Earlham College’s leadership was perplexed that the College’s objectives were not being met, even by generously funded enhancements in its enrollment operation. Our firm conducted an initial strategic assessment that included reviewing past research, communications, planning documents and conducting interviews with campus administrators, faculty and students. The findings made it clear that the College had a number of challenges at a higher, strategic level, some common to small liberal arts colleges and some particular to Earlham, that needed to be addressed to strengthen its appeal among prospective students and its position vis-à-vis competitors.
The strategic assessment findings formed the basis for quantitative survey research conducted, using our SDM approach, with Earlham’s prospective students. Through brand positioning research with inquirers and admitted applicants, we found that the College had opportunities to strengthen its competitive position through substantive initiatives related to career preparation and services and campus enhancements, while maintaining its programmatic focus on global issues, social justice, hands-on learning and its Quaker values. The SDM findings further revealed that it was only by strengthening Earlham’s appeal among prospective students that the College could gain price and aid flexibility to generate greater net revenue.
Our work proved a useful tool in the transition from the retiring president who initiated the study to the new president who inherited it. Both worked hard to gain the support of faculty and the Board of Trustees around the strategic initiatives our research suggested the College pursue. The larger campus community has internalized the conclusions, informing strategic planning and action focused on how Earlham can accomplish these objectives.