Coker College’s singular ambition, Redefining Ready, was not intended as an institutional mission. Rather, it was something of a personal mantra for chapter one. It crystalized my work when, just after the college’s 100th anniversary, the Board of Trustees voted to appoint me, an accountant and business school dean, as the school’s 16th president.
Despite the good effort of loyal alumni, faculty and staff, a decade or more of economic decline in South Carolina before I arrived had taken a heavy toll. Enrollment had dipped below 600. Faculty had been asked to teach heavier loads without additional pay. Our athletic teams slumped. Over time, our once-elegant campus, with its wonderful Georgian-style architecture and impeccable landscaping, our boat house and recreational facilities on nearby Prestwood Lake and our distinctive botanical garden on Black Creek, began, on the whole, to seem ordinary.
Even so, the institution had promise around every bend, literally. Roundtable learning, a commitment to small classes and to discussion-based and hands-on inquiry, underpinned the academic program. After graduation, Coker students consistently created interesting, successful lives for themselves and for the families, organizations and communities they went on to serve and, in many cases, to lead.
Obvious strengths notwithstanding, as a tuition-dependent institution, we urgently needed to address challenges in admissions, and we needed help. Within three months of accepting the presidency, I’d tapped professionals at TargetX. Almost overnight, it seemed as if we’d changed nearly everything and, at the same time, that we were doing exactly what Coker has always done. We were caring for students professionally, with personal sincerity and diligence.
We relocated the Admissions Offices into a newly renovated building and retrained the staff. We painted and cleaned and planted. We paid and trained top students to serve as campus guides. We reallocated our recruiting territories – by geography, now, instead of by academic discipline. We implemented a CRM to assist with student recruitment. We involved the whole campus and the community, too, letting everyone know who was coming to campus and when and why. In nearly every way imaginable, we rolled out the welcome mat to show prospects that Coker was ready for them.
A community rallied by success and united in a single cause, we asked for help, built connections and remained true to our Southern appreciation for balancing pride with humility.
As the momentum of positive change rippled across campus, Redefining Ready came to represent something larger: a zealous determination that Coker College could, and would, take a leading role in redefining American education.
Today, with the most enlightening, engaging and rewarding three years of my career behind me, I am ready to begin chapter two.
Read more about our authors. Dr. Robert L. Wyatt is the President of Coker College in Hartsville, South Carolina, and presented to TargetX clients and friends at the 2012 Xpert Summit.