Kalamazoo College will endure and thrive if it reanimates the K-Plan by more intentionally relating its elements to one another and to life after graduation. The College must also create a more tightly knit campus community within a demanding, yet supportive, academic environment.
Those are the primary findings of Art & Science, LLC, a higher education consulting firm that conducted a branding and positioning study based on quantitative market research of prospective students and alumni. Reanimation means enhancing the K-Plan in ways that will inspire our various constituencies to have strong feelings about the College and take action to support it. More prospective students will apply and enroll. The very best faculty candidates will want to teach here. More alumni will participate in campus activities and involve current students in their work. And more donors will support the College financially. Art & Science presented its recommendations to faculty and staff on December 1 and underscored the need for boldness and urgency.
The need for bold and urgent action is driven by a "perfect storm" of challenges: a national trend away from the liberal arts in favor of a more narrow pre-employment higher education experience; the competition from University of Michigan at a time when it may initiate more aggressive admission action to compensate for reduced state funding; the declining demographics of students the College has traditionally enrolled; and the struggling state and national economy. The Art & Science recommendations will be incorporated into the College's strategic plan. The final details and recommendations of that plan will be submitted to the Board of Trustees in March.
The elements of the K-Plan - rigorous academics in the liberal arts, career exploration projects, study abroad, service-learning, and the senior individualized project - remain the bedrock of the institution's excellence and success. But the elements must be organized around the animating principle of exploring, identifying, and pursuing a passion. Art & Science firm's research with prospective students suggests that substantive change in the area of that principle would increase the number of applicants and enrollees. In other words, the market value for a "K" education would grow, giving the College the opportunity to increase net revenue to further invest in its revitalization.
A major feature of pursuing a passion would be a more intense and comprehensive advising system, one that might more directly involve alumni through the Guilds Initiative. Other features would include more intentional preparation and reflection projects to precede and follow each element of the K-Plan. Such features might include pre-and post-study abroad seminars and special cohort activities surrounding internships, Guilds projects, senior theses, and service learning. Art & Science also recommends the College invest dramatically in activities and programs that build a close-knit community on campus, an attribute that prospective students consider a hallmark of Kalamazoo College and therefore expect when they arrive.
According to Art & Science, when these changes are implemented "K" can market itself as a distinctive higher education option. It would
Students' K-Plans would derive from the exploration and pursuit of their passions.be the place that ensures each student explores, identifies, and pursues a passion by way of an individually customized K-Plan. At the center of the pursuit would be a unique advising structure that helps students discover their interests and dig deeply into them in the classroom and outside it, in the U.S and in the world, during the academic year and the summer, and between various disciplines. Students' K-Plans (each a unique combination of coursework, study abroad, service learning, career projects, and the SIP) would derive from the exploration and pursuit of their passions, making the experiences that formerly may have seemed disparate more coherent and meaningful. Driving this integration of various experiences would be a high level of advice and support for planning, reflection, and determination of next steps. In this demanding and supportive environment, the campus community would be united by a common sense of excitement because students would fine alumni, faculty, staff, and other students who share resources, ideas, and stories about their own experiences.
The result? Students would graduate with an understanding of how to navigate the world. They would be sought by the employers and the graduate and professional schools that they would want to choose. And to whatever endeavor they pursued after graduation they would bring those qualities developed by their "K" experience: passionate interest, intellectual rigor, and the ability to get practical things done.
Stay tuned for updates on a verb tense change: from the conditional "would" to a certain "is."
by Jim VanSweden