CIC Issues Companion Report on Innovation in Independent Colleges

report coverA new report released by CIC challenges the dominant narrative that independent colleges and universities are stuck with outdated business models and unable to adapt to present market and fiscal challenges. Strategic Change and Innovation in Independent Colleges: Nine Mission-Driven Campuses, written by University of Georgia professor James C. Hearn along with Jarrett B. Warshaw and Erin B. Ciarimboli, provides further evidence of energetic and bold change driven by campus mission at nine CIC colleges and universities. The report is a companion to Mission-Driven Innovation: An Empirical Study of Adaptation and Change among Independent Colleges published by CIC last year.

The authors of the new report provide compelling evidence that the leaders of America’s private liberal arts colleges and universities have faced the future with a sense of optimism and a willingness to try innovative approaches and implement promising new strategies for change while preserving the essential missions of their institutions. They have not, as some critics assume, spent the recent past “waiting passively for an inevitable tide of change to wash over” their institutions.

The report explores the adaptive approaches taken at nine distinctive institutions that exemplify the change efforts underway at many independent colleges and universities. Profiled in the report are Benedictine University (IL), Bethany College (KS), Dillard University (LA), Houghton College (NY), New England College (NH), Stetson University (FL), Valparaiso University (IN), Washington Adventist University (MD), and William Jessup University (CA).

Based on interviews with presidents and other senior campus leaders, the authors identify six overarching themes: a bias for action; a drive to connect locally, regionally, and beyond; realistic self-assessment and adaptation; structure for innovation; assertive leadership within shared governance traditions; and alignment of mission and innovation. The case studies include actionable examples of critical self-assessment and of institutions engaging with stakeholders, identifying new programs and revenue streams, introducing new organizational structures, clarifying institutional missions, and fostering a culture of innovation.

CIC President Richard Ekman remarked, “The 2015 report took a broad view of mission-driven innovation by presenting the results of a national survey of CIC member presidents. The results demonstrated an impressive degree of adaptability to the shifting landscape of American higher education. The 2016 report focuses on specific actions implemented at nine CIC member institutions especially active in adaptation and change. The nine case analyses provide a rich resource with applicability for leaders of other colleges and universities seeking to align innovation and mission.”

Both reports are part of CIC’s Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education launched in 2014 to explore the challenges facing higher education, to examine alternative college business models, and to highlight the characteristics of smaller private colleges and universities that have prepared so many generations of their students for lifelong success. Guided by a Steering Committee of CIC member presidents, the goal of the project is to help CIC member colleges and universities prepare for the future by providing information needed to reconsider institutional missions, pursue new financial models, and develop new strategic initiatives while retaining the student-centered nature of independent colleges that has been a key to their demonstrable success.

Support for CIC’s Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education and the research for and preparation of this report was provided by the Lumina Foundation for Education and the TIAA Institute. The report, together with earlier research reports and briefs developed as part of the project, is available at​