Coe College President James Phifer wouldn’t have time to call 14,000 alumni and supporters individually to talk about college priorities, so on Tuesday night, he called them all at once.
Phifer, starting his last year as Coe president, spent about 45 minutes talking with thousands of alums about Coe’s future plans, hopes to grow enrollment and finances.
The technology offers a means of mass communication that is immediate, direct and personal, Phifer said after the call. It allowed him to answer about 10 questions from people, questions that likely were shared by thousands on the call, he said.
“The relatively few number of questions I got to answer were questions that had to do with aspects of the college that I think about, that I’m either proud of or concerned about, and I got the chance to address them,” he said.
The idea stemmed from feedback in a recent survey, indicating many alumni wanted to be more involved, Phifer said, and that they wanted more communication about the college’s direction.
A Grinnell company called Community Phonecast loaded thousands of phone numbers and called them within a few minutes Tuesday night. Every person who answered heard Phifer tell them to stay on the line for the conference call. If the call went to voice mail, a message told people they could hear the conversation on Coe’s website later.
One point Phifer emphasized is the need to grow Coe’s enrollment and campus facilities as the higher education landscape changes. Phifer fears many small liberal arts colleges will struggle to survive in the 20 years, and he wants Coe to build enrollment to more than 1,500 students, grow its endowment and expand campus facilities, but to do so slowly while retaining the heart of the college.
Since Phifer became president in 1995, Coe’s enrollment is 30 percent larger, its endowment is $66 million compared to $20 million, and the campus has doubled. He wants to see steady growth continue, and Coe has acquired properties to the east, in the Wellington Heights neighborhood, to accommodate planned growth, he said. An in-call survey showed that 94 percent of those on the line said they would like to see Coe continue to grow.
“The alums are the ultimate stakeholders in the institution, they deserve to know the truth,” Phifer said afterward. “At the end of the day, it’s just that simple.”