CIC State Councils Explore New Ways to Connect and Collaborate

Fifty-five State Council executives, staff members, and supporters gathered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, September 10–12, for the 2019 State Councils Annual Conference. With the theme “Bridging the Future,” participants explored how their organizations can create opportunities for the next generation of students and their colleges and universities. Among the many insights that participants took away from the conference, leadership emerged as the most important factor that transforms State Councils from single-purpose organizations to dynamic, nimble drivers of innovation that can address the needs of multiple private institutions in their states.

In welcoming remarks, Tom Foley, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP), cited the significant statewide economic impact of small colleges. He described how AICUP, the largest of the State Councils, is leveraging its public and private connections to strengthen the competitive position of private higher education, with leaders taking steps to keep college affordable for students from all backgrounds and life situations.

David Finegold, president of Chatham University (PA), emphasized the importance of student scholarships and shared how both Pittsburgh and Chatham have embraced change to prepare for the future. Pittsburgh transformed from an old steel town to a vibrant city. Chatham expanded from a relatively small women’s college to a financially healthy co-educational university offering cutting-edge degree programs and strategic partnerships. In recognition of the longtime support of student scholarships provided through the CIC/UPS Educational Endowment, Finegold welcomed Eduardo Martinez, president of the UPS Foundation, to present CIC’s annual UPS Scholarship winner.

Martinez described the dynamic worldwide support of the UPS Foundation, which invests each year in about 4,300 organizations and communities across 170 countries. He affirmed the foundation’s pride in its 46-year partnership with independent higher education through what is now the CIC State Councils program. Martinez also highlighted the importance of helping underserved students throughout the world and praised the emphasis CIC has given to this effort in the United States.

Scholarship recipient stands with representatives of UPS, CIC, CASE, and Chatham University
One of the 544 2018–2019 CIC/UPS Scholarship recipients was recognized during the opening reception of the 2019 CIC State Councils Annual Conference. Pictured are David Finegold, president, Chatham University (PA); Sue Cunningham, president and CEO, Council for Support and Advancement of Education; Dominique Seneca, student and UPS scholarship recipient, Chatham University; Eduardo Martinez, president, the UPS Foundation; and Richard Ekman, president, CIC.

In her keynote address, Sue Cunningham, president and CEO of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, explored recent Pew Research Center data that show how perceptions of and giving to higher education have changed in recent years and argued how future shifts could shape fundraising practices. Her insight focused on the continuing importance of the “tried and true” of fundraising—building relationships, engaging donors in the life of the organization, and communicating clearly about mission and impact. Cunningham added that connections with philanthropic support are critical and that “today’s corporations are now the largest supporters of higher education, rather than alumni.” She emphasized that corporations and individuals alike give to “institutions that have a real vision for improving lives” and “to institutions they know and respect.” Cunningham offered an optimistic outlook for higher education despite the challenges of rising tuition and shrinking public aid, urging participants to make the case that “education transforms lives and society” and that “the vast majority of students are not paying too much” given the value they receive during college and beyond graduation.

During a hands-on session, State Council executives and staff members explored how to answer questions they encounter daily about the value of private higher education. Talking about Private Colleges: Busting the Myths is a new series of CIC workshops designed to prepare college employees to answer tough questions from the public. CIC President Richard Ekman and CIC Senior Vice President Harold V. Hartley III demonstrated how these workshops help staff, faculty members, administrators, and trustees answer questions from parents and others who believe that liberal arts degrees from CIC colleges cost too much or are unlikely to lead to good jobs. State executives agreed that it is necessary to find compelling ways to demonstrate that collaborative learning, teamwork, and problem solving are learned especially well at small liberal arts colleges, and that stories of the high cost of attendance and high levels of student debt too often feature outlier cases.

Minnesota Private College Fund (MPCF) provided a powerful example of how private colleges improve the results of investments in higher education. In the session “Beyond the Dollars: An Innovative Scholarship for Black Men,” MPCF’s student support team of Abdul M. Omari, Jamil Stamschror-Lott, and Howard Jones and program leader Carolyn Jones, explained how outreach to black male scholarship recipients is helping these students achieve graduation rates equal to or better than those of white students. The panelists noted that a careful process of selecting qualified students for the MPCF program and offering sufficient financial support, leadership development, mentoring-advising, experiential learning, and career preparation make the difference. In a cohort of MPCF students that was funded in part through a CIC grant, 86 percent of the black male students graduated in four years. The panelists emphasized the importance of involving black men in the program from the beginning and concluded that the success of this effort demonstrates “Every student has high potential under the right circumstances.” The panelists also noted that the program attracted corporate funding from new donors who want to be involved in efforts to address the needs of underserved populations critical to the nation and workforce.

The Independent College Fund of Maryland (I-Fund) also focuses on helping underserved students through college. I-Fund President Tina M. Bjarekull said that creative thinking, strong relationships, and support from a CIC National Venture Fund Grant enabled the I-Fund to build bridges among private corporations, member colleges, CIC, and the CollegeBound Foundation to help low-income, first-generation Baltimore City Public School students gain needed financial assistance and support services to significantly improve their chances for graduation. Independent Colleges of Washington (ICW) President Terri Standish-Kuon reported that public and private efforts to expand the state’s student aid program, known as the Washington College Grant, have won the support of the legislature and governor. The grants can now be used at both public and private colleges and universities. By 2020–2021, the state guarantee of funding will help an estimated 110,000 Washington residents receive tuition and fee assistance and will help fulfill demand for an estimated 740,000 jobs in the state.

Beyond efforts to help underserved students, improve graduation rates, and increase financial aid, State Councils work on a wide variety of programs to meet the needs of their member colleges. For example, AICUP helps colleges prepare for emergencies stemming from natural disasters and other crises. Tim Alexander, vice president of finance and administration, and Tom Carnwath, business continuity peer program project leader, described how AICUP’s Business Continuity Program, funded through a CIC grant, has helped colleges and universities prepare for and address consequences following disasters and unexpected failures. They invited other State Councils to consider helping colleges identify essential services and functions and develop strategies to address operations failures and disruptions.

Each year, CIC recognizes during the conference individuals who have made outstanding contributions to State Councils and their colleges and universities. The 2019 honorees included H. Hiter Harris III, Mary Hawkins, and A. Hope Williams. Harris, cofounder of Harris Williams, one of the largest merger and acquisition firms in the country, was recognized for his stellar leadership as a longtime member of the Virginia Foundation for Independent Higher Education. Bellevue University (NE) President Hawkins was honored for her leadership in bringing together all 13 of the private colleges and universities of Nebraska to form a new organization, the Council of Independent Nebraska Colleges Foundation. And A. Hope Williams, president of North Carolina Independent Colleges and Universities, was recognized for providing outstanding leadership as presiding officer of the CIC State Councils, serving since 2013.

View more information about CIC’s State Councils programs or contact Carol Schuler, vice president for State Council programs, at

Four state executives stand for photo
The 2019 CIC State Councils Annual Conference provided time for state executives to network and discuss best practices. Pictured here are Mary Ellen Hamer, executive vice president, Independent Colleges of Indiana; Terri Standish-Kuon, president and chief executive officer, Independent Colleges of Washington; Tina Bjarekull, president, Independent College Fund of Maryland; and Lou Manzione, president, Independent College Fund of New Jersey.