A Plan for Sustainable Excellence

April 2011
One Page Overview

 

Values and Vision

Sweet Briar celebrates and cherishes its heritage as a small, residential, liberal arts college for women, preparing students to fulfill their academic, professional and personal aspirations by providing excellent academic and co-curricular programs on an expansive and inspiring campus. This has been our strength since the founding of the College more than a century ago. It remains our pride, our strength and our excellence today.

In the second decade of the 21st century, we dedicate ourselves to ensuring the currency and vigor of this tradition of excellence. Sweet Briar seeks to be the example that proves that “small” can be dynamic and vital, that “rural” can be sophisticated and connected, and that the liberal arts as traditionally understood gain meaning when they engage reflectively with practical experience. Sweet Briar seeks to be the example that proves that “institutional” and “entrepreneurial” thinking add value to each other: that innovation keeps tradition vital while tradition keeps innovation grounded.

We also dedicate ourselves to putting Sweet Briar on a sustainable financial footing. In order to realize our goals with regard to faculty and staff compensation, academic and non-academic program development, and access for students with all levels of financial need, we must effect structural adjustments in the College’s budgets and financial operations. Increased enrollment, expense curtailment, preservation of the endowment, productive fundraising and new revenue streams must all play a role in bringing the College into a state of financial equilibrium. Because enrollment growth extends the impact of our mission while advancing our financial sustainability, it is a primary focus of the current strategy.

In short, the strategy outlined here is intended to make sure that Sweet Briar becomes, in the coming decade, the most dynamic, focused and effective possible version of itself – larger than at present but still among the nation’s smallest and most personal campus communities; streamlined but still offering an appealing range of academic and co-curricular programs; “both market-smart and mission-centered.”[1] It is motivated by the twin desires to preserve the excellence of which we are so proud and to ensure the sustainability of that excellence into a long future.

How, specifically and measurably, will the College look different in five years if this plan is successfully implemented?

  • Residence halls will be full and the student-faculty ratio will have reached or be approaching policy benchmark.
  • Current revenues (from tuition, philanthropy and other revenue generating activities) will increase as a proportion of the operating budget and endowment reliance will decrease. Endowment spending rate will have reached policy benchmark. Compensation will have reached or be demonstrably approaching policy benchmark.
  • Renovated classrooms and other learning spaces across the campus will support “digitally sophisticated” teaching and learning and provide more attractive and appealing environments for student-faculty interaction.
  • The library renovation will be complete.
  • We will have an integrated campus plan for addressing maintenance and renovation needs, reflecting our values with regard to accessibility and energy efficiency.
  • Faculty innovation and initiative will be supported, recognized and rewarded through the “entrepreneurial educator” program and through funds raised specifically to encourage “instructional innovation and excellence.”
  • The academic program will clearly present students with additional opportunities for experiential learning, “learning in the landscape,” and “digitally sophisticated” learning as the hallmarks of Sweet Briar’s distinctiveness, building on our existing excellence in student-faculty research, laboratory and field work, internships, study abroad and other forms of hands-on learning.
  • The residential undergraduate student body will increase in racial and ethnic diversity. Other non-degree or graduate programs will bring diversity of age, educational background and gender to campus. Generally, the campus culture will be more inclusive with regard to race, ethnicity, religion, geographic or national origin, socioeconomic background, sexual identity, physical ability and other aspects of human diversity.
  • Sweet Briar will enjoy a stronger market position, competing more effectively against regional institutions for students and enhancing its national reputation for vitality, currency and relevance.

 

Conceptual Cornerstones

Serving An Expanded Student Body.  We believe that more women (and in specific non-degree or graduate programs, men) can and should benefit from a Sweet Briar education. While remaining intentionally small and intimate in scale, Sweet Briar will benefit greatly from increased enrollment and greater diversity among the student body. Our goal is to attract more of the students we have historically served so well while increasing the representation of students from a range of demographic backgrounds. Our approach will be an assertive strategy of targeted, research-driven and increasingly digital marketing coupled with highly personal and relationship-driven recruiting.

The plan proposes expanding the student body to fill current residential capacity with a student body of 675 – 700 students in residence. This will not only support a more sustainable financial model but also will increase the intellectual diversity and vitality of both academic and co-curricular life. Adding approximately 65 – 70 non-residential matriculated students (including Turning Point students, students with nearby families and upperclass students living off-campus) for a total enrollment of 750 – 800 degree-seeking undergraduates is the first-stage goal.[2]

The plan also calls for enrollment growth among non-undergraduate-degree seekers. Sweet Briar wishes to provide excellent, educationally meaningful programs to such students through the creation of new programs for secondary students, additional graduate programs (with a priority on using technology to develop low-residency models), and increased enrollment in Sweet Briar’s signature Junior Year in France (JYF) and Junior Year in Spain (JYS) programs. Such programs will enhance both reputation and revenue while extending the impact of our educational mission.

A Landscape for Learning: Sweet Briar possesses a very nearly unique asset in the beauty and extent of its landholdings. Making the most effective use possible of the campus for recruiting and for academic, athletic and co-curricular programming as well as for revenue generation is a pervasive element of the plan. Increased focus on our “landscape for learning” in marketing and entrepreneurial efforts to identify revenue-generating opportunities related to our landholdings are two immediate priorities. Another is review by the faculty of the ways in which both curriculum and pedagogy can engage the immediately local environment as well as the broader implications of environmental sustainability, incorporating elements of social and environmental justice and viewing  economic and political systems in the larger context of the natural world. A new program concept suggested repeatedly in the planning discussions — in some area related to sustainable/organic agriculture/food production — is intimately related to the land and to Sweet Briar’s history as a working plantation.[3] Other related initiatives include the creation of “outdoor classrooms,” a curriculum review with environmental sustainability and the liberal arts as a focus, increased support in Co-Curricular Life for outdoorsmanship and environmentally oriented activities, and targeted recruitment of students with outdoorsmanship, environmental and related interests.

A Community of “Entrepreneurial Educators“: Sweet Briar can set the example of how not-for-profit, mission-centered higher education can benefit from incorporating elements of an entrepreneurial mindset. The plan proposes an “Entrepreneurial Educator” program which facilitates and rewards faculty and staff initiative by supporting and recognizing those who advance financially sustainable educational initiatives that attract enrollment or revenue to the College.[4]

Sweet Briar will also seek entrepreneurial opportunities to generate revenue from its existing assets, especially its landholdings, through business or other revenue-generating activities that are consistent with our educational and environmental values. The plan also encourages partnerships which will allow Sweet Briar to eliminate activities that do not fall within our organizational core competence or to share resources with collaborators when it is financially advantageous for us to do so. The plan calls for directing more financial and human resources to mission-critical activities, minimizing the ways in which non-mission-central work and operational inefficiencies distract both human and financial resources.

Digital Sophistication. There can be no doubt that the ability to work effectively with digital information and media is as important to women’s achievement in the 21st century as the ability to work effectively with print information and conventional media has been and still is. Sweet Briar graduates increasingly need to enter into graduate education, the workplace and civic life prepared to engage with digital and networked information and tools to adapt throughout a professional lifetime of dizzying technological change.

There is also no doubt that technology offers great potential benefit to an institution located in a relatively remote geographical area. Access to disciplinary experts, guest performers, unique documents and images, remote instrumentation and powerful analytic capacity is facilitated by digital technology. Wise use of appropriate technologies can ensure that a small and remote college offers world-class resources to its students, even if those resources are located halfway around the globe.

Our plan therefore envisions a more digitally sophisticated Sweet Briar by proposing the extensive renovation of learning spaces, the expansion of instructional technology and support staff capacity, curriculum review with “digital sophistication” as a priority, a strengthened administrative technology infrastructure, and a program of support and recognition for faculty pursuing technologically-enabled instructional innovations.

 

Action Plans

Building upon these conceptual cornerstones will result in a Sweet Briar that is “operating sustainably, competing effectively, engaging new populations and producing liberally educated and digitally sophisticated graduates,” in the words of the Starting Line White Paper. But, as has been frequently noted throughout this planning process, ambitious goals and inspiring visions only make a difference if they are translated into specific action plans to which all constituents of the College agree to hold themselves accountable.

Below, by functional area, a series of action plans outline the work to be undertaken in the immediate future to start us moving expeditiously toward a more sustainable, inclusive, entrepreneurial and digitally sophisticated Sweet Briar.

A note about the action plans: The language above describes our strategy, while the action plans below outline some of the tactics that we believe will advance that strategy. However, as is always the case, tactical plans must assume some degree of flexibility and opportunities for assessment and re-direction in order for them to incorporate changing circumstances, new information or lessons learned along the way. Hence the emphasis, from the outset of this process, is on “iterative” planning and a strong pilot/assess/revise cycle as fundamental to our approach.

Marketing and Recruiting Action Plan

Sweet Briar faces one immediate and imperative need: to grow enrollment as aggressively as possible without construction of additional facilities. Acceptable current residential capacity has been determined to be 688, assuming modest renovation and repurposing of existing space.[5] With a slightly increased proportion of non-residential students, we can reach a total matriculated enrollment of 750 – 800. We can increase overall enrollment by enrolling more students in Junior Year in France (JYF) and Junior Year in Spain (JYS) programs, graduate programs and non-degree programs.

The competitive advantages that will allow Sweet Briar to attract more students are clear to those who know and love Sweet Briar, but need to be clearer to those who are unfamiliar with the College. We offer an unmatched “landscape for learning” and we have solid experience with “experiential/practicum” learning. We offer distinctive programs, including a nationally respected equestrian program and one of only two women’s-college engineering programs. We have strength in academic areas known to appeal to today’s prospective students. Ensuring that programs, budgets and messages are aligned with these competitive advantages and investing in the marketing and recruiting that will make them compelling to prospective students are the keys to increased enrollment through both recruitment and retention.

Sweet Briar’s admissions and recruiting strategy needs to be appropriate to a small, highly distinctive, “niche” educational experience. That is, the strategy needs to assume a highly efficient and relatively narrow admissions funnel.[6] Like any niche or highly specialized product or experience, Sweet Briar’s best strategy is to rely on identifying and reaching those most likely to value what it offers as early as possible in the recruiting process and then cultivating them intensively.

To support this strategy we must:

  1. Commission market research to support more effective targeting of recruiting resources.
  2. Develop “target market” communications and recruiting plan, with an initial focus on riders[7], outdoorswomen/environmentalists/girl scouts, students in target geographic areas, and others as indicated by research and experience.[8] Target markets will evolve with experience and research and cannot be assumed to be fixed.
  3. Increase recruitment focus on the immediately surrounding geographic area with specific attention to demographic diversity (responding to research about the geographical preferences of prospective students from Latina and African-American populations), non-residential students, Turning Point students and transfers from community colleges.
  4. Increase emphasis on videos, images and multimedia in marketing and the practice of engaging “out of the box” consultants and creative marketing personnel.
  5. Adjust the current print and text-heavy mix to increase emphasis on digital and image/video for use online and in social networking environments while retaining the essential high quality print publications.
  6. Commission a new financial aid matrix based on net-tuition revenue modeling and current data, maintain or incrementally increase average net tuition revenue per student, and assess this approach once current capacity is filled.

Academic Action Plan

The faculty has authority to define the curriculum and pedagogy of the academic program, but it does not do so in a vacuum. The faculty recognizes the centrality of its role in offering an academic program that will attract and retain an increasingly talented and diverse student body, encouraging a culture of excellence among the students of the college and preparing graduates for success in post-college endeavors. And, of course, it is in the interest of the faculty to offer an academic program that helps the institution meet its reputational and financial goals. In turn, the academic initiatives of the faculty require both funding and the appropriate allocation of support services, professional development opportunities and most especially compensation.

  1. The faculty will review those portions of the curriculum falling outside the major programs of study. This includes not only the requirements of the general education program but also related programs such as the honors program, the teaching of writing and the developing Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). The goal of this review will be to determine whether a streamlined curriculum could allow more effective allocation of faculty time while communicating educational priorities more clearly to students. This review will bear in mind the strategic focus concepts of experiential learning, the landscape for learning and digital sophistication and will ask how these concepts should find expression in the curriculum.
  2. The Academic Planning Committee (APC), charged with guiding the direction of the academic program as a whole in collaboration with the Dean of the Faculty, Vice President for Finance and Administration (VPFA) and President, will make recommendations regarding the allocation, creation or termination of instructional positions and academic programs in light of long-term academic plans, priorities and directions.
  3. The faculty will investigate the potential benefits of organizing into larger, intellectually related collegial units to encourage further interdisciplinary collaboration and integrated curriculum planning. (Such reorganization could also reduce the administrative burden of the faculty, collectively, by reducing the number of very small departments, each of which requires a chair.) Working with the Dean, the faculty will consider a variety of organizational models and institutional examples.
  4. Using measures endorsed by the Sustainable Size and Ratios (SSAR) study group, the Dean will propose goals for the number of major programs to be offered and the number of courses to be taught. The Dean will work with faculty leadership through the newly-created APC to plan changes in the curriculum in order to achieve benchmark targets by consolidating or eliminating courses and major, minor, or certificate programs.
  5. Using measures endorsed by the SSAR study group, the Dean and President will establish a goal for the overall student-faculty ratio. The Dean will plan with faculty leadership to achieve the benchmark target within five years, taking both projected enrollment growth and projected attrition due to retirements and resignations into account.
  6. No tenure-track searches, or conversions to the tenure track, will be authorized until plans for meeting benchmark targets for faculty/program/course/student ratios have been approved and acceptable progress has been demonstrated.
  7. The “entrepreneurial educator” program will offer seed funding and staffing support to faculty and staff members, departments, or groups of faculty and staff collaborators who develop programs that will sustainably serve students who are not enrolled for a Sweet Briar degree (that is, high school students, seniors/retirees/alumnae, males, adults pursuing certificate or personal enrichment education, and so on.)
  8. A fund to support “instructional innovation and excellence” will be established to support, reward and recognize faculty and staff members who make innovative changes in courses or programs to improve student learning, particularly when those changes are consistent with the priorities articulated in this plan.
  9. Academic departments, programs or collaborators will be encouraged to propose new graduate programs, with preference being given to proposals for low-residency programs that use campus facilities in the summer, during breaks, or on weekends and that use technology to engage students between sessions on campus.
  10. The Dean and faculty will undertake a feasibility assessment and planning process to explore the potential of a new academic program in the general topic area of sustainability and local agriculture/food production. Various versions of such a proposal surfaced repeatedly throughout strategic planning discussions as uniting our distinctive landholdings, environmentalism and hands-on learning while resonating with a significant organic/local food movement in Virginia, strong current interest in food, health and sustainability, and Sweet Briar’s own history as a self-supporting plantation. Many questions remain to be studied by an appropriate faculty-led team in order to determine whether this is a feasible opportunity and, if so, in what form.

 

Financial Action Plan

For the next several years, Sweet Briar must juggle competing financial priorities. It is essential to simultaneously maintain support for a high-quality and attractive program, pay down existing debt and restrain endowment spending. Stepping too hard on the metaphorical financial brakes will damage our ability to recruit and retain students and faculty to fulfill our educational mission. Stepping too hard on the metaphorical gas pedal will accelerate the depletion of the endowment, jeopardizing our ability to carry our mission into the future.

For planning purposes, different forms of expenditure can appropriately be regarded differently. Investing in developing enrollment and revenue is one matter; fulfilling debt obligations is another; maintaining historical but unexamined levels of operational expenditure is yet a third. Our financial strategy is to reduce ongoing operational expenditures through careful discipline and strategic partnerships, to make moderate investments that will pay off in increased enrollment in the immediate term, to focus existing resources on our core competencies and strategic priorities, and to recognize that the prudent course may be to allow the strain of existing debt service to fall both on the endowment and on the College’s programs for the next few fiscal years.

  1. The Board of Directors, working with the President and Vice President for Finance and Administration (VPFA), will define a set of “financial guardrails” or “planning parameters” which will articulate the broad financial policy within which the College is to operate for the coming 3 – 5 years as the various aspects of this plan are implemented. These guardrails or parameters will provide the basic assumptions governing the College’s multi-year budget planning.
  2. Sweet Briar’s primary revenue strategy will be to increase tuition revenue by increasing enrollment, while seeking to maintain or slightly increase average net revenue per student. Increased enrollment of non-residential students, students in Junior Year program, and the graduate programs in education will contribute to increased revenue; our target will be to slightly increase the proportion of revenue from these enrollments without rebalancing the College away from the residential undergraduate core.
  3. Efforts will be launched to forge partnerships with other campuses/organizations to share non-mission-critical resources and services to enhance quality or reduce operating expenses when it is financially advantageous. Such partnerships can take the form of “outsourcing” or of interinstitutional collaboration and resource-sharing.
  4. Initiatives to generate non-tuition revenue will increase, including projects to identify agricultural or other opportunities for land use and to build 12-month use of the campus. Opportunities to sell, lease or realize revenue from eligible landholding or other assets will be actively considered.
  5. While the administration, the board and the faculty all recognize the essential importance of reducing endowment spending to a sustainable level (current policy target is 5%), under the existing burden of debt service, attaining this goal immediately would require a level of operating budget reduction that would adversely affect program, recruitment and retention of students as well as faculty. For the near future, the board and administration will notionally differentiate between the “spending rate for program,” “spending for strategic investment” and the “spending rate for debt service” in order to illustrate and monitor the relative impact of spending for these various purposes.
  6. In order to understand and coordinate priorities in the area of maintenance and renovation of physical plant, we will develop a holistic campus needs assessment, incorporating the energy and accessibility audits already completed into a larger and campuswide maintenance plan. Known needs in Pannell, Babcock and Guion will be included in this plan.

 

Technology Action Plan

Strategic priorities in the area of technology are intended to create the conditions under which Sweet Briar can ensure it is offering students a “digitally sophisticated” education.

  1. Technology for classrooms and classrooms for technology. Renovating learning spaces across the campus is a top priority. The instructional technology committee, working with the Dean and the Director of Integrated Information Services, will create a prioritized list to guide the sequence of renovations as funding becomes available. This will be among our top fundraising priorities.
  2. Students will encounter “digital sophistication” concepts and hands-on engagement with new technologies in the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) from the outset of their Sweet Briar experience. Faculty review of the curriculum will consider where else “digital sophistication” concepts should be formally incorporated, taking assessment of the technology component of the QEP pilot into account.
  3. A “Fund for Instructional Innovation and Excellence” will be established to support faculty initiatives to improve teaching and learning, especially in ways consistent with the themes of this plan. Preference will be given to faculty-led initiatives to incorporate digital tools or resources into specific programs or courses, as well as to those addressing other strategic priorities. Creating this fund will be another of our top fundraising priorities.
  4. Staffing will be reallocated within Integrated Information Services to strengthen the Instructional Technology and helpdesk/support functions. Enhancing staff capacity in instructional technology will be a mid-term goal.
  5. Key administrative capabilities will be strengthened. There are several important functions that require the implementation of new or upgraded software, including prospect management in admissions, online course and program evaluation, online degree audit, online purchasing and others. The administrative systems steering committee will develop a prioritized list of campuswide needs to inform the multi-year budgeting process.

 

The Fundraising Plan

The College received a thorough analysis from the consulting firm of Grenzebach, Glier and Associates which indicates that there is potential to strengthen the philanthropic support Sweet Briar attracts through both the Annual Fund and major gifts programs in the near term. To seize this potential we must:

  1. Engage immediately in “readiness” preparations in both the Annual Fund and major gifts programs, as well as in the Board Development Committee to support new fundraising initiatives and an increased level of activity.
  2. Launch a new approach by defining limited, short-term, targeted “strategic initiatives” appeals specifically tied to the concepts and priorities outlined in this plan as a way of approaching both Annual Fund and major gift prospects.

While the articulation of the specific timeline and design of a fundraising campaign has not yet begun and is still slightly premature, the overall thrust of the next major campaign is clear; it must result as quickly as possible in increased support for academic programs (and therefore faculty salaries) and an endowment equal to at least three times the annual operating budget.[9] Campaign goals will also address capital needs, specifically the renovation of existing spaces, but no major new construction initiative is envisioned for the next campaign.[10] The library renovation project currently planned will take place with funds in hand.

Governance Action Plan

Two initiatives are intended to make shared governance more strategically focused at both the board and faculty levels.

  1. The Board of Directors, having worked with a consultant from the Association of Governing Boards, has begun a review of its committee and meeting structures. Directors will continue to deliberate on possible adjustments to their committee structure, meeting schedule, calendar and orientation and assessment programs in order to increase their ability to focus effectively on strategic planning and governance.
  2. The faculty has created a committee charged with leadership of planning for the academic program as a whole. This new committee — Academic Planning Committee (APC) — will make recommendations as to the allocation of positions and creation of new academic programs, as well as with regard to the potential elimination or merging of major, minor, certificate, or other programs. It will also give leadership to the faculty in the processes of curriculum and program review. The faculty has enacted corresponding changes to other faculty committees in order to prevent the duplication of work and to avoid an increase to faculty committee service burdens.

 

Conclusion

We believe that if the actions proposed here are carried through with discipline, energy and consistency, Sweet Briar will advance rapidly toward a larger and more inclusive student body, a stronger reputation and wider recognition among prospective families and in higher education, and a more sustainable financial model. We will see increased enrollment, new programs for non-degree students and new graduate programs, a more technologically sophisticated instructional and administrative environment, innovative faculty initiatives being rewarded and supported, and greater revenue-producing year-round use of facilities and resources. Cumulatively, these changes will ensure that our excellence is truly sustainable and that Sweet Briar will continue to nurture the talents and aspirations of women for generations to come.

It is worth remembering that this planning process has, from the outset, been conceived of as iterative. Once the specific goals envisioned in this document have been achieved, new questions will arise: in other words, this plan does not anticipate a destination so much as direct the next few steps in Sweet Briar’s long journey. At best, it will not only accomplish specific goals but also usher in a new culture of planning, assessment, adaptation and innovation as essential to the ongoing development of the College.

 

Appendix A – Process, Work and Contributions of the Study Groups

The process undertaken in 2010 relied on both extensive research and extensive consultation. Our “information quarry” includes: a 117 item annotated bibliography compiled, 21 national data sources consulted, 13 comparison sets defined and 18 local research projects undertaken. Our process was inclusive: 34 faculty, staff, and students served on Study Groups; 800+ signed in at discussions, open meetings, focus groups or completed surveys; 20 served on the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, including 3 members of the Board of Directors and the President of the College; 75 meetings and events were held and a public blog and frequent updates were published.

The Steering Committee is very much aware of the common and predictable disillusionment that often emerges at the end of a widely-inclusive strategic planning process. Such disillusion generally finds expression along these lines: “I contributed my ideas/information/perspective/suggestions to the process and never heard any more about them” or “I heard about a lot of exciting possibilities that aren’t in the final plan. What happened to those?” Anticipating such concerns, it is important to remember that the following outcomes are the direct result of the work of the study groups:

  1. The “initiatives quarry” is a compilation of the proposals emerging from all study groups, which have been summarized in template form and captured for future reference and potential development. Some initiatives appear in this plan, others are in reserve for subsequent phases, and some may never be implemented at all. All, however, have informed the discussion, and all have had their influence.
  2. Sustainable Size and Ratios (SSAR), after extensive study of national and institution specific data sets, answered essential questions about what measures should constitute the comparative framework for Sweet Briar benchmarks and what studies and data indicators are meaningful. While SSAR did not establish the benchmark goals themselves (the administration will recommend specific goals, which the board will review and revise or endorse as part of its “guardrails” statement), its work was essential in defining the terms and contexts to which the administration and board will look through the duration of this plan.
  3. The contribution of the Digital Sophistication, Expanding Whom We Serve, and Competitive Advantage study groups to articulating the (sometimes surprisingly) converging themes that direct the entirety of this plan cannot be overstated. Without the work of these groups, several essential priorities would not have emerged, including:
    1. Facilities. All three groups, from their various perspectives, ended up noting the urgency of renovating and updating existing facilities. Digital Sophistication emphasized the need to accommodate instructional technologies, Expanding Whom We Serve emphasized making sure that all aspects of campus are attractive to both current and prospective students, and Competitive Advantage noted that when we promote the beauty of the campus we risk undermining one of our strongest points of appeal if the internal spaces are not as inspiring as the external ones. This is just one example of how, working separately, the study groups developed similar priorities.
    2. Another example of convergence is the emphasis on pedagogy that operates in the intersection of experiential/practicum/service learning. Competitive Advantage noted our existing strength in this educational model, Whom Shall We Serve noted the appeal of this style of pedagogy to today’s students, and Digital Sophistication recognized that technology allows for new ways of being “hands on” while remaining on campus.
    3. A third example is the “twelve-month campus” concept that would expand whom we serve by creating programs for non-undergraduate students and exploit a competitive advantage by using the beauty and space of the campus as a draw, realizing revenue, supporting recruiting and enhancing reputation at the same time.
    4. Naturally, each group also pursued non-overlapping, although interrelated, ideas. Expanding Whom We Serve urged the College to look at prospective students in specific categories and to consider targeted and specific messaging and recruitment strategies for highly desirable and high-likelihood-of-enrollment students (while Digital Sophistication noted the role of digital technology in creating the ability to do this). Digital Sophistication emphasized the need for personnel infrastructure to support faculty activities, as well as networking and equipment infrastructure (while noting that the lack of adequate technology on campus can constitute a competitive disadvantage). Competitive Advantage insistently emphasized the need for coherence and consistency in messaging and presentation.
    5. Finally, the work of the study groups stimulated vital and well-informed discussions across the campus. Rarely have we seen a planning process lead to such productive, collegial and information-rich discussion among colleagues and across constituencies. In this way, the study groups provided their colleagues with an intensive short course in Sweet Briar’s current issues.

 

Summary findings and recommendations from the study groups

  1. Sweet Briar has opportunities to capitalize on specific existing competitive advantages, including the beauty and extent of its landholdings, the riding program, a history of integrating the liberal arts with pre-professional educational programs, the faculty’s consistently high rankings for accessibility and student engagement, its consistently highly ranked career services office, and well-established major, minor and certificate programs in areas sought by today’s women students:

i.     Environmental Studies/Life Sciences

ii.     Engineering/Physical Sciences

iii.     Creative Writing/Fine and Performing Arts

iv.     Business/Entrepreneurship

v.     Government/Public Policy/International Affairs[11]

  1. To succeed, however, Sweet Briar needs to build strength in other areas, including:
    1. Existing facilities that are functionally and aesthetically below the level of the external spaces of the campus and of the newer facilities
    2. Salaries and professional development support for all employees, most especially faculty (and within the faculty, the full professors, whose salaries have been affected by compressions), but including staff at all levels
    3. Endowment, which should be at least equal to 3X annual budget for financial equilibrium and to allow for a sustainable spend rate
    4. Digital infrastructure for academic, student experience and administrative functions, including equipment, networking and facilities, but also including support personnel and expertise
    5. Scale. Sweet Briar cannot reach both excellence and sustainability at its current scale. The current mission (a full liberal arts curriculum, with a broad program of co-curricular activities and a full range of campus services) requires the college to become larger. Remaining at the current size (through deliberate choice or inability to attract more students) will require significant redefinition of mission and a sharply focused and less comprehensive set of programs.

Appendix B:  Key Data Summary

Appendix C:  Timeline and accountability grid, indicating interdependencies (will be developed pending plan approval)


[1] Thanks to Bob Zemsky for this phrase, versions of which he has used in many speeches, presentations and publications over the years.

[2] Upon achievement of this goal, the question will be whether to continue growth — and, if so, how — or whether to delay growth to increase selectivity. Assessment of the financial implications of both paths will be essential. But before contemplating this choice, we must reach capacity and examine what we have learned about demand, willingness to pay and the evolving competitive environment.

[3] A range of ideas have been proposed in this general concept area, including for example partnership with an agricultural enterprise that would use campus land and provide internships or research opportunities and potentially revenues in return, a summer adult study program for those wishing to study the business aspects of sustainable agriculture, or even an interdisciplinary undergraduate study program on sustainability and food studies.

[4] Under the leadership of business professor Tom Scott, this program has been piloted in 2010-11 and has resulted in the launching of a pilot summer program for high school student artists and the development of a study trip to the Pyrenees.

[5] An updated inventory of residential space was conducted in December 2010/January 2011 and is the basis for this number.

[6] Rather than attempting to attract many thousands of inquirers and accepting a relatively low conversion and yield rate — a “wide funnel” —, Sweet Briar should refine its ability to identify and contact high-likelihood prospective students and focus on them — a “narrow funnel.”

[7] The Dean and Director of the Riding Program note that the program can accommodate 25-30 more students without a need for expanded facilities.

[8] Target geographic areas are to be identified by Admissions based on observed trends and may shift from year to year.

[9] Raising funds for innovative programs or specific subject areas has the effect of increasing resources available for faculty salaries and professional development, as well as for equipment, scholarships, facilities and other program needs.

[10] Tusculum is one possible exception, as fundraising for that project has been underway for some time. If the reconstruction can be designed to serve the needs of the academic program and faculty, and if funding can be secured, that “new” building project might go forward.

[11] This list was articulated by George Dehne and Associates in a consulting engagement undertaken in summer 2009, well before the launch of the strategic planning process. Dehne was asked to identify opportunities for increased enrollment in light of its market research among prospective college students. This list does not imply a return to the former, and contentious, “steeples of excellence” approach, or the identification of the named programs as superior in quality. It is intended to assert that, strategically, these are programs that should be prominently displayed and showcased.