Strategic Change and Innovation in Independent Colleges: Nine Mission-Driven Campuses

April 2016
Related Topics

Leaders of America’s private liberal arts colleges are facing the future with optimism and a willingness to try innovative approaches while still preserving the essential missions of their institutions.


Part of the Council of Independent Colleges’ Project on the Future of Independent Higher Education, this study seeks to answer four questions critical to private liberal arts colleges: 1. What are the challenges independent colleges face as they seek to adapt and prosper?; 2. What innovations are these colleges undertaking?; 3. What factors are driving or are associated with innovation efforts on these campuses?; and 4. What are the effects of these innovations?

Key Insights
There is no “one-size-fits-all” recipe for change. Each college has followed a script based on its specific context and mission, and each is concurrently developing ways to evaluate and share evidence of outcomes and successes with stakeholders.
Despite the unique choices of each studied college, a number of common themes emerge, including a bias for action; a drive to connect locally, regionally and beyond; and a commitment to realistic self-assessment and adaptation.

The study was conducted in two phases. In the first phase, the researchers sent a survey in October 2014 to the presidents of all institutions that are members of the Council of Independent Colleges (at the time, 632 presidents). In total, 206 presidents (32.6%) responded. In the second phase, the researchers conducted telephone interviews at nine surveyed institutions deemed especially active innovators. The president at each of these institutions participated, along with 15 other senior administrators, for a total of 24 interviews averaging 34 minutes in length.