New Year, New Agenda: Saving Private Colleges

New Year’s is a time for resolutions. Here’s one for saving private colleges: “think differently.”

Why? To avoid closure or merger.

Two days into the new year, W. Kent Bards, vice president for external relations at Illinois’ Augustana College, argued that “Starting now, private colleges need a new formula for progress.” The old formula, “tradition + ambition = progress” is, as he says, “destructive.”

Inside Higher Ed printed his argument’s five key points for saving private colleges. First, operate like a start-up (thinking that we at Capture Higher Ed understand well). Forget bureaucracy: change has to happen at a quicker pace. One of the key values to extol: experimentation.

Second, embrace the teacher-mentor model. Having scholars is cool — but having mentors on campus to actually help students goes a long way, especially in the view of the public. A “Scholar” sounds a lot like someone who doesn’t teach at all — as major research universities have learned, says Bards.

Third, identify what students can’t do at those big flagship universities, and don’t hold back when you do. Maybe even brag about it! Customized experiences. Transformative learning. “Those of us at smaller colleges need to showcase what we do better,” Bards says.

Fourth, emphasize location, location, location. Bards notes small colleges in New England that are strong with programs for sustainability and conservation. And part of that may be because of the natural resources of a particular area that the small college can draw on: industries in the region, for example. His own school’s Upper Mississippi Center undertakes “real-world projects that address social, economic and environmental challenges for local communities.”

Finally, small colleges must be the big donors in their hometown. “Embrace the people in your community,” Bards says, “and invite them in.” The community and the college can support each other and thrive.

Capture knows that part of the solution to the ills of small colleges involves building a community within of students who are perfect for that school. But building that community without is just as vital.

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed