Before Rutgers University plays a single game in the Big Ten conference, it will reap the benefits of the athletic conference's less-visible academic counterpart, the Committee on Institutional Cooperation.

New Jersey's largest public institution of higher education accepted an invitation to join the group Dec. 5, as did the University of Maryland. Both schools were invited to join the consortium after accepting invitations to join the Big Ten.

As a member of the consortium, Rutgers will be able to more easily participate in collaborative research, offer more class opportunities, and access a greater range of library resources, said Michigan State University provost Kim A. Wilcox, the chairman of the consortium's governing body.

"A lot of this would be invisible to individual students," he said, citing changes such as increased access to journals published by member schools. "But it is very much a part of the fabric of the university."

These changes will let Rutgers offer online courses in foreign languages it does not currently teach, send students on joint study-abroad summer programs, and connect faculty members with researchers from other schools.

Some of the biggest changes will be behind the scenes, said Richard L. Edwards, executive vice president for academic affairs at Rutgers. The collective bargaining power of the 15 schools will mean lower costs for purchasing items such as academic journals and laboratory equipment, he said.

When the two schools join in July, the committee will be composed of the 14 Big Ten schools, plus the University of Chicago. The 15 schools conduct $9 billion in funded research each year.

"In the discussion leading up to the invitation for Rutgers to join the Big Ten, we obviously knew about the CIC, and that was certainly one of the things that made membership in the Big Ten very appealing," Edwards said. "It facilitates various kinds of collaborative research among our faculties among the various schools."

Membership in the consortium is not formally linked to the Big Ten Conference, Wilcox and Edwards said, but they said membership in the latter was a de facto prerequisite for an invitation to join.

"I don't think that a university would be admitted to the CIC these days that isn't part of the Big Ten," Edwards said.

The committee was born from the conference, of which the University of Chicago was a founding member before leaving.

Rutgers formally joins the group July 1, 2013.

Contact Jonathan Lai
at 856-779-3220, jlai@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @elaijuh.