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Otterbein-Antioch partnership to provide more opportunities for adult learners, graduate students

Though President John Comerford has been providing updates on the plan since February, questions remain about how this will impact Otterbein.

After initially announcing his intent to create a system of independent universities in February, July saw Otterbein President John Comerford announce that Antioch University had become Otterbein’s first partner in this new endeavor. Questions still remain, though, about what this system is and why it’s being established in the first place. 

The system, described in a July 26 email as one “of affiliated, independent, not-for-profit higher education institutions”, is currently aimed at graduate students and adult learners. Otterbein’s primary goal with this system is to democratize higher education by providing more opportunities for these demographics - things like expanded degree offerings, more accessible course modalities, and increased institution capacities.

Otterbein has stressed that undergraduate programs will remain unaffected, and that both universities will retain their own identities. An online FAQ page clarifies that “members [of the system will] keep their distinctive undergraduate programs and brand identities,”. 

The same page offers further clarification about what undergraduate students can expect from this system in the coming future. “Undergraduate students will start to see new opportunities arise very soon… the system will allow member institutions to create new academic experiences for students, including accessing study abroad, career services and internship opportunities through all member campuses. Experiences such as these will take some time to be developed and implemented."

Comerford explained the reasoning behind the system when first introducing it in February, where he discussed how COVID-19 pandemic had exposed problems with Otterbein’s business mode, and enhanced the downturn in undergraduate recruitment that was already in effect beforehand. “We struggle sometimes with efficiency. We struggle with program diversity,” he said.

In April, he highlighted Otterbein’s lack of presence in the graduate and adult learner spaces, and how the university was similar to other institutions in that respect. “The biggest part of this idea is that we would unify our graduate and adult and professional development programs, we would bring them all together to have a real scale and power in the marketplace in a way that we suspect Otterbein by itself would struggle to do because of brand awareness, because of diversity of programs, because of ability to invest, because of a variety of reasons.”

Comerford also argued that the system could help drive up enrollment and add more qualified people to the workforce, another thing Otterbein struggles with because of scale.

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