Looking back from fall 2016
Columbia College Chicago enjoys a well established national, and growing international, reputation as a first-choice school for creative individuals preparing for a life and career in the arts, media, and communications. In these fields, the college offers multidisciplinary, technology infused programs of study aligned with cutting edge practices. Students pursue their creative passions in a student-centered learning community led by engaged faculty who exemplify contemporary practice and innovation in the arts, media, and communication.
Preparation for life and a career are inseparable concepts at Columbia. Active integration of learning in the arts and media with learning in the liberal arts and sciences is a hallmark of a Columbia education. Building a body of work that documents artistic, intellectual, and professional growth is at the heart of every student’s Columbia experience and is a signature element of Columbia’s educational brand. Students cultivate their body of work through a wide and varied range of curricular activities, many of which simulate the dynamic environment of contemporary professional practice in the arts, media, and communications fields.
The Columbia College Chicago brand is stronger than ever, even in a very competitive higher education market. Enrollment stands at 12,500 students demonstrating the strength of new and reconceived arts, media, and communications programs, improved undergraduate retention, and competitive pricing. The college has expanded its share of growing populations of potential students, while maintaining its traditional base within the Chicago metropolitan region. Enrollment of minority, transfer, and out-of-state students leads Columbia’s growth. Adult and international student enrollment show great potential for future growth. Throughout its modern history, Columbia has grown and thrived educationally and financially with enrollment growth and the college is well positioned for further growth.
The college is in its strongest – and most nimble – financial position in its recent history as a result of growing enrollment, a very successful major gift campaign, and a strategic realignment of expenditures and budget priorities. Although the college envisions continued enrollment growth, Columbia is in a financially sustainable position. The college’s financial state allows it to readily adapt to strategic challenges and opportunities. The college relies less than in the past on annual enrollment increases in order to maintain and improve operations and to fund strategic initiatives, which are primarily investments in student learning and the student experience. Through the major gifts campaign, the college has raised $48M to augment funding for scholarships and development of capital and financial assets. More importantly, over the last five years the college has significantly reduced its base program and general expenses by streamlining operations and trimming its program offerings. To maintain a financially sustainable position, the college has adopted a strategic budget planning process and established rigorous criteria for taking on new financial commitments. Next to the changes and improvements in the academic programs, this reset of the college’s financial position is Columbia’s greatest strength as it sets the college’s strategic plans for 2020 and beyond.
Since adopting the last strategic plan, Columbia 2010, the college has made remarkable progress in improving the student learning experience, developing an accomplished faculty, creating a sense of campus, raising its profile and reputation, and greatly expanding its student recruiting reach. As evidence of this success, enrollment grew by 15% from 2005 to 2008 and the college’s first major gift campaign raised $50M. Looking ahead from 2010, however, Columbia faces some formidable challenges. Focus 2016 lays out Columbia’s plan to meet those challenges drawing upon its strengths and the values inherent in its mission.
Throughout its modern history, Columbia has grown and thrived educationally and financially with enrollment growth. Over the last two years, however, the impact of four major challenges in Columbia’s strategic environment have contributed to falling enrollments and a resultant loss of tuition revenue. The 2008 recession was the catalyst for the drop in enrollment. In the bad economic climate, students and their families are more cost and value conscious in their choice of colleges than in the past, and more families simply cannot afford the expense of a private institution.The economic climate is not Columbia’s only challenge. Rather, the impacts of the economy, demographic changes, the rapid evolution of arts and media practice, and more competition in the higher education marketplace have combined to pose a significant risk for the college.
Ultimately, Columbia’s strength lies in its ability to enroll and retain students. In 2009, the number of traditional college-age students in the U.S. began to drop. The number of traditional college-age students in the U.S. will continue to drop for several years. The decline is greater in the Midwest than in other parts of the country and greater among white students than among minority students. These trends are a concrete and immediate challenge because Columbia’s current enrollment base is traditional-age, white students from the Chicago metropolitan area and nearby states. Columbia does, however, have recruiting opportunities among minority, transfer, out-of-region, adult and international students, all of which have demonstrable growth potential.
At the same time that the number of traditional college-age students is declining, students have a greater number and more types of institutions and programs from which to choose. The higher education marketplace has become intensely competitive. Community colleges, private for-profit, and distance education programs at traditional and non-traditional institutions are all expanding their share of the student market. In addition, a number of Columbia’s traditional private and public peer institutions have launched arts, media, and communications programs. Some, such as DePaul University, are in direct competition with Columbia for students.
Lastly, arts, media, and communications are rapidly evolving fields of professional practice with good national and global employment prospects. Keeping up with the changes in these fields would be challenging in the best of times. In the current climate, staying at the leading edge of practice in these fields is fundamental to the college’s future prosperity. Contemporary practice is characterized by the breakdown of old disciplinary boundaries, an infusion of technology, new forms of expressions and new products, and career paths. In this new environment, inquiry, problem solving and communications skills, along with a broad base of knowledge, are more important than ever. Offering academic programs that are well aligned with these new realities of arts, media, and communications practice is critically important to attracting and retaining students.
Columbia can meet all of these challenges, but it must act quickly and boldly. Focus 2016 lays out an ambitious plan of action to strengthen the college’s academic offerings, to rebuild enrollment and further diversify the college’s enrollment base, and to reduce the college’s base expenses to make funds available for strategic improvements and to put the college in a more financially sustainable position.Columbia has many strengths from which to draw in order to accomplish this strategic agenda. First, and foremost, the college has a dedicated and talented faculty and staff who are committed to the mission and to student learning. In its faculty and curriculum, the college possesses an unusually broad and deep expertise in arts, media, and communications practice and a foundation of solid educational values, such as its focus on student learning and the synthesis of general education and professional education. Although enrollment has declined in the last two years, interest in the college remains strong, as evidenced by the level of applications. Additionally, over the last several years, Columbia’s fund-raising capacity has grown exponentially.
Finally, Columbia went into the recession in a solid financial position. Compared to many of its peer institutions, the college has a relatively small administrative and managerial staff, and physical plant. Running lean and working smart is a part of Columbia’s legacy that the college can tap into as it moves forward on the Focus 2016 plan in this very challenging environment.
Note on Implementation
Focus 2016 is a statement of Columbia’s strategic objectives for the next five years and a high level road map of how the college will accomplish these objectives. The ultimate success of the plan lies in its implementation. As faculty and staff members who participated in the development of the plan noted time and again: the “devil is in the details.”
During the academic year 2010/2011, the college will get down to those all-important details. Working with faculty, staff, and established committees across the college, the administration will develop a group of interactive operational plans such as those illustrated in this sample implementation diagram. Each of the operational plans will include timelines, budget analysis, and performance measures. Because the college’s environment and experience will evolve over the life of Focus 2016, the college expects to review and update the operational plans on a regular basis.