Innovative partnerships have fostered a culture of collaboration across Connecticut’s diverse higher education landscape in recent years, and those leading the effort say it’s an example that may benefit other states.

Trinity President Joanne Berger-Sweeney joined four other college and university presidents from the Nutmeg State Friday, Dec. 9, in Boston to discuss the benefits of their partnerships. The panel was part of the annual New England Commission of Higher Education meeting.

The other presidents included Radenka Maric of University of Connecticut; Terrence Cheng of Connecticut State Colleges & Universities; Rhona Free of University of Saint Joseph; and Jennifer Widness of Connecticut Conference of Independent Colleges (CCIC).

Across Connecticut, 146,000 students are enrolled at public and private institutions as varied as community colleges, state schools, an Ivy League university, and liberal arts institutions such as Trinity.

A deliberate effort to develop collaborations within higher education began several years ago when presidents gathered for a discussion on innovation and entrepreneurship. Berger-Sweeney was one of the presidents at that meeting, and realized it was the first time that both private and public institution leaders were together, said Widness.

From that gathering sprung regular meetings of the presidents – that continued over Zoom during COVID – and relationships that cultivated industry connections and new opportunities for students.

In other states “I know the pandemic likely prompted similar convenings of campus leaders and new opportunities for collaboration but the question remains how to leverage those connections moving forward,” said Widness.

Connecticut higher education institutions have collaborated to lobby legislators for Pell Grants and the Roberta Willis Scholarship Program, which are both need-based, Widness noted.

Trinity has partnered with other schools, such as Capital Community College, and industry, such as Hartford Healthcare. The college has also designed a successful program with global technology company  Infosys, that helps develop employee skills.

With Infosys, the benefits are numerous. For industry, it is a trained workforce; for the State of Connecticut, growth in its economic base. And, for Trinity, the partnership diversifies the college’s revenue stream, said Berger-Sweeney. “It’s a win-win-win,” she said.

The higher education institutions share resources, as well, tapping into high-powered equipment at the University of Connecticut, said Maric. And in many cases,  they share applicants. Opportunities at one community college, may lead to matriculation at another.

One area in which collaborations may be leveraged to bring about change, said Berger-Sweeney, has to do with U.S. News & World Report, which publishes an annual ranking system that has long been criticized by college administrators.

Recently, several highly ranked law schools took the step of withdrawing from the rankings. Asked whether any of the Connecticut institutions would consider a similar move, Berger-Sweeney noted, “I think we would have a greatest impact if we pull out together…if all the institutions in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York made the decision.”