Special Projects to Continue through Election Season

Two CIC initiatives—the Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education public information campaign and the Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education—were designed to meet specific goals and conclude after a few years. But the CIC Board of Directors, viewing the success of both initiatives and surveying an election environment that has been unfavorable to higher education, has decided to extend both projects.



CIC launched the major national public information campaign, Securing America’s Future: The Power of Liberal Arts Education, in 2013 to promote the effectiveness and contributions of private colleges and universities and the importance of the liberal arts as fields of study. The campaign has included editorials, speeches, alumni testimonials, websites, social media activity, data collection and analysis, meetings with journalists and policy officials, publications, and a national symposium.
CIC originally planned the campaign as a finite event to span two years. With generous funding from several foundations and allocation of CIC reserves by the Board of Directors, however, the campaign has been running strong for three years and has succeeded in many respects. When the Board of Directors was asked at its January 2016 meeting whether the campaign should continue beyond summer 2016, the Board replied with a resounding “Yes.” The campaign has shown its ability to defuse myths and change the conversation about the value of a liberal arts education; moreover, in the heightened anti-liberal arts, anti-higher education rhetoric that is prevalent in the current election season, the Board feared a genuine risk to the progress that has been made during the campaign.
With the Board of Directors giving the green light for the campaign to continue, new funding is being secured. Over the past three years, CIC generated more than $1 million to support campaign activities. We will be forever grateful to the several foundations that were willing to make exceptions to their usual grant guidelines to support this special initiative, and we recognize that the same funders are unlikely to be able to make an exception a second time. Yet to our delight, CIC already has received encouraging signals from two foundations, and a third, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, awarded CIC $100,000 in February 2016.


While CIC’s Board of Directors and staff considered which campaign activities to continue, discontinue, or add, they also discussed CIC’s parallel Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education. Led by a Steering Committee of innovative college and university presidents, the project aims to examine the forces that are most likely to affect the future business model of independent colleges and universities and to help member institutions prepare for new challenges and opportunities. The project also examines the distinctive characteristics and missions of independent colleges that have enabled them to offer a high-quality education for so many years.
The project’s first phase—which involved essential research leading to the identification of innovations and alternative business models that are likely to support broader student attainment while preserving the distinctive traits of independent colleges and universities—is winding down. Six of a projected eight empirical research studies on key questions that arise frequently and five research briefs that explain recent pedagogical phenomena have been circulated widely to CIC members, as have distillations of the deliberations by the project’s Steering Committee (read more about the latest research report). Together these documents make a case for the effectiveness of independent colleges and universities. They have already been used by many CIC presidents to help boards of trustees and faculty senates understand better the context within which private higher education is now operating.
The Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education is entering its second phase in which CIC hopes to expand the discussion among independent college and university leaders about alternative approaches to issues that many colleges face and to build momentum for change on individual campuses. CIC plans to conduct eight to ten workshops at locations throughout the country that will be open to leadership teams from all CIC institutions. An ideal campus team might include the president, chief academic officer, vice president for enrollment, and chair of the faculty senate. Each workshop will be led by a member of the project’s Steering Committee or another CIC president who has been responsible for major innovations on his or her campus. One or more of the authors of the research reports may participate. The inclusion of faculty leaders is especially important: No college can expect to make successful, long-term change if the most influential members of the faculty are not enthusiastic supporters. We hope that many colleges will participate in these workshops and return home ready to engage their campus colleagues and trustees in discussion.
The workshops will use materials developed for these two CIC initiatives to explore how to use these resources together with a college’s own materials to make an effective case for private higher education. This large quantity of opinion essays, videos, testimonials, posters, reports, and other materials has proven helpful in presidents’ and other campus officials’ conversations with journalists, high school students and their parents, and guidance counselors. For example, a wide range of audiences may find the recently released “Liberal Arts in Action” symposium’s written proceedings, videos, and website especially persuasive.


CIC looks forward to entering the next stage of these special projects. Campaign elements that CIC hopes to continue for at least another year include speaking engagements, conversations with journalists, social media activity (the campaign’s Twitter avatars, “Libby and Art,” will live on), research and periodic reports that “make the case” for a liberal arts education, and work with high school guidance counselors. CIC also will continue to convene occasional meetings of the leaders of organizations that have similar initiatives underway.