CIC Strategic Priorities and Focus Areas

In May 2022, the CIC Board of Directors affirmed a set of strategic focus areas to guide future decision making and programming. Recommended by CIC president Marjorie Hass, these focus areas are grounded in internal and external data about the state of independent higher education, extensive feedback from CIC members, and an operational review of CIC’s capacities and opportunities. Over the next several years, President Hass and the CIC staff will use these focus areas to enhance member services and programs. The focus areas are intended to guide but not constrain. CIC will remain responsive to unexpected opportunities and to the changing needs of CIC campuses and emergent member priorities.

When presenting the focus areas to the Board, President Hass said, “These four focus areas are important in that our members increasingly look to us for leadership and solutions to pressing problems. In this period of rapid economic and cultural change, when our campuses and their leaders are under significant stress, CIC has a unique opportunity to leverage the shared strength of our diverse sector to create meaningful solutions.”

Focus Area One: Ensure our institutes, leadership development programs, workshops, and conferences are ever more relevant, engaging, inspiring, and of practical use to a diverse membership. Continuous reinvention is needed to keep our annual programming fresh, interesting, and connected to what is happening on campuses and in society. CIC will continue to set a standard in terms of developing a well-prepared and diverse leadership pipeline for independent higher education. Our meetings will make use of contemporary learning formats to share information and encourage discussion and debate. In-person convenings will encourage interaction and offer immediately relevant analyses, conceptual frameworks, and solutions so that participants return to their campuses inspired and ready to implement change. Virtual gatherings will supplement in-person ones to offer timely, cost-effective ways for campus leaders to be informed and build community. Our offerings will be accessible to diverse participants and relevant to diverse institutions.

Focus Area Two: Support member financial health and innovation. CIC’s programming and other member services will continuously evolve to meet the needs of our members. Building on the success of our current networks and services (e.g., TEP, OCSC, NetVUE, KIT/FIT) CIC will develop new solution-oriented networks, projects, and tools to enable member presidents to better meet their institutional goals. We will be responsive to the pressing challenges facing our members including: financial health, diversity and equity, access, retention, the need for better and more timely data, student success, employment outcomes for students, campus well-being, and the need to support open dialogue and democratic citizenship. We will also support campus leaders as they explore innovation and growth such as the expansion of graduate and professional programs, nontraditional credentials and certificates, and online instruction.

Focus Area Three: Increase member engagement. Member engagement in CIC programs and services varies widely and has been impacted by the recent rapid turnover in campus leadership. We will make our value proposition clear and compelling and ensure that every member has access to the full value of CIC membership through strategies such as conference tracks, “opt in” member segmentation, and other personalized approaches. We will adopt a “digital first” strategy to improve communication with members. Enhanced use of internal data will allow us to reach out to members in more effective and relevant ways.

Focus Area Four: Strengthen CIC’s role as a visible champion of independent higher education. CIC is a unique shared resource for our sector and is poised to better live out the third prong of our mission: enhance public understanding of private higher education’s contributions to society. Our focus on practice rather than policy gives us the opportunity and responsibility to champion independent higher education and the liberal arts in ways that impact public opinion and student choice. We are committed to using data and campus success stories to share the good news about our sector and its impact in ways that are timely, pithy, and influential. We are also in a position to support presidential leadership on issues of national importance such as the role of higher education in fostering democracy and the need for institutional autonomy.

President Hass said that the focus areas are important in that “our members increasingly look to us for leadership and solutions to pressing problems. CIC has a unique opportunity to leverage the shared strength of our diverse membership and create real changes in the ecosystem in which our campuses operate.”

CIC is one of only six national higher education presidential associations and the only one to focus explicitly on supporting independent college and university leadership. CIC currently touches more than 2 million students on more than 660 college and university campuses across the United States and the world. Overall, CIC’s membership includes more than 760 unique organizations.

Newly elected Board Chair Barbara Farley added, “The CIC Board is delighted that this new strategic plan will enhance the value CIC provides for its members by focusing on four key areas. We are pleased that our organization is expanding beyond informing and educating members about the problems faced by our sector to also developing concrete shared solutions.” In addition to affirming the new strategic focus areas, the Board re-affirmed CIC’s mission statement and adopted a new vision statement.

Vision Statement

CIC is the gathering place of choice for those seeking lively conversation, insight, and inspiration about independent higher education. In community, our members assess the sector’s past, support its present, and create its future. Through membership in CIC our members collaborate and learn. Presidents, provosts, and other leaders find the knowledge, networks, and resources they need to improve institutional success and build a healthy and vibrant ecosystem for independent higher education.

Mission Statement

Founded in 1956, the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) is an association of nonprofit independent colleges and universities, state-based councils, and higher education affiliates that works to support college and university leadership, advance institutional excellence, and enhance public understanding of independent higher education’s contributions to society.

CIC is the major national organization that focuses on providing services to leaders of independent colleges and universities and state-based councils. CIC offers conferences, seminars, publications, and other programs and services that help institutions improve educational quality, administrative and financial performance, student outcomes, and institutional visibility.

Eligibility for CIC membership is open to all small and mid-sized private, nonprofit colleges and universities in the U.S. that show a commitment to the liberal arts, similar institutions located outside the U.S., and two-year independent institutions. Nonprofit organizations that support the purposes of independent higher education also are eligible to be members of CIC.

CIC Member Engagement Survey

Early in 2022, CIC conducted a Member Engagement Survey of presidents and chief academic officers to gather their perspectives and insights on a variety of questions in order to better understand member interests and needs, and to inform a new set of strategic priorities that will guide CIC’s work in the coming years.

The 22-question survey focused on membership value, institutional priorities, communications, and demographics—was conducted in February and March 2022 and received 265 responses for a 20 percent response rate.

Analysis of the data revealed the diversity across CIC membership and showed that regional factors (such as changing demographics) and the different social and political contexts within which member institutions operate all affect institutional priorities. For example, an institution’s region and religious affiliation have an impact on how priority is given to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Another key factor is the size and composition of the student population: overall enrollment as well as the demographic characteristics of any institution’s student body has a relationship to its financial health. CIC’s smallest institutions showed higher concern for financial aid optimization than other institutions. Data also showed that more than half of CIC member institutions now offer graduate programs—thus an increasing number are categorized by the Carnegie classifications as master’s and doctoral institutions and this trend grows with every new Carnegie classification release.

Survey findings show that by far the most prominent priorities for presidents and provosts across the board were:

  1. Financial sustainability,
  2. Diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives,
  3. Using data to inform decisions/increase institutional effectiveness,
  4. Financial aid optimization, and
  5. Linking the curriculum to careers.
CIC Member Top Priorities

Within these priorities, a variety of specific approaches were reported. For example, the chart below shows how institutions described their strategies for strengthening financial sustainability in four key areas: students, programs, operations, and development. Ninety-one percent of respondents said that their primary strategy to address financial sustainability is to focus on student outcomes such as recruitment and retention; 90 percent indicated they engage in development opportunities such as fundraising and establishing partnerships; 85 percent said they focus on operational efficiencies such as mergers/acquisitions and cost reductions; and 85 percent indicated that improving programmatic offerings such as majors and curriculum are key to financial sustainability.

Chart depicting strategies and survey results: addressing financial sustainability

CIC will use this information to better demonstrate and advocate for the effectiveness of its diverse and complex member institutions. In addition to surveys such as this, CIC regularly hears from campus leaders in a variety of ways—through programs and events as well as listservs, online communities, task forces, and social media. For example, several program committees and task forces continually inform and recommend activities to improve member services. And through 29 listservs and community sites, CIC connects a national network of people who lead and staff private colleges and universities. The listservs are archived and offer online document libraries. Additional insights to help explain the data from the member engagement survey were also gathered from yearly check-ins with member presidents to discuss the important issues facing CIC institutions.