 

Professor and department chair for philosophy and religion Andrew Mills was intrigued by the idea, and was particularly interested in its targeting nontraditional adult students. “I think that it opens up some really interesting opportunities for reaching out to the so called adult market, to get the students here who are looking for a master's degree, who are looking for certificates, who are looking to complete college after having spent a couple of years in college maybe a decade or two ago.”

At the same time, Mills had some reservations. “I certainly would not want Otterbein to become part of a consortium where now the traditional undergraduate student is not a student at Otterbein, but is a student of this consortium university…these sorts of things have a way of, on their own, sort of changing and becoming different from what they were originally created to be. And so I just would want to see some safeguards put in place to make sure that this doesn't change the experience of undergraduates.”

President Comerford stated that the idea had been brought to the Higher Learning Commission, whose response was positive. “They say, this is innovative, this is new, we think you will get besieged with calls from other institutions about what this is and how they can join and how they can copy it.” That being said, final approval for the system rests with Otterbein’s Board of Trustees.

Ultimately, the plan is still moving forward - for now. “This could all end up being for naught, this could all come apart on us. And we will talk internally about how we position Otterbein to not be part of an independent university system, but we're still on track with our partners in the conversation," said Comerford.


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