Securing America’s Future: The Vitality of Independent Colleges

​​ Crowd photo of Presidents Institute participants seated at the Awards Banquet
Presidents, spouses, sponsors, and speakers celebrated the accomplishments of higher education leaders and honorees at the January 6 Presidents Institute Awards Banquet at the Loews Miami Beach Hotel.

With the largest participation in the Institute’s history and a stimulating and substantive program, CIC’s 2016 Presidents Institute took place in Miami Beach, Florida, January 4–7. Focusing on the theme, “Securing America’s Future: The Vitality of Independent Colleges,” sessions highlighted the strengths and contributions of independent colleges and captured the messages of CIC’s campaign for the liberal arts.
The Institute drew a record number of presidents (382) and spouses and partners (190) as well as a total registration of 856 people. It welcomed leaders from several international member institutions, including those from France, Iraq, Lithuania, Morocco, Puerto Rico, Switzerland, and the United Arab Emirates. And for the second year, the Institute hosted a delegation of private university rectors and higher education leaders from Mexico.
Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and CEO of TIAA-CREF, delivered the keynote address on the president’s role in leading transformational change in independent colleges and universities. In a plenary session moderated by Holiday Hart McKiernan, chief of staff and general counsel of the Lumina Foundation, a panel of innovative CIC presidents—Esther L. Barazzone of Chatham University (PA), Paul J. LeBlanc of Southern New Hampshire University, Elizabeth J. Stroble of Webster University (MO), and John S. Wilson, Jr. of Morehouse College (GA)—considered how independent higher education can respond to disruptive changes in society and the academy without compromising the core characteristics of independent colleges that have assured the delivery of a high-quality education for decades.
In the well-received session, “What Matters in College: The Vital Role of Independent Colleges,” Frank Bruni, New York Times op-ed columnist and author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2015), discussed why independent colleges and universities deserve serious consideration by prospective students and their families. In short, they provide an outstanding education to students from a wide range of backgrounds. In the closing plenary session, “Campus Civility and First Amendment Freedoms: Presidential Leadership in a Pluralistic Society,” panelists addressed the role of presidents in shaping their campus cultures, balancing the competing claims of political correctness and freedom of speech, and influencing society to learn from and respect the increasing diversity on campus and in the world. Panelists included Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core and author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America (2013); Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University (TX) and former solicitor general of the United States; Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College (MI); and as moderator, Sanford J. Ungar, distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University, who has been president of Goucher College (MD), director of Voice of America, and host of NPR’s All Things Considered.
In conjunction with the Presidents Institute, CIC also hosted the New Presidents Program that included sessions for spouses and partners of new presidents; the Presidents Governance Academy; and the Presidential Spouses and Partners Program.
During its annual awards banquet, CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Individuals) to O. Jay and Patricia Tomson, a couple who has given generously to three colleges—Wartburg College (IA), Luther College (IA), and St. Olaf College (MN)—benefitting such diverse programs as finance, social work, education, and foreign language study. CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Organization) to the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, which has created the largest privately funded, service-based college scholarship program in the nation. Accepting the award on behalf of the foundation was Robert Hackett, president of the Bonner Foundation, accompanied by Kenneth Kunzman, chair of the Bonner Foundation board of trustees. CIC presented the 2016 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service, supported by Jenzabar, to W. Robert Connor. Connor is a scholar and former president of the Teagle Foundation and of the National Humanities Center; he has developed and implemented numerous successful initiatives to take student learning to a higher level.
Videos of the plenary sessions and banquet addresses as well as presentations and handouts from many Institute sessions are available on the CIC website at

Photos from the Institute

CIC presented the 2016 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service to W. Robert Connor. The award was sponsored by Jenzabar, represented by Robert Maginn, president and CEO.
CIC presented the 2016 Allen P. Splete Award for Outstanding Service to W. Robert Connor. The award was sponsored by Jenzabar, represented by Robert Maginn, president and CEO.

CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Individuals) to O. Jay and Patricia Tomson, who have given generously to three colleges—Wartburg College (IA), Luther College (IA), and St. Olaf College (MN).
CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Individuals) to O. Jay and Patricia Tomson, who have given generously to three colleges—Wartburg College (IA), Luther College (IA), and St. Olaf College (MN).

CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Organization) to the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, represented by the foundation’s chair Kenneth Kunzman and president Robert Hackett (center).
CIC presented the 2016 Award for Philanthropy (Organization) to the Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation, represented by the foundation’s chair Kenneth Kunzman and president Robert Hackett (center).

CIC recognized S. Georgia Nugent, interim president of the College of Wooster (OH) and chair of CIC’s liberal arts campaign, with the “Champion of the Liberal Arts Award” for her innovative and inspirational leadership on the campaign.
CIC recognized S. Georgia Nugent, interim president of the College of Wooster (OH) and chair of CIC’s liberal arts campaign, with the “Champion of the Liberal Arts Award” for her innovative and inspirational leadership on the campaign.

CIC recognized S. Georgia Nugent, interim president of the College of Wooster (OH) and chair of CIC’s liberal arts campaign, with the “Jennifer L. Braaten, president of Ferrum College (VA), addressed new presidents and spouses and partners.
Jennifer L. Braaten, president of Ferrum College (VA), addressed new presidents and spouses and partners.

Robert E. Johnson, president of Becker College (MA), discussed High-Tech and High-Touch—How to Have Both.
Robert E. Johnson, president of Becker College (MA), discussed “High-Tech and High-Touch—How to Have Both.”

Leaders of the Mexican Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions, the Mexican Federation of Private Institutions of Higher Educations, CIC Board of Directors, and other leaders discussed partnership opportunities.
Leaders of the Mexican Association of Universities and Higher Education Institutions, the Mexican Federation of Private Institutions of Higher Educations, CIC Board of Directors, and other leaders discussed partnership opportunities.

Frank Bruni, President Institute speaker and New York Times columnist, spoke with CIC member presidents during a reception.
Frank Bruni, President Institute speaker and New York Times columnist, spoke with CIC member presidents during a reception.​


Leading Organizational Transformation in a Changing Economy

Roger W. Ferguson, Jr. speaking from the podium  

“You’re not alone in facing the challenge of change,” said Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., president and chief executive officer of TIAA-CREF, while delivering the keynote address of the 2016 Presidents Institute. Ferguson described exemplary leadership at a range of organizations that had faced challenging circumstances. He also urged presidents of smaller independent colleges and universities to follow three recommendations: communicate continually about change, leverage the unique strengths of their institutions, and favor incremental over discontinuous change whenever possible.

“Organizations that want to endure must evolve constantly,” said Ferguson. He elaborated by quoting John F. Kennedy: “Change is the law of life, and those who look only at the past or the present are sure to miss the future.” Leading others through a crisis situation, such as the one Ferguson faced when taking over the leadership of TIAA-CREF in the midst of the 2008 recession, often requires dramatic change. The “more difficult scenario,” Ferguson observed, is “when everything appears to be quiet,” because complacency may set in. He illustrated that point by citing how even sector-leading organizations, such as International Flavors & Fragrances and the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, have had to innovate continually to maintain their success in new economic conditions and with changing societal preferences.

The role of leaders, Ferguson stated, “is to recognize the permanence of change, assess how their organizations should evolve, catalyze the response, and communicate relentlessly about it all.” Emphasizing the last point, he said it was impossible to over-communicate with stakeholders about strategies of change.

Ferguson described how Anne Mulcahy, former CEO of Xerox, brought the company from near bankruptcy to a billion dollar yearly profit in the mid-2000s by communicating extensively with employees. From her perspective, the turnaround was due not to any particular strategy that she developed, but rather the alignment of employees around a common set of objectives that they had helped develop. Mulcahy asked employees to imagine where they wanted Xerox to be in five years and then write a mock Wall Street Journal story about it. She asked questions, listened carefully, acknowledged hardships, and regularly explained the changes the company was making in order to expand. Mulcahy’s example demonstrates that, in Ferguson’s words, “When people know where you’re heading, they’ll avoid complacency or panic.”

Recognizing that CIC institutions share important qualities, such as “a more personalized touch” than larger colleges and universities and, in most cases, a liberal arts focus, Ferguson encouraged presidents to develop their institutions by leveraging the particular strengths that differentiate them from other institutions. These may stem from ties to the local community, a strong alumni network, different academic offerings, or the endowment among other areas. “Focus on one or two incremental build-ups that are unique strengths of the institution,” Ferguson advised. Presidents should not try to push through too many changes at once, he warned, but rather first get buy-in and build credibility by successfully implementing a couple of key changes.

Ferguson also cautioned against embracing visions of discontinuous change. “Often, 180-degree turns make people feel disoriented,” he said. He argued that tech giants such as IBM, Google, and Apple might seem to be making bold changes, but they are, in fact, changing slowly over time. As revolutionary as it seemed, the iPhone was not the first smartphone on the market, Ferguson explained. Rather, it was the first phone to make accessing the internet easy with its touch screen. Apple has slowly added features to the phone over time that have made it easier to use and more powerful; in this way, it has remained a market leader. Ferguson, however, emphasized that incremental change as an approach should not be confused with the glacial speed of progress that is the hallmark of some colleges and universities.

As college and university presidents consider how best to advance their campuses, Ferguson advised they consider four societal trends for 2016. As the American population ages, presidents will need to take into account expectations of both eager and reluctant retirees on their campuses. Presidents also should consider the rise of Gen Z—60 million students who are now ages 5 to 19. They are, Ferguson said, the “first true digital natives,” having grown up around smartphones and social media, and the size of the cohort will offer opportunities and challenges for colleges and universities. Ferguson also believes President Obama’s call for free community college may increase the number of two-year college graduates looking to complete a four-year degree. Ferguson concluded by commenting on financial markets: “Volatility is certain,” he said. He urged presidents to remain calm and consult their financial advisors in the face of fluctuations.​

Forging the Future: Emerging Approaches for Independent Higher Education

Holiday Hart McKiernan, John S. Wilson, Jr., Esther L. Barazzone, Elizabeth J. Stroble, and Paul J. LeBlanc present from chairs on stage
Holiday Hart McKiernan of the Lumina Foundation, John S. Wilson, Jr. ​of Morehouse College (GA), Esther L. Barazzone of Chatham University (PA), Elizabeth J. Stroble of Webster University (MO), and Paul J. LeBlanc of Southern New Hampshire University discussed how colleges can prepare for the future.

“Independent colleges are uniquely positioned to lead transformation in American higher education. That’s what our charge is collectively—to be that hope for American higher education because we have more ability to be nimble and agile than many other sectors,” Holiday Hart McKiernan, chief of staff and general counsel for the Lumina Foundation, remarked. As moderator of the plenary session, “Forging the Future: Emerging Approaches for Independent Higher Education,” McKiernan opened the discussion by asking, “With the cacophony and white noise going on about [so many higher education issues], what is our unique stake? What is essential and what can change so that independent colleges can lead and be the voice about what students need and so that colleges can meet the needs of students and the economy?”

During the session, a panel of four innovative CIC presidents explored how independent colleges can respond to disruptive changes in the academy and in larger society without compromising the core characteristics of independent colleges that have assured the delivery of a high-quality education for decades. The panelists shared insights based on their own efforts to balance these competing claims. The session was one of many throughout the Institute that discussed topics explored by CIC’s Lumina-sponsored Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.

The first panelist, Esther L. Barazzone, has served as president of Chatham University (PA) for 23 years. During her tenure, the university has gone through three re-brandings. “Chatham’s story is one of both incremental and transformational change…. Our motivation to change was survival and our initial change was incremental,” Barazzone explained. The university’s first rebranding involved adding graduate programs, the success and expansion of which triggered the transformational change of becoming a university with a separate women’s college. The next two re-brandings—opening the world’s first completely sustainable campus and becoming fully coeducational—were deliberately transformational. Since developing the university’s Eden Hall Campus and Falk School of Sustainability, sustainability has become the university’s second-largest undergraduate major and the graduate program is expanding rapidly. After matriculating its first coeducational class this past fall, the number of new students more than doubled to make the largest class in decades. But in becoming coed, “our goal was not to lose the women’s mission but to recruit more of both sexes,” she said. The university added a new undergraduate general education program that is organized around the concept of diversity and created the Chatham University Women’s Institute to house the Pennsylvania Center for Women in Politics and the Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. Barazzone concluded, “Today we have 2,200 students and we are growing—a strong upward trend in every way. I hope we will continue to change…because it is required of us all.”

Panelist Elizabeth J. Stroble became president of Webster University (MO) in 2009. She remarked, “When I think about whether Webster has engaged in incremental change or disruptive innovation, I’d say the institution was disruptive from its inception. The Sisters of Loretto created the college in 1915—it was created by women for women before women’s suffrage…. It’s in our nature to think we ought to innovate and transform ourselves to meet the needs of students.” Today, Webster is coeducational, independent, and nonreligious; it offers undergraduate and graduate programs on four continents to about 19,000 students. Stroble said that the college’s focus on global citizenship has persisted over the years, but the college’s size and diversity have increased dramatically. When she became president of Webster she wanted “to find ways to capitalize on the university’s global character, integrate it, and build the infrastructure in terms of technology, facilities, location, partnerships, and talent development—that was the real opportunity for ongoing transformation and innovation.” Among other changes, the college continues to expand its international partnerships, has revised its general education program to focus on global citizenship, and has created a new entity—the Global Leadership Academy to develop and enhance the leadership skills of faculty and staff members.

John S. Wilson, Jr. became president of Morehouse College (GA), his alma mater, in 2013. Previously, he served as executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Wilson explained that Morehouse College is “to remain on mission, which is to create Morehouse men—servant leaders for the world. The special thing about Morehouse, and what we have to preserve even as we innovate, is that many of our graduates have had transformational experiences on campuses…. And I have been reminded that you can’t make a Morehouse man online or off campus—students have to be in the community to get a deep dive.” Wilson, however, has directed several new initiatives to help students achieve this goal. In one initiative, Morehouse College has partnered with Civitas Learning, a predictive analytics platform that provides information to students, faculty, advisers, and administrators to help college students improve their academic performance and graduate on time. Wilson hopes it will make a meaningful difference in completion results at Morehouse and throughout the country. In a second initiative, Morehouse has begun to work with Morehouse alumnus Gene Wade, founder of UniversityNow, a self-paced, competency-based direct assessment program. The online, high-touch project will be designed for Morehouse students, students who have been unable to complete their degrees in a traditional setting, and members of the local community. Wilson said, “This will give us a different kind of tool.... As we innovate, even disruptively, we will still remain who we are”—makers of Morehouse men and increasingly Rhodes scholars.

Paul J. LeBlanc, who has been president of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) since 2003, said, “People think of transformation in two ways: transformation that is about doing what you do in mostly the same way, but better and innovation that allows you to reach a different or larger audience by doing things in a very different way.” It is the second transformation that SNHU has explored. In recent years, Southern New Hampshire University has expanded beyond its traditional residential campus of about 3,000 students who are traditional college-aged to offer online degree programs to working adults. The online offerings have made Southern New Hampshire one of the fastest growing universities in the country; SNHU online has more than 72,000 nontraditional students juggling work and family. “It has been a bit of a rocket ride in which we’ve almost broken the machine more than once in any way you can imagine—student services, human resources, payroll, everything. We have learned a lot along the way about managing rapid growth,” LeBlanc said. SNHU built a very different organization for its online students than the one that serves 18-year olds. “And I think some colleges struggle with launching their online operations because they take sensibilities, a pace, and a set of policies that are designed for one group of students and try to apply that to a population that has something else in mind,” commented LeBlanc. In a third transformation, SNHU launched College for America, which was the first direct-assessment program approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the first competency-based program to be endorsed by a major employer as its free college option for its employees.

McKiernan asked panelists how they brought about change and how they brought key team or faculty members along with them. Wilson said that constant messaging about the vision and the end destination has helped Morehouse bring people along. Barazzone commented, “It’s easy to initiate change in many ways when there is great hardship and challenge. Not only is the board behind you; the faculty figures they better be, because you just need to move.” She explained that the hard part often is to keep up leadership for change when changes have led to success because, for example, people expect that expenditures can return to normal if finances have improved. LeBlanc replied, “A lot of times we assign change to people who have spare time. Your best people have no spare time. So figure out how to free your best people, backfill them, and put them on the things that need doing. If you’re talking about doing something dramatically different, then you should split it off…. For example, I would challenge you to point to a large-scale, successful, online initiative that has worked within the traditional framework of faculty governance…. The big successful players have all been on the margins.”​

Making a Robust Case for 'The Vital Role of Independent Colleges'

Frank Bruni speaking from the podium  

Best-selling author and acclaimed New York Times columnist Frank Bruni began his plenary address with enthusiasm for the collegiate experience and a defense of higher education. “College is the final hinge into adulthood; the broadest unfurling of the world of ideas; the most accelerated discovery of self; and the most accelerated discovery of one’s place in society and one’s debt to it. I’m not sure that there’s a period in life—or a noun in our vocabulary—imbued with as much magic and possibility. For all our hand-wringing about the changes and new challenges that confront it today, college hasn’t lost so much as a glimmer of its luster.”
Bruni, author of Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admissions Mania (2015), visited numerous colleges in preparation for writing his book and as part of his reporting for the Times. He recounted a recent visit to the College of Mount Saint Vincent (NY). “There was something special there: a sense of community, a web of close-knit relationships.” The professor who showed him around knew most of the students they ran across. “She really knew them, telling me what courses they were taking, what internships they had, what careers they wanted…. It was equally clear that they were thriving because of that investment, because of her confidence in them.” And when Bruni delivered an address to students there and took questions, he said, “These students were thoughtful. They were hopeful. And, above all, they were engaged. I was struck by that. And as I listened to them and learned more about them, I was even more struck by something else: They might not be experiencing this particular engagement at any other school…. And many, no matter where they were from, needed the direct access to faculty, the small class sizes, the sense of intimacy that a college of Mount Saint Vincent’s scale pretty much guarantees.”
Bruni continued his remarks on “The Vital Role of Independent Colleges” by pointing out that “their most important role is…to enrich the higher-education landscape with such a diverse garden of options that any and every student can find the flower he or she needs. That can’t happen if he or she has only large schools of 5,000, 25,000 or 50,000 students to choose from. That can’t happen if he or she has only public universities to consider. That can happen only when the landscape teems with possibilities, surprises, discoveries, and secrets like Mount Saint Vincent.”
Bruni didn’t know about the College of Mount Saint Vincent before he wrote Where You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be, which “presents examples of the many compelling, original, unduplicated programs you get when you have a robust diversity of schools and when those schools have the independence to develop their own personalities, to hone their own strengths.” These examples include Monmouth University’s (NJ) behavioral psychology course at Six Flags Amusement Park that included weekly meetings with trainers at Six Flags and fieldwork with the animals; St. Lawrence University’s (NY) dormitory of yurts (cylindrical Mongolian tents) for its “Adirondack Semester” in which a small group of students learns to survive in the wilderness and study environmental philosophy and nature writing; Denison University’s (OH) academic concentration in bluegrass music, designed by a professor with a history of fiddling; and DeSales University’s (PA) internship program with the Vatican that sends as many as six students to clerical and communications positions there every year.
“The story of these independent colleges isn’t just one of unique programs and facets; it’s of distinctive personalities and proclivities that other schools don’t precisely replicate and that make these schools essential, inimitable options in the marketplace of higher education.” Bruni cited Luther College (IA) that “has proven to be a surprisingly sturdy cradle for winners of some of the most prestigious academic prizes. Although it has an endowment of only $116 million and just 2,500 students at a time, it has produced eight Rhodes scholars.”
“Different students do best in different climates and even microclimates. You all observe this daily at your own schools…. But I can reassure you that as an outsider, with a vantage point unlike yours, I see this, too.” Bruni also said he has spent a lot of time talking to high school guidance counselors and college-placement counselors and that they see it too and are grateful for what independent liberal arts colleges offer.

Participants queue at a microphone stand to ask questions  

He said he also researched college outcomes because, as he contends in his book, “we attribute more career- and success-making magic to Ivy League and Ivy-like schools than they deserve.” He explored “the notion that a selective college left its graduates in better stead: more successful, more fulfilled, more content” and said he “discovered some powerful suggestions that smaller liberal arts colleges serve their students particularly well, leaving them especially satisfied.”
He asked researchers with the Gallup-Purdue Index (an ongoing survey of American college graduates of all ages that to date includes more than 60,000 graduates) to break down their findings for more “granular results” about contentment among graduates of selective colleges. The results showed that 13 percent of graduates of the top 50 liberal arts colleges “described themselves as fully thriving across all categories of existence, from health and community to professional” compared with 10 percent of graduates of all types of colleges. Not a huge difference, he said, but there was more of a difference when the researchers looked at which college graduates pronounced themselves fulfilled by their careers: 39 percent of all graduates, 39 percent of public-school graduates, 40 percent of private-school graduates, 41 percent of graduates of top 50 universities, and fully 47 percent of graduates of top 50 liberal-arts colleges said they were fulfilled by their careers.
Bruni further cited research by New York Times columnist James Stewart on the impact of a particular college on its graduates’ earnings. “Stewart worked with a scholar at the Brookings Institution to see if they could crunch information about the earnings of graduates of different schools in a particular way…. What resulted was a ranking of what they called ‘value-added’ colleges.” The top ten included Colgate University, Carleton College, Washington and Lee University (VA), Westmont College (CA), Kenyon College (OH), Wagner College (NY), Marietta College (OH), Manhattan College, St. Mary’s University (TX), and Pacific Lutheran University (WA). “You’ll notice that noneof the most venerated large universities, private or public, are on that list; more than half of the schools on the list are CIC members; and the others are schools much like those in CIC: independent, medium-sized or smaller, and focused on the liberal arts,” Bruni said.
Bruni also researched for his book the winners in 2013 and 2014 of MacArthur “genius” grants, “to see where they’d done their undergraduate work—to check my assumption that it wasn’t going to be a lineup solely of institutions with acceptance rates of under 15 percent. And in the process of working with me on that, the people at the MacArthur Foundation became so intrigued that they combed through their files and examined the backgrounds of all 918 winners of the grant from its inception up through 2014.” Bruni noted that Cecilia Conrad, a senior official with the MacArthur Fellows Program, wrote a Huffington Post column about the findings in May 2015. Of particular interest, she wrote, “Our data provide one clue as to the educational environments most conducive for creative minds to develop: A relatively high number of fellows graduated from liberal arts colleges…. Less than 2 percent of U.S. college graduates graduated from a liberal arts college, but 14 percent of MacArthur Fellows did…. It seems unlikely that liberal arts colleges admit more creative people than other colleges and universities. They rely on the same admissions criteria…. It is more likely that private liberal arts colleges have produced more than a proportionate share of fellows because of the educational environment at those institutions. Something must be more likely to happen to a student at these institutions than at other institutions that allows creativity to flourish.”
Bruni concluded, “I believe that just as we treasure the boutique over the chain store, local farmers over produce flown in from Chile, and the artisanal over the mass-produced, we must treasure independent colleges that don’t try to be everything to everyone and thus wind up being more special to someone. What matters in college? Engagement—and an environment that can foster that. And there’s irrefutable evidence that this country’s independent colleges provide precisely that environment for students who couldn’t flourish any better—and might not flourish at all—somewhere else.”

Campus Civility and First Amendment Freedoms—Leading in a Pluralistic Society

Sanford J. Ungar, Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, Ken Starr, and Eboo Patel present from chairs on stage
Sanford J. Ungar, former president of Goucher College (MD), Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College (MI), Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University (TX), and Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core, engaged in a lively discussion about "campus civility."

In the closing plenary session, “Campus Civility and First Amendment Freedoms: Presidential Leadership in a Pluralistic Society,” a distinguished panel explored the role independent colleges play in developing citizens who will embrace the free exchange of ideas in an atmosphere of civility and respect and keep democracy robust. The panelists discussed how colleges and universities can be both centers of inquiry about genuine differences and venues for free expression as well as how flashpoints of intolerance or hate can be turned into learning opportunities to transcend mistrust and build understanding.

Panelists included Eboo Patel, founder and president of Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) and author of Sacred Ground: Pluralism, Prejudice, and the Promise of America (2013); Ken Starr, president and chancellor of Baylor University (TX) and former solicitor general of the United States; and Eileen B. Wilson-Oyelaran, president of Kalamazoo College (MI). Moderator Sanford J. Ungar, former president of Goucher College (MD), is a distinguished scholar in residence at Georgetown University and a former head of Voice of America. With different backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives, the panel members led an engaging, thought-provoking discussion—a “respectful dialogue.”

Ungar opened the session by stating, “There have been incidents in the last couple of years that have tested the notion of civility in the university. And many people say that we depend upon our colleges and universities to train young people for participation in civil society.” He then asked the panelists, “What is civility and what are we aiming for?”

Wilson-Oyelaran remarked, “I think it is our responsibility to use our campus communities to prepare students to live in a highly diverse world. And I think we have to recognize that the young people who are attending college today have no models for this kind of behavior in the public sphere, political sphere, or in the media, and many of them have not taken civics in high school…. Having said that, I personally find the word ‘civility’ quite loaded. Perhaps it’s because I’m a woman of color, perhaps it’s because I’ve been told to be a ‘good girl’—to be quite and not protest. I would like to see us develop a new language that talks very clearly about what we’re trying to accomplish. [The goal should be a] respectful dialogue in which there may be serious disagreement and yet we can walk out of a room and figure out how to work together.”

Patel replied, “I think what we are seeking to achieve is a healthy, diverse democracy,” which he said includes respect for identity, relationships between people of different identities, and a commitment to the common good. “In a diverse democracy we ought to expect that people have different ideas of ultimate concerns, different grounds for hope, and different views of politics. The only way to have a sense of the common good is if people from different backgrounds can share reasons and tell stories.” The role of college, he said, is to be a laboratory for such a democracy and a launching pad for its leaders.

Starr stated, “I like what Eileen said about respectful discourse. And to me that brings us back to first principles, which is that every human being should be treated with dignity and respect… I think that’s common ground, and certain applications of that principle help guide us whether we use the term ‘civility’ or not. But having dignity and respect for that individual means his or her voice has to be taken seriously and listened to.” Starr said that another first principle is that education is compellingly important. “And that means to me the education process shall not be substantially disrupted.”

Noting several recent incidents where students on some campuses have occupied the president’s office, Ungar asked the panelists whether there are ways to keep conflict at an endurable level so that college isn’t disrupted. Wilson-Oyelaran replied, “My first reaction is, who decides [what an endurable level is]? We’ve talked a lot about building community in our conversation—and power dynamics play a huge role there. Our major work is teaching and learning; I don’t want to see classes disrupted…. But if a student reaches the point where sitting in someone’s office seems to be the only responsible step…maybe one needs to step back and figure out how to respond to that rather than say that type of protest is completely disruptive.” She said many students have not had the opportunity to learn principles of activist engagement. After Kalamazoo College struggled with student unrest last year, the provost and Wilson-Oyelaran created an independent study class in which the activists read the works of social justice leaders and about “just struggle.” “We’ve got to come up with innovative ways to deal with this,” she said.

Starr responded that “who decides” should be clear—the board of trustees or regents have delegated such responsibility to the president or CEO. He elaborated that if the university is like a conversation, students are welcome to the conversation; it’s their business if they want to act foolishly, but it’s not their business to disrupt. “There needs to be understandable standards that allow the expression of alternative views including protests. I think protests are fine.... But if there is a substantial disruption of the educational function, then that is a sanctionable act…. And I think that helps us frame who we are and how we behave with one another in community,” he said.

Ungar asked panelists whether today’s students seem to be approaching issues with more anger than past generations of students. Wilson-Oyelaran responded that she doesn’t believe students today hold a sense of optimism like past generations of activists did, and because they are young, their sense of history is not yet broad. “I think it creates real challenges for building community…and we have real work to do.” But she also said that she has found when talking with student activists that anger is often a mask for pain. “I think it’s really important for us to understand that and figure out how we can deconstruct it when we work with our students.”

Patel said that he thinks there is a deep irony in higher education leaders coming together and asking where students get some of their ideas when the ideas, for example post-colonialist thought, might be what students are learning in their classes. “What is a huge dimension of postcolonial theory? It’s that the operation of racism was conducted not just through armies and bureaucracies but through symbols. Well, if I’m a 19-year old kid, I don’t command an army, but I can protest against the name of a building.” He said that while it’s important to teach students about post-colonial theorists, students also need to be taught how theorists such as Jeffrey Stout, professor of religion at Princeton University, and Isaiah Berlin, the late British philosopher, frame a diverse democracy.

Starr noted that the conversation was returning to the loss of a precious heritage of ideas. He said that Baylor has required every student for the last 60 years to take an American constitutional tradition course. He emphasized that Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms” speech, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address are precious materials that “for whatever reason we, and this is ultimately a policy failure of high dimension, have allowed to gather dust and not enter into the educational process much less the conversation.”

Unger said that he agreed, but “when a campus situation has evolved in such a direction, you’re not going to solve it by saying, ‘here read this.’ Anger has flared, things have gone so far down the road that you are then in a situation of crisis.”

Panelists offered additional recommendations. Wilson-Oyelaran said, “One of the things that I have tried to talk to students—and faculty and staff—about is what I call ‘generosity of spirit.’” She explained that it’s about how people engage those who see the world differently. It’s about having a generosity of spirit that enables people to enter a dialogue instead of always assuming that others come with negative intentions. But Wilson-Oyelaran also recommended that college and university presidents go back and look at their institution’s materials. “In our effort and in our deep belief in the value of diverse campuses to develop this diverse, pluralistic democracy we probably made it sound too easy. I think we’ve got to say to students, ‘we are welcoming you to join in the project of this work, and it is hard work, and you’re going to be uncomfortable as we learn how to live together’…. And every time we talk about the importance of building democratic communities right on our own campuses and the challenge that requires we are preparing students to engage in hard work.”

Starr said that Baylor University aspires to develop a caring community that loves and forgives one another and that if student groups use the word “recommendations” instead of “demands” it creates a more civil community. Patel suggested that sometimes recommendations are too weak; he said that leaving the name of a slave holder on a building or school is egregious and students should be able to protest in an appropriate way.

Wilson-Oyelaran said she is concerned about the erasure of history. “I think we have a powerful opportunity at this moment to begin to create an intellectually honest history.” She used the example of Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence and built the University of Virginia but also was a slave holder. Wilson-Oyelaran said that some names may need to come down, but students should still know who people are and institutions should discuss the full complexities of history and contemporary society. “One of the things I encourage all of you to do as presidents is to understand the history of your own institution. And those of you who have not read Ebony and Ivy, I would recommend it to you. It’s the story of race and the slave trade in American higher education. All of our institutions have stories because they all came out in many ways of a similar ethos. Our students are now doing the history, so don’t get caught short.”

In a question about what coursework might help students understand these various issues, Patel praised the benefits of case studies. “I think teaching case studies is the single best way to have students attempt to be leaders in a diverse democracy. At IFYC it’s our singular curricular effort. We take religiously diverse case studies from the front page of the New York Times.” He added that instructors can teach a case study and then give students several pieces of supporting material to help them further.

Examining Institutional Transformation, New Models, and Research on Pressing Questions

The future was a prominent theme of the 2016 Presidents Institute, beginning with a plenary session devoted to “Forging the Future: Emerging Approaches to Independent Higher Education." Several other sessions explicitly addressed the work of CIC’s Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education and featured presentations by members of the project’s Steering Committee on institutional transformation, new business models, and research that highlights the essential characteristics of smaller private colleges and universities. The project has been supported by grants from the Lumina Foundation with additional support from the TIAA-CREF Institute.

Chris Kimball of California Lutheran University, Edwin Welch of the University of Charleston (WV), Elizabeth Fleming of Converse College (SC), and John McCardell of Sewanee: The University of the South (TN) discussed CIC's Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.
Chris Kimball of California Lutheran University, Edwin Welch of the University of Charleston (WV), Elizabeth Fleming of Converse College (SC), and John McCardell of Sewanee: The University of the South (TN) discussed CIC's Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.

Open Forum

Nearly 70 presidents participated in an open forum on the Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education. Chris Kimball, president of California Lutheran University and chair of the project’s Steering Committee, provided an overview of the initiative, which was launched in 2014. The goal, he explained, was to “help CIC members face a changing world while staying true to our missions.” At its first meeting in 2014, the Steering Committee developed a research agenda focusing on “what we do well at small private colleges and where we might need to make changes.” At its second meeting in fall 2015, the committee developed working lists of the “essential” and “negotiable” characteristics of independent higher education as a resource for CIC members to consider the future of their own institutions. The draft “essentials” list circulated at the open forum emphasized institutional mission and independence, high levels of student engagement, a student-centered approach to learning, student access and opportunity, connections to community, and economic sustainability. Kimball underscored that “this is not a prescription for how institutions should face the future, because we know that CIC member institutions vary a great deal.”
Other members of the panel, all of whom served on the Steering Committee, added their own commentary on the project before inviting feedback from the audience. Edwin Welch, president of the University of Charleston (WV), offered a shorter list of four essential attributes of an independent college: independent, financially viable, focused on students and the value that colleges add to the student experience, and committed to engagement. “Nearly everything else is negotiable,” Welch concluded.
Elizabeth Fleming, president of Converse College (SC), then described some of the research reports prepared for the project and listed major questions about independent higher education that still need further attention: “How do we quantify the experience and success of independent college graduates versus their public counterparts? How can we broaden the public’s perception of our sector’s value?” Fleming urged participants to use the research reports to help imagine what successful, innovative, and adaptive institutions would look like in the future. She then shared the Steering Committee’s recommendation for the next phase of the project, which may include half-day workshops in locations throughout the country to engage institutional teams of presidents and other campus leaders and promote change on individual colleges and universities.
John McCardell, president and vice chancellor of Sewanee: The University of the South (TN), commented on the diversity and “real value of small, private colleges in the marketplace—but we need to re-assert this value outside of the echo chamber.”
During the session, a number of participants commented favorably on the idea of smaller meetings to discuss further the issues raised by the project. Welch ended the open forum with a reminder that any next step in the project will be designed to “empower CIC member presidents to make better-informed decisions about the future.”


Research Findings

The session, “Compelling Findings: Results from Research on the Future of Independent Higher Education,” featured presentations by the principal authors of two major research studies commissioned by CIC: James C. Hearn, professor and associate director of the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education, and Christopher Morphew, professor and executive associate dean for research and innovation at the College of Education, University of Iowa. CIC member presidents were encouraged to use report findings to help trustees, faculty members, and policy makers understand the role and impact of private colleges.
Hearn summarized the findings from the 2015 report Mission-Driven Innovation: An Empirical Study of Adaptation and Change among Independent Colleges, which is based on a survey of CIC member presidents. The most important finding, said Hearn, is that the nation’s private colleges and universities are “not experiencing stasis, decline, or passivity”—as some media critics claim—but “demonstrating very active responses to changing contexts.” In fact, more than 90 percent of survey respondents introduced both cost-containment and revenue-diversification initiatives in the past several years, and 63 percent of presidents reported that the innovations are helping to preserve their institutions’ missions.
Morphew offered a preview of his forthcoming report on trends in faculty composition and roles at CIC member institutions. One goal of the research, he explained, is to provide a more accurate portrait of contingent faculty at small private colleges—institutions that are much more likely to employ professional practitioners as part-time faculty members than the stereotypical itinerant liberal arts instructor. His research shows that overall, CIC institutions tend to rely more on full-time faculty members than any other kinds of institutions—and that changes in full-time faculty vary considerably by discipline. CIC will publish the full report by Morphew and associates this spring.

Margaret Drugovich of Hartwick College (NY) discussed mission-driven innovations implemented on her campus.
Margaret Drugovich of Hartwick College (NY) discussed mission-driven innovations implemented on her campus.

Evaluating Business Models

Todd Hutton, president of Utica College (NY) and a member of the Steering Committee, summarized one of the project’s driving themes during a concurrent session on evaluating alternative business models: “Independent colleges have to create our future for ourselves. We all need to be looking at new opportunities and new business structures.” The session featured Hutton and fellow Steering Committee member Margaret Drugovich, president of Hartwick College (NY), who offered examples of “social entrepreneurship, innovation, and transformation” drawn from their own institutions.
Drugovich described several innovations directly tied to Hartwick’s curriculum and mission as a liberal arts college committed to experiential learning and service to its region. One mission-driven innovation is Hartwick’s new Center for Craft Food and Beverage, which takes advantage of the growing movement for local and sustainable agriculture in New York State. The center will provide a new revenue stream from fees for quality tests, new research opportunities for faculty members, new research and internship opportunities for students, and an incentive for students to remain in the region after graduation by supporting local employers—which is likely to improve student recruitment and retention.
Utica has explored new corporate models to expand its regional and national reach. Hutton described a series of partnerships with for-profit educational service providers to develop new professional programs in specific areas, including cybersecurity and the health sciences. In order to meet state accreditation requirements and alleviate the concerns of faculty members and other constituents, the partnerships are structured around fundamental premises: The university will retain control over core academic functions but may contract with service providers to fulfill non-core functions; the relationship between the institution and the service provider must be transparent. “Partners bring resources we cannot provide,” explained Hutton, and “hybrids let you scale quickly—but you have to be willing to make mistakes and act more like a business than the academy, which can make people uncomfortable.”


Expanding Strategic Alliances

Developing new collaborative business models also was the focus of a panel on expanding strategic alliances, although the session focused on cooperation among independent institutions. Two leaders of regional associations—Michael K. Thomas, president of the New England Board of Higher Education, and R. Owen Williams, president of the Associated Colleges of the South (GA)—addressed the challenges and opportunities for multi-institutional collaboration. Thomas summarized a series of abstract “design principles” for successful strategic alliances, with the aim of achieving cost savings through economies of scale by finding institutional partners with complementary strengths. Williams offered more concrete examples of opportunities for cooperation, such as establishing joint IT or legal services, joining endowments to reduce financial service fees and improve access to capital, combining low-enrollment courses through online learning, and creating “virtual departments” by combining faculty and other instructional resources in disciplines that may lack a critical mass of students at a single institution.
Sr. Margaret Carney, president of St. Bonaventure University (NY), and Cynthia Zane, president of Hilbert College (NY), ended the session with a detailed narrative of a potential merger between their two institutions in western New York. (Zane is another member of the Steering Committee for the CIC project.) They described a careful series of planning steps that included a review of other college mergers, combined meetings with the two boards of trustees, and a formal agreement to explore full asset integration. Legal and financial analyses of the merger were commissioned and an executive director was hired to manage the merger, but the two boards decided not to proceed with the merger in early 2015. Even the non-merger benefited both institutions; the institutions have since developed a joint academic program in cybersecurity and several faculty development programs, opened a joint office for veteran affairs, and hired a single search firm to help fill senior administrative positions.

Making College Affordable for Students

Two President Institute sessions—a panel discussion and a workshop—explored the pressures presidents face and strategies they pursue to ensure that a private college education becomes more affordable. Recent approaches have included tuition freezes and resets; guarantees of minimum earnings after graduation; and provision of financial planning, loan forgiveness, and better advice to students and parents.

Barbara K. Mistick of Wilson College (PA​) disussed the college's affordability and value inititiatves.
Barbara K. Mistick of Wilson College (PA​) disussed the college's affordability and value inititiatves.

Approaches to Making College Affordable

In this session, panelists described the approaches they took and what they learned along the way. Although they did not find a “silver bullet” to solve all affordability issues, they strategized carefully and implemented change, increasing transparency and student enrollment and retention.
Barbara K. Mistick, president of Wilson College(PA), relayed that she wanted to develop a strategic plan to make the college sustainable for the long term. The plan focused on increasing affordability and value as well as improving the campus infrastructure, academic programs, marketing, recruitment, and retention, and expanding coeducation to all programs. The college launched affordability and value initiatives that included a 17 percent tuition reduction for first-time students and a student debt buyback program that awards qualifying students up to $10,000 toward their Federal Stafford Loans. (To qualify, students must graduate within four years, take financial literacy programs, and fulfill community service requirements; student awards vary depending on final GPA.) After two full years enrollment increased significantly—it now has the largest enrollment since 1973. Mistick shared a key takeaway from her experience, “For Wilson, the value reset was part of a bigger strategic plan…. If you don’t meet students at the program level, the value level won’t connect. Colleges need to have the right program to attract students; value and affordability are a multiplier.”
Jeffrey R. Docking, president of Adrian College(MI), explained that during a summer 2013 retreat, staff explored why prospective students might not wish to attend Adrian—and the answer was the price tag. Docking said that they wanted a “statement program” that would help relieve student debt anxiety and provide a return on investment. The college soon launched Adrian Plus, a program that guarantees Adrian graduates a job of at least $37,000 four months after graduation or it will reimburse graduates some or all (depending on earnings) of their student loan payments quarterly. (The program is administered through an insurance company, and students must have graduated within six years and be working a minimum of 30 hours.) The college needed significant enrollment growth to pay for the program. Docking noted that Adrian’s enrollment and retention have increased since implementing the program, although they are uncertain to what degree the Adrian Plus initiative has contributed to that trend.
Kent L. Henning, president of Grand View University (IA), said the university’s decision to implement a whole degree planning and financing service was less motivated by enrollment goals than by a desire to respond to increasing public concerns about high sticker prices, student loan burdens, and the value of a degree. The program involved defining affordability and “providing a clear line of sight to the graduation stage.” Henning explained that the college produced a formula for calculating conditions under which a college degree would be affordable to a family; fixed the tuition increase to make the cost of an entire degree predictable (price would only increase 2 percent per year over a four-year period); provided tools and expertise to craft a four-year financial plan; and provided ongoing support to stay on track and revise the financial plans as needed. “We put transparency on steroids and laid out all of the costs.… Planning and having realistic discussions with families help them make the right decisions,” remarked Henning. To date, the university has experienced improved retention, reduced borrowing, and improved “customer” satisfaction.

Lucie Lapovsky of Lapovsky Consulting led a workshop on tuition resets.
Lucie Lapovsky of Lapovsky Consulting led a workshop on tuition resets.

Tuition Resets: Considerations for Presidents Based on Case Examples

In this workshop, Lucie Lapovsky, principal of Lapovsky Consulting, former president of Mercy College (NY), and former vice president for finance at Goucher College (MD), discussed the experiences of institutions that have dramatically lowered tuition. Participants reviewed case examples and considered implications for their own institutions.
Lapovsky shared highlights of her 2015 TIAA-CREF Institute report, Tuition Reset: An Analysis of Eight Colleges That Addressed the Escalating Price of Higher Education, which found considerable variation in each college’s approach to deciding, implementing, and publicizing their new price points. The results also varied. Of the eight institutions studied, first-year enrollment increased at seven of the colleges the year of the price reset, and first-year enrollment has remained above where it was prior to the reset at four colleges. Net total first-year student tuition revenue declined at only two institutions, while net tuition revenue per first-year student declined at four colleges.
Lapovsky said that list price has made a college education appear unattainable for a large portion of Americans. She cited a Sallie Mae survey that reported 63 percent of students eliminate colleges solely on the basis of price and a Longmire and Company report that stated 60 percent of parents are unaware that most private colleges discount their sticker price.
Motivations to reduce published tuition prices vary but are usually related to a college’s desire to increase and diversify enrollment, boost net tuition revenue, and increase transparency. Lapovsky said that top concerns colleges have about reducing price include: that a price reduction will negatively affect an institution’s reputation, that a lower price will lead to loss of revenue, and that students and their families may value receiving a scholarship more than a sticker price reduction.
Lapovsky said that before implementing a price reset, colleges should meet certain preconditions. For example, colleges should have a high discount rate (at least 50 percent); they should be offering almost all students institutional grants and scholarships; and colleges must have the desire to increase enrollment and have excess capacity. “If you have a lot of students who aren’t getting awards, a tuition reset probably isn’t the best strategy for you,” she said. And she emphasized, “When you cut your price, there may be a loss of tuition revenue, which you will need to offset through enrollment growth.”
To determine the extent of a reset, colleges should consider data such as the percentage of their students who are receiving institutional aid, how much their students are paying by ability and need, the distribution of institutional aid, the aid and tuition at overlap institutions, and marketing and positioning implications.
“Figuring out finances isn’t as hard as figuring out how to explain a reset [to students and the public]…. Colleges have done a poor job getting across what they are doing,” Lapovsky said. She suggested that colleges keep their boards, faculty members, and other key players in the loop about the change, consider the timing of the announcement, prepare for questions, and pitch the change in a positive way. “Most colleges that do a price reset package it with other things—a new facility, renovations, or curriculum change….Colleges need to assure people that their quality is being maintained and that they are not just making cutbacks.”
Lapovsky concluded, “At first, I assumed that when you cut your price you wouldn’t have to discount anymore, but you may still need to…. We’re a country that likes things on sale. At the end of the day, people may still want scholarships.”

Maintaining Financial Vitality in Challenging Times

Karen Kedem of Moody’s Investors Service provided a financial and strategic outlook for independent colleges.
Karen Kedem of Moody’s Investors Service provided a financial and strategic outlook for independent colleges.

How best to maintain, reinvigorate, and improve the financial health of smaller independent colleges and universities was a widely discussed topic at the 2016 Presidents Institute. Lenders and financial advisors, an executive from Moody’s Investors Services, and four college presidents offered strategies to improve an institution’s credit, plan future investments and initiatives, and effectively include faculty and staff members in the financial planning process. Through case studies, they revealed how CIC member institutions have used these methods to turn around bleak financial prospects.

Improving Financial Vitality

Smaller independent colleges and universities can secure necessary loans and maintain positive relationships with lenders even in times of financial distress, explained the three financial advisors that presented at the workshop, Improving Financial Vitality and Access to Capital in Challenging Times. At the same time, Robert J. Bertucci, vice president and senior research analyst at OppenheimerFunds, Inc.; Meghan B. Burke, chair of education practice group at Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, PC; and Stefano Falconi, former senior vice president for administration and finance at Simmons College (MA), agreed that college and university presidents must communicate well not just about the academic and co-curricular vitality of their campuses but also about financial viability.
“The markets are hungry for debt,” said Bertucci; they are looking to support entrepreneurial ventures. If a college can demonstrate that its programs are meeting a vital need in a region, it can now borrow at a good rate. Bertucci dispensed five key pieces of advice to improve an institution’s credit: spend less than you make; save; give evidence of improved finances; keep lenders informed; and call lenders when trouble strikes. “Don’t let the problem blow up,” he warned and explained that lenders can often suggest ways to help institutions or connect institutions with parties that can. Burke emphasized this point as well. “Lenders want you to succeed,” she said. Presidents should keep in mind, however, that they are prohibited by SEC rules from sharing more information with one lender than with another, and not every lender will view the same problem in the same way. Burke urged presidents to develop a communication plan. The panelists also advised presidents to read Moody’s rating report of their institution, and if that’s not available, reports of their peers. Chief financial officers can help presidents identify relevant reports to study.

Financial and Strategic Outlook for Private Colleges

In another session, Karen Kedem, vice president and senior credit officer of global higher education and not-for-profit ratings at Moody’s Investors Service, urged presidents to read Moody’s annual reports on the U.S. four-year higher education sector and tuition revenue. “Colleges generally have been able to adapt to the changes in fundamental financial and economic conditions in higher education, but the situation remains challenging,” Kadem said, summarizing Moody’s outlook for the next 18 months. Despite ongoing spending cuts, aggregate operating revenue will increase only modestly, especially for tuition-dependent institutions, due to changes in the demographics of prospective students and limited endowment growth.
To lower costs further, Kadem advised presidents to explore cooperation among institutions, such as sharing resources and services. She also said presidents should be wary of the sensational media coverage of Moody’s reports; she noted how last year Moody’s predicted fewer than 20 smaller colleges would close, but the media reported that “closures will triple.” The reports offer much that presidents can use in financial decision making.


Turning Financial Challenges into Opportunities: Campus Case Studies

Presidents offered advice on maintaining financial vitality in the session “Turning Financial Challenges into Opportunities.” Pamela Balch of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Eugene Cornacchia of Saint Peter’s University (NJ), Richard Dorman of Westminster College (PA), and George Martin of St. Edward’s University (TX) agreed that institutions need to be honest and transparent about the financial pressures they face and involve faculty and staff members broadly when identifying cost-saving opportunities and prioritizing programs.
When Balch arrived at West Virginia Wesleyan College in 2006, the future of the institution looked bleak: The college had a $13 million deficit, $7 million line of credit, and $30 million in deferred maintenance costs among other issues. Enrollment was dwindling, and key staff and faculty members were leaving. “We needed quick victories to show that there was reason to hope,” Balch said, “but we also needed to set out on a long-term steady and incremental process.” She created eight think tanks of faculty and staff members and gave them three months to generate promising ideas. The changes inspired by those sessions improved the financial fundamentals considerably, Balch said, and the key was to get everybody on staff committed to the effort.
The situation at St. Edward’s University was less dire, but Martin faced his own host of problems: constrained budget growth, increasing financial aid demands, and changing investment in academic programs. When determining which initiatives to undertake and how to fund them, Martin chose to involve the entire campus community because “they can see things that the administration cannot see.” Ten teams that included faculty, staff, and students were given an aggressive fall-to-fall timeline to generate proposals. Town hall meetings, suggestion boxes, and surveys provided opportunities for everyone else to get involved, and the administration regularly communicated updates to all constituents through email and a website. Martin emphasized that transparency and broad involvement does not and should not diminish the president’s leadership role. “It needs to be clear from the outset,” Martin said, “that the president will prioritize and make final decisions.” Ultimately 529 proposals were submitted. Martin has already greenlighted 68 of those; 196 are being developed further; and 265 were not advanced.
In addition to common financial challenges, Saint Peter’s University in New Jersey faced significant reductions in state support for higher education. The university needed a new strategic planning and budgeting model that would effectively allocate resources. Reflecting on the two-year process during which 26 instructional and 40 administrative units were assessed, Cornacchia stated, “What worked well for us was to hold regular open forums and internally publish all assessment reports so that everyone could engage.” He advised that reviewing data integrity across the university before undertaking such a large number of simultaneous assessments might have prevented bottlenecks along the way. Overall, however, Cornacchia, concluded, “In addition to having implemented positive changes, we achieved a culture shift of everybody working more closely together to advance the institution.”
Dorman began his remarks by saying that he sometimes feels he has been through two presidencies while serving at Westminster College (PA); within three years, “we went from the highest to lowest enrollment, and from generating sizable surpluses to running deficits,” he said. Because of prior success and seemingly stable conditions, Westminster was plagued by a culture of complacency and misperception about shared governance. To prepare constituencies for drastic changes, Dorman organized town hall meetings facilitated by an independent consultant and then empowered committees to propose cost-saving measures and strategies to reposition the college. Throughout the process, he made periodic progress reports available across the campus. Since 2014, $3 million in cost saving measures have been implemented. Several new majors are being developed, and the faculty is supportive because “every American Association of University Professors principle was followed.”

Presidential Spouses and Partners Explore How to Fundraise, Balance Professional and Family Needs

Mary Trettin of Northland College (WI) led a discussion about environmental initiatives on campus.
Mary Trettin of Northland College (WI) led a discussion about environmental initiatives on campus.

The 190 participants in the 2016 Presidents Institute Presidential Spouses and Partners Program—the oldest and largest program of its kind in the country—examined diverse topics and shared information and advice.
Alice M. Starr, presidential spouse of Baylor University (TX) opened the program with remarks on fundraising and friend-raising for colleges and universities. She highlighted the extraordinary opportunity that presidential spouses and partners have to engage in activities that strengthen the institutional leadership team. Starr encouraged spouses and partners to develop their own interests and become involved in selective projects in their communities.
Presidential spouses and partners also participated in joint sessions with presidents. During the session “Parenting Young Children on Campus,” James and Melissa Dlugos, president and presidential spouse, respectively, of Saint Joseph’s College (ME); Michael Hemesath, president of Saint John’s University (MN); and Mary Hinton, president of the College of Saint Benedict (MN), discussed the joys and challenges of raising children while a president. Melissa Dlugos pointed out that “the relentlessness of the presidency parallels the relentlessness of parenting” and recommended “practicing good calendar hygiene” to carve out family time. Such practices include scheduling family time like one would schedule meeting times and being certain to reserve time just for family. Both Hemesath and Hinton commented on the interest students at their institutions displayed regarding what it means to be an academic leader and a parent at the same time. (When the student newspaper had a chance to follow each president around for a day and write about their experiences, the students commented more on what the presidents were doing as parents than on their activities as presidents.)
In the session, “Moving On: Preparing for the End of a Presidency,” Annie and Scott Miller, presidential spouse and president of Virginia Wesleyan College, discussed the transition process from one presidency to another, and Lisa Marsh Ryerson, president of the AARP Foundation and president emerita of Wells College (NY), offered perspectives on leaving the college presidency for a different career. All agreed on the importance of having an interim president in place before departing, participating in a “goodbye tour” to visit donors, and making a gracious exit before making a grand entrance at the next position.
During a session for presidential spouses and partners, Roger Auerbach of the University of La Verne (CA), a presidential spouse and professional consultant on care options for senior adults, recommended that access to medical personnel, options for transportation, and opportunities for social, intellectual, and spiritual support be among the important factors presidents and their spouses and partners consider when helping their parents make decisions about elder care. Presidential spouses Traci Corey of Olivet College (MI) and Marylou Habecker of Taylor University (IN) added to the discussion on finding the right care for aging parents as well as themselves when the time comes, and they offered supportive advice to session participants in the midst of similar experiences.

Presidential spouses and partners conversed one-on-one in a
Presidential spouses and partners conversed one-on-one in a "Getting to Know You" networking session.

Presidential spouses and partners need to reach out regularly to the campus and community and using social media to do so is an easy and effective way to connect with various audiences, said presidential spouses Chris Burns-DiBiasio of Ohio Northern University and Lora Hess of Wabash College (IN). They cautioned that presidential spouses and partners should be sure to monitor their social media accounts regularly for unusual activity and unauthorized use by others.
Two additional concurrent sessions proved to be highly interactive for participants. Michelle Dorsey of Texas Lutheran University and Mac Gordon of the College of Saint Rose (NY) led a discussion of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. A room full of participants explored differences in style between introverts and extroverts, the strengths each personality type brings to the presidential spouse or partner role, and tips on relating to individuals of each type. Participants in the session, “Environmental Initiatives on Campus,” had a lively discussion with Sharon Kazee of the University of Evansville (IN) and Mary Trettin of Northland College (WI). Trettin commented, “Wherever you start addressing environmental issues, there are connections to be made. And you are never finished; there is always something else to be done.”
Participant suggestions from the “Events, Programs, and Processes That Work” networking session were collected and will be posted to the spouses and partners listserv in the near future.