What Happens When A College Stalls?

A college that is failing to attract students has a problem. We were brought in to Centenary College when a new president arrived in 2002. The goal was to transform this lovely, small liberal arts college in New Jersey into a vibrant success story that offered students something unique and of value at a time of rising university costs.

To begin our process, we did a great deal of “deep hanging out”: we watched how Centenary taught students, we listened to the local and academic community, and we let students and faculty “imagine” what they wanted their academic life to become. Ironically, they already had a very unique teaching approach, matching the way they taught to the way students learned. This came through in the stories they told about successes and challenges, and in students experiences and what they celebrated. Clearly, they understood how to deliver an exceptional college education. Where was the problem?

What they had to change was their recruitment audience and the way high school guidance counselors thought about them. Changing perception is never easy, but the work we did ultimately turned this institution into the “fastest growing college” in the state with a steady waiting list from areas beyond their original core markets. Most interesting were the unmet needs and immediate responses from the market space. Some excellent advertising communicated the unique experience, and Centenary’s positioning and branding were credible—they delivered what they promised. The rest is a delightful history now of growth and accomplishment.