Getting to Know Drury’s 18th President: Part 4 – Innovation & Growth at Hendrix

In an effort to better get to know Dr. J. Timothy Cloyd, we are publishing a Q&A series with Drury’s 18thPresident. Previous editions focused on the selection processDr. Cloyd’s early life, and his passion for teaching and learning. This installment focuses on some of the more notable accomplishments of his 13-year run as president of Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. In particular, his experience with creating and implementing strategic institutional positioning. 

A major point of pride for Hendrix is The Odyssey program, which you helped create. It helped elevate the school’s national profile and became a defining part of the student experience there. Tell us how it came about.

The answer emerged from the question, “How do you measure the distinctiveness, impact, and attractiveness of an institution of higher learning?” I mean in terms of the whole university and the experience students have inside and outside of the classroom at that particular university as opposed to others. In Hendrix’s case, a liberal arts college, and in Drury’s case, a liberal arts university for the 21st century.

Odyssey was about establishing distinctiveness and a clear value added of the experience every student would have, that would be made real in tangible, visible ways, and in which every faculty member and student would participate. It was about how to create a compelling institutional differentiation when students face so many choices.

By definition this meant that the kind of experience we offered every student was real, clearly signaled to students and the world, defining of the experience across the institution, and required for academic credit, guaranteeing every student a unique credential. It came with funding both in the form of distinction awards (a unique form of financial aid) for every student and in the form of funding for Odyssey qualified experiences for students and for faculty working with those students.

When we created Odyssey, we faced declining enrollments and revenue and a budget shortfall that was only projected to grow. The state of Arkansas eliminated the Governor’s scholarship that affected 240 full-pay students in one year. In addition, unparalleled private funding at the University of Arkansas provided “free rides” to students in our traditional markets.

We had to be decisive, bold, and take action. This was not a question of having better marketing or of working harder on recruitment. We knew we could not compete with state schools on price (how do you compete with free?), we knew we could not compete with larger institutions with greater resources on the basis of the breadth and the commodification of our offerings, majors, and programs nor could we cut ourselves into prosperity. We could never stand up enough offerings, majors, programs, etc., at their price points to be competitive.

We had already dramatically cut costs, implemented lean process designs, and reduced expenses, and cut positions. In time, however, we recognized this would only gut our departments and programs, would do lasting damage to our quality, and undermine the institutional sense of community that were our hallmarks. In addition, we recognized that the message this would send into the market would harm our brand. When a higher education institution implements austerity it cannot control its message and competitors for students and donors use it against you.

The answer was to impact the top line by drawing on our collective ingenuity, ability to innovate, and willingness to change. “Your Hendrix Odyssey: Engaging in Active Learning” was the program’s official name.

Faculty fleshed out the program and made it real so that it was not just a high-level marketing concept. The result was a well researched, well thought out positioning platform that became a well executed strategic deliverable. It became what we as an institution were known for – it became our value differentiation. It was critical to our success because we had to compete on the value of the experience we offered not the price or the specific offerings. We knew we had no price or discount elasticity. This meant that if we wanted to increase student head count we had to increase our discount driving marginal net revenue per student down. We could not discount enough to increase revenue on volume.

There was positive impact on a number of key drivers: the number of students that applied; the number of students who enrolled; our ability to draw different students from a broader geographic region; our ability to raise our price to more accurately reflect our value and achieve our enrollment goals by more aggressive aid awards and financial support; and our ability to maintain or increase enrollment from our current markets.

Communicating this approach required significant investments in marketing so that students would understand two things – our real value proposition and our increased financial aid and scholarship program – and it had the effect of driving up applications in Arkansas, but more importantly from out-of-state urban target markets. It also required start-up and implementation investments by the board and donors. Finally, it required us to “hard-launch” the new position all at once instead of incrementally implementing the value difference.

At the highest level we did a number of things: at the core we positioned ourselves as a demanding, rigorous, but supportive academic environment, in which every student engaged in experiential, hands-on learning grounded in the liberal arts and sciences for academic credit. We guaranteed that every student would receive transcript recognition and credentials for following their passion and completing hands-on projects. Implicit in this guarantee was the idea that students would develop marketable competencies conferred by the institution and recognized by the market. We also did a number of other things such as making sciences and technology more connected to and grounded in the liberal arts.

So how did the program actually work?

In order to graduate, every student was required to complete three hands-on learning projects from six different categories: undergraduate research; service to the world; global/cross cultural awareness and understanding; professional and internship experiences; artistic or creative projects; or a special customized project. Each of these and the requirements for completion was defined in very specific, academically rigorous ways.

We gave each student academic credit for the three projects they selected and added an annotated description of the projects to their transcript. We required students to have a faculty or staff mentor for the project, to present a proposal for approval for each of the projects complete with expected learning outcomes, and to present the project outcomes in a public forum. Every student was also given, at a minimum, a $1,000 one-time grant for one of the projects.

The reality was that 75 percent of our students were already doing at least two of these types of projects and that a number of courses, because of the hands-on nature of the teaching and learning in that class, qualified automatically for Odyssey credit. So in many ways we were codifying something organic that we already had been doing and that was in our culture.

Several things were, however, radical and unique. The first, of course, was that every student was required to complete these three projects to graduate. This meant that the Odyssey ethos was defining and universal for every student, giving the academic experience coherence. All students received transcript recognition and a credential for completing each project. This helped to make students more attractive in the job market, in competition for national fellowships and scholarships, and in application for graduate and professional school.

One other very important note is that we built in financial support and incentives for students and faculty to create exciting and innovative hands-on experiences. Eventually, we raised an endowment of about $15 million for the Odyssey Grants Program. Students could apply on their own or in groups, or faculty members working with a group of students could apply for grant funding to support projects. We created 12 Odyssey Professorships that, unlike endowed chairs, rotated every three years. This funded hands-on experiences, travel, salary stipends, etc. All of this created an entrepreneurial spirit on campus as students learned how to develop grant proposals, business plans and such.

Finally, we created a new form of financial aid – The Odyssey Distinction Award – which was a four-year award not based on merit or need, but based on a student’s gifts, talents, and passions.

The ultimate results? In the second year, our freshman class increased by 43 percent and over three years our net revenue grew by 52 percent. We grew from 950 students to 1,500 students over four years.

Why did Odyssey resonate with faculty, students, and prospective students?

It was distinctive, differentiating, and offered a clear value. It allowed students to pursue their passions in a hands-on fashion, to earn a credential such as a certificate, and receive in academic transcript recognition for their projects. It allowed them to be creative and to learn in new ways. The faculty made the positioning real and it gave them an opportunity to rejuvenate through new modes of teaching and to experiment with new ways of learning. Technology was also a key to the success of Odyssey, as students learned and put to use digital knowledge they had on projects and created digital portfolios. Faculty also learned to use and put new technologies to work in teaching. It was a positioning defined by what John Dewey called the “pragmatic liberal arts” taking thought in the classroom into the world and bringing it back again.

I think it helped to make those core virtues of the liberal arts and sciences real – learning to learn; critical and analytical thinking; learning to solve puzzles; looking at problems and issues through a variety of lenses and realizing that more than one solution may be right; learning to communicate in all forms written, verbal etc.; learning that solutions and the world are more often gray than black and white. It combined these virtues with virtuosity – technical and other competencies.

Do you think that Odyssey might have some relevance to or relate to strategies for Drury University?

In so far as offering some readymade template, I think the answer is no. But in thinking about where Drury is and the process of going about positioning Drury I think the answer is yes.

We need to understand that we must compete on the basis of differentiation, value, and the distinctiveness of the student experience and how we offer and teach what we do. We cannot win by competing on the basis of price and the breadth of our offerings alone. We have to compete on value. And that has to be made real in some way.

I think it is critically important that we look to what is universally defining as well as value enhancing to the experience for every Drury student.

In my reading of Drury’s history and in my admittedly short time here I have picked up on a number of themes and past trends that may hold promise for this kind of value differentiation and market positioning platform. In 1940, for example, President Findlay eliminated many of the required courses and put in place a program that offered each student a personalized, customized educational plan. Both faculty and staff offered intensive advising and mentoring to help students design these plans. In the mid-1990s President Moore, Dr. Stephen Good, and the faculty introduced GP-21. This series of core courses allowed every student to earn a minor in Global Studies and this was placed on their transcripts and their diplomas. These are both examples of the type of differentiation and distinctiveness I am talking about. They were universal and defining of the student experience at Drury.

There is a tremendous institutional heritage and particular areas of excellence that could hold Drury University together in a positive, defining way. It seems to me that our message and our identity should not become diffuse or disaggregated – with various programs and schools going their own way – because we would fail to leverage our institutional core identity and our particular strengths. Instead, we must again rise to the occasion, align institutional incentives, and leverage the institution’s ability to advance a positioning with the coherence and relevance to attract the students we all need in the day school, graduate college and CCPS.

In conversations with Drury students and faculty I have heard a number of resonant themes, characteristics, and values that have piqued my interest as I think about the issue of differentiation and distinctiveness for Drury, the overall positioning platform for the university – its offerings, and the potential for particular peaks of excellence.

I have been on the job for only about two weeks, so I imagine that there are many more concepts that are already organic to Drury, but there are at least a few that jump out at me already. Things like the fact that so many Drury students have two and three majors, which creates a degree combination unique to their passions. I’ve been struck by the fact that there’s such a strong desire among our students and faculty to address real-world problems locally, nationally and globally. The potential to strengthen the quality and nature of our advising and mentoring is another such area. Finally, there are possibilities in rethinking the approach we take across the university to the way we approach teaching and learning.

Those are just a few examples. All of these could hold promise in moving Drury University forward. Whatever we may do it will need to be collaborative and connect to the themes I outlined in my first speech to the community – Empowerment, Unity, and Liberty. We plan to move rapidly, engaging the right resources, testing the results and channeling our energy toward these points of differentiation and value.

You helped bring an international flavor to Hendrix. Can you tell us about some of those programs?

The most important thing I did was to make multi-cultural awareness, diversity, inclusion, and the free expression of ideas a top priority. Then I provided the resources for people to develop these and other new opportunities for students. I would be happy to discuss how I helped to create this range of new international programs, but it also had to do with me personally modeling the commitment to internationalism by travelling to establish many of these bi-lateral and multi-lateral programs. I also served on the International Student Exchange Program Board and the board of an NGO called Bridge to Rwanda.

What is the Village at Hendrix? How did that change the nature and feel of the campus?

We found part of our difficulty in recruiting students was that our campus did not have the feel of a place with an active vibrant social life. This was because many students went home for the weekend and because the downtown was too far away from campus for students to readily take advantage of restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, etc. Students in this generation want a bit of an “xurban” feel to campus. We did not have a Cambridge Square and many of our faculty had moved to Little Rock or out into the Conway suburbs.

We bought land around us and we were fortunate that we had about 180 acres across from the main campus. So we hired Andres Duany and DPZ, who are world-class town and campus planners. The board decided to invest in developing a Village across the street from the campus and we were able to get federal, state, and city funds to redesign the road between the development and campus.

It is a long story and I learned more about how to be a real-estate developer than I ever imagined. I encourage you to go online and look at what we created. In addition, to the new urban style housing (625 homes and dwellings when all phases are complete) we built three large buildings around a village green, developed plans for a hotel, built live-work units (where people live upstairs from a business) and apartments as liner buildings around parking lots. We also developed a storm drainage flood system into something called the Hendrix Creek Preserve. The Hendrix Creek Preserve became an outdoor classroom to test ground water run-off for organic and heavy metal toxins and a sustainability model.

The village center buildings have on the first floors restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, commercial, etc. and on the top three floors apartments and flats that we used for student housing. We built them, however, so that the top floors could be flipped into the open market or could be used as timeshares and sold as condominiums. We did this because in our analysis we realized that 10,000 Baby Boomers are retiring each day for the next 19 years! Think about that! Most of these folks from the north want to move south for at least part of the year and the vast majority want to live next to a college or university campus instead of on a golf course. This is the generation that came of age in the 1950s and 1960s and they are looking for a sense of meaning and all of the amenities offered by a campus. They want to be around young people. Many of them are capable of teaching university courses, especially co-curricular courses.

Our strategy was to target certain populations such as scientists, doctors, artists, etc. and invite them to come teach courses on “how to run a medical practice” and such, knowing that our pre-med students would be top flight in the sciences, but may not know the first thing about balance sheets, P&L statements, insurance reimbursement, Medicare or Medicaid, or the Affordable Care Act.

All in all, it has been extremely successful. It had the effect of changing the feel of the entire campus. We regarded it as a 100-year investment in our future – that was key. It was an investment in the quality of the student experience. These ideas drove the investment decisions and in our arrangement with joint-venture investors, not short-term ROI on capital investment, but patient capital.

Hendrix saw unprecedented success in fundraising and development during your tenure – $175 million in all. How did it happen? How do we lay the groundwork for future advancement at Drury?

The $175 million figure refers to two comprehensive campaigns. The first raised $75 million for two new science buildings, and endowment for scholarships and financial aid, academic programs, faculty chairs, housing, and a number of other projects.

The second campaign raised around $103 million for: housing; the Village at Hendrix; a new wellness and athletic center, aquatic center, all new athletic and intramural fields and a tennis center; a student life and technology center; endowment for scholarships and financial aid; funding for endowed chairs and Odyssey Professorships; an endowment for the Odyssey Program to fund Odyssey Projects; an endowment for middle income scholarships and financial aid; some renovations; and a sharply increased annual fund.

The second campaign was an eight-year effort. Drury has not had a comprehensive campaign and I would like to explore with donors, the alumni, the board, and the community whether or not we want to engage in such an effort. Drury has had a series of successful single project campaigns.

The objective for comprehensive campaigns is to connect all of the priority fundraising projects (capital projects, building projects, endowment, and annual fund goals) to the overall differentiation of the institution and to increase the overall campaign momentum through participation and the magnitude of results. You define these specific projects and priorities, cultivate prospects for gifts for these specific projects, and connect to their passions. In reality, there are always particular donors who have other specific passions and interests and of course you welcome those gifts for the express purpose for which they are given, but those, too, are reflected in the aggregate success of the institution’s overall effort.

The goal is to mobilize the entire institution – the family of alumni, donors, friends, board members, and the community – around the strategic priorities. The overarching theme is most impactful if it is directly supportive of the overall market positioning platform of the university, and if it taps into the collective passions and priorities held by those who love and care for the institution.

At Drury, for example, we have a database of 26,000 with about 16,000 alumni. At Hendrix we had a much smaller base with a total of about 14,000 alumni and donors. The strength of our Drury alumni population coupled with the great love of institution and the history of accomplishment are very encouraging.

One of my strongest desires as president is to understand more deeply and clearly the motivating passions of our alumni and donors, and to help shape a plan for our future that honors and increases active engagement. I want to build those bonds. I want us to create a magnetism around Drury that is powerful and undeniable. That feeling must be strong enough to compel the support we need for this institution to carry out its mission successfully, and well into the future.

Hendrix eventually earned national acclaim. The higher education landscape is so crowded. How do institutions stand out?

Be fearless. Be bold. Be proud. Have confidence. Do not be afraid to take calculated risks even while others are not. Know your story. Project and signal your value and differentiation in all you do. Tell the story over and over again about how you are transforming students’ lives by what you are doing and how you are doing it. And finally, do not let the voices of the timid pull you down, but have audacity.