Mission-Driven Innovation: An Empirical Study of Adaptation and Change among Independent Colleges

December 2015
Related Topics

A national survey suggests independent colleges are innovating, embracing change and feeling optimistic about the future—which is a far cry from the bleak portrayal in the popular media.


Small private colleges and universities are adapting to the external challenges they face by innovating in a variety of areas, and presidents of these institutions perceive a high level of support for their leadership from their boards of trustees and administrative cabinets. These are among the conclusions of this report, which is based on a national study of small and mid-sized independent colleges and universities conducted as part of the Council of Independent Colleges’ Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education.

Key Insights
The most frequent cost-focused measures taken by college presidents include leaving open faculty positions unfilled, freezing salaries, reducing other staff, restructuring or closing academic programs, and outsourcing operations.
Popular strategies for revenue enhancement and diversification include opening new undergraduate and graduate programs, changing approaches to fundraising, and expanding online courses and programs.
Other common initiatives and innovations include changing admission strategy and financial aid practices, expanding athletic programs and facilities, increasing international student recruitment, and reforming resource-allocation systems.

This report is based on the results of an online survey of presidents of institutions that are members of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC). In October 2014, CIC invited all 632 of these presidents to take the survey, and one-third of them (206 presidents) responded.