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Summary of Our 2015 Strategic Plan

Earlham, like many small liberal arts colleges and higher education in general, has been wrestling with a highly disruptive landscape over the last decade fueled by demographic shifts, changes in the national and global economy, technological innovations, and questions about the nature, value and purpose of the undergraduate degree. A strategic planning process was launched in 2012 under the leadership of President David Dawson and generated a sustained period of intense self-study, analysis, community deliberation, and action culminating in the 2015 Earlham College Strategic Plan approved by the Board of Trustees in June of 2015.

The plan recognized that the landscape of higher education has changed in deep and profound ways and set forth an ambitious agenda to meet this new context and challenge in a more focused, coherent, and outward facing way than ever before. The 2015 plan builds on Earlham’s historic strengths including an approach to educating the whole student through exceptional teaching, deep, rich and imaginative intellectual exploration, and a burning desire to make the world a more just and peaceful place. Earlham remains steadfast in the conviction that the liberal arts, in all its wondrous diversity, provides the most effective, nimble, creative and useful educational preparation possible to meet the world’s great challenges and opportunities.

Pillar 1: Launch the Earlham Program for an Integrated Curriculum (EPIC)

The purpose of Pillar #1 is to construct a bold new "thematic backbone" that creates powerful, reinforcing linkages across and among Earlham curricular and co-curricular programs, offerings, and activities in a way that credibly and compellingly differentiates Earlham from peer institutions. While other Pillars of the Earlham Strategic Plan are designed primarily to help Earlham "clean up current offerings and practices" or "catch up with competitors," Pillar #1 aims to leapfrog the competition, establishing a clear and sustainable long-term identity for Earlham as an institution that produces graduates uniquely equipped to navigate the challenges of an increasingly complex world. Gaining clarity and focus and developing clear interconnectedness among programs will also enable the College to develop a powerful marketing campaign and to attract and retain a significantly larger pool of highly qualified right-fit students.

At the heart of Pillar #1 lies EPIC, which will serve as a “hub” for multidisciplinary, project-based, thematic scholarship, coursework, and related activity and thus is the central vehicle for creating the integrated thematic backbone around which Earlham’s curricular and co-curricular programs will interact. Pedagogically, the Institute is intended to amplify “high-impact practices” shown by research (e.g., Kuh, 2008) to increase student engagement, strengthen intellectual connections, and significantly aid in both retention and matriculation.

 

Pillar 2: Strengthen the traditional academic core (majors, minors, general education)

Earlham's current academic portfolio (as represented on the College website) is a confounding set of curricular offerings and organizational units. It appeals primarily to (and hence Earlham yields better among) undeclared students who are more interested in the overall breadth of the portfolio than in its depth in any particular discipline (where, in head-to-head comparisons with peers, Earlham often comes up short). The portfolio got to its current state through a long and not unusual process of gradually adding academic offerings and rarely if ever subtracting them.

Before we add still more offerings designed to attract new cohorts of students, the strategies included in Pillar #2 of the Earlham Strategic Plan are designed to clean up the current portfolio, removing clutter and unnecessary complexity and freeing up resources that can be more productively deployed elsewhere.

Core strategies for Pillar #2 are as follows:

  1. Simplify and de-clutter the range of curricular offerings
  2. Reorganize academic departments to achieve critical mass
  3. Rebalance the portfolio, shifting resources from lower- to higher-demand areas
PIllar 3: Refine and enhance Earlham’s appeal through enrollment and marketing

Earlham’s current set of curricular offerings is well designed to attract its traditional cohort of students. In order to grow enrollment significantly, however, Earlham will need to attract new student cohorts through a combination of new curricular offerings targeted at these cohorts and more effective marketing and “packaging” of existing College programs of interest to them. As part of this effort (and in particular to attract high-achieving students), Earlham will also need to address and overcome the perception among prospective students that it is less academically rigorous than peer institutions with which it competes. The strategies that comprise Pillar #3 of Earlham’s Strategic Plan will not in general afford the College any competitive advantage, but they will allow Earlham to catch up  with its peers and mitigate or eliminate some key competitive disadvantages.

Core strategies for Pillar #3 are as follows:

  1. Broaden and deepen curricular offerings aimed at target student cohorts
  2. Bolster Earlham’s image and reputation for academic excellence
  3. Launch an integrated marketing strategy to maximize awareness of and benefits from new strategic initiatives
Pillar 4: Energize community life

Although Earlham is well regarded for “friendliness,” admitted students rate the College below its peers with respect to social life and the level of “fun” on campus. The College offers a range of extracurricular activities, but many of these appeal narrowly to highly focused interests, and overall the level of engagement and critical mass appears low. For a residential college like Earlham, the quality of life outside the classroom can be as or even more important a driver of enrollment and retention as the quality of life in the classroom. The strategies detailed in Pillar #4 of the Earlham Strategic Plan are intended to enhance the quality of life on campus – largely by doing fewer things better and with greater participation and sense of community.

Core strategies for Pillar #4 are as follows:

  1. Hold fewer, higher-impact and higher-participation campus activities and events – with an eye to activities/events that might evolve into campus traditions
  2. Increase intentional integration of athletics with the wider community
  3. Increase attractive opportunities for co-curricular engagement (the “fun” factor)
  4. Refocus the residential experience, facilities, and programming as a strategic value
  5. Promote an “all hands” mentality on campus, with clear roles and shared responsibility for recruiting, retention, internships, etc.
Pillar 5: Extend opportunities beyond campus

The Admitted Student Questionnaire (ASQ) identifies Earlham as “isolated” and much less appealing than its peers in terms of its surroundings and access to off-campus activities. The strategies included in Pillar #5 of the Earlham Strategic Plan aim to reposition Earlham as a vibrant geographic hub rather than an isolated enclave, with a wide range of opportunities both academically and socially available beyond the campus boundaries.

Core strategies for Pillar #5 are as follows:

  1. Raise Earlham’s visibility in the Richmond community
  2. Connect students to “weekender” regional opportunities for recreation, the arts, professional athletic events, and cultural events
  3. Leverage partnerships to extend the range of academic opportunities available
  4. Enhance and extend the range of international study options for Earlham students
  5. Reinvigorate and increase community service in the local area
PIllar 6: Embody fiscal and operational discipline

Like many institutions of higher education, Earlham College has historically taken an incremental approach to budgeting. The campus culture has valued flexibility and independence and has not focused as much on "best practices" and more standard operating procedures and controls. The strategies included in Pillar #6 of the Earlham Strategic Plan are designed to reduce the College's overall operating cost structure and leverage available opportunities to generate additional revenues with limited investment. A means by which to accomplish these objectives is found in the core strategies, rationale and methodologies listed in this Pillar.

Core strategies for Pillar #6 are as follows:

  1. "Right-size" and "right-price" Earlham administrative functions, and compensation and fringe benefits for all
  2. Optimize utilization and pricing of existing Earlham facilities – classrooms, dorms, etc.
  3. Establish and enforce tighter standards and processes around budgets and spending
  4. Reduce spending on purchased goods and services via centralized and consortial purchasing, insourcing, vendor consolidation, and increased student employment
  5. Implement an integrated package of initiatives to reduce energy costs
  6. Leverage training and technology to streamline administrative processes
  7. Increase non-tuition revenue sources
  8. Re-scope or phase out unprofitable programs and activities