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The Influence of Philanthropy and Administrative Decision-making Models on a Liberal Arts College's Strategic Planning Process: A Case Study Open Access

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Private liberal arts colleges are uniquely American institutions whose very existence is due to the philanthropic generosity of individuals and organizations (Thelin, 2004). They receive little direct government support and rely on tuition revenues, endowment earnings, and philanthropy to balance their budgets, making them susceptible to shifts in the economy (Balderston, 1995). How these institutions plan for the future and how philanthropy factors into these plans was an important question to examine (Connell, 2006). This study addressed deficiencies in the literature by providing an in-depth view of how the constituencies of a singular four-year, private liberal arts college believed that philanthropy affected a strategic planning process and how administrative decision-making models were used during this process. The following research questions were addressed: a.) How did philanthropy affect planning for capital projects within a strategic plan? b.) How did philanthropy affect the focus of current and future academic offerings of an institution? c.) How did philanthropic considerations affect the organizational structure which supports the fulfillment of the strategic plan? A total of 23 key informants were interview for this study and 58 pages of materials were reviewed. Using case study methodology provided practitioners and scholars with a deeper understanding of how philanthropy and strategic planning have a mutual influence upon one another. Also, exploring how decision-making models were utilized in this process provided an important insight into the practice of shared governance and decision-making at a liberal arts college. It was evident during the case study of Selective College that philanthropy did play a role in facility planning, and the implementation of new value-added academic and co-curricular programs. The core mission, values, and academic focus of Selective College were not altered due to the influence of philanthropy during the strategic planning exercise. In addition, new administrative positions were created to increase philanthropic revenue. There was also a focus on increasing revenue through tuition and fees leading to investments in admissions and marketing efforts. A new form of institutional decision-making emerged during this study which allowed for feedback, but resulted in institutional leadership making final decisions with a focus on increasing revenues.

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