The Background Behind F&M’s Rise in National Regard

By Ellyn Fritz || News Editor

Franklin & Marshall College has slowly climbed up the Wall Street Journal College Rankings, from 92nd in 2015 to 91st in 2020, ultimately landing at 76th in the 2021 ranking list. Franklin & Marshall has always been held in high regard for the quality and rigor of its academics; however, over the past few decades, F&M has increased its national and international presence. 

Franklin & Marshall’s President from 2002 to 2010, John Fry, facilitated a turning point for the College. John Fry had an ambitious agenda, and during his time at F&M, the College purchased the 32 acres of land where all the athletic fields now sit, constructed the Barshinger Life Sciences & Philosophy Building and built the College Row apartments. Along with considerable structural changes to the campus, John Fry implemented the current College House System for incoming students to have an established community and immersive learning experience both inside and outside the classroom. The New York Times considered his path to the Presidency unorthodox due to his primary “experience in administration, finance and neighborhood development,” yet the College’s innovations under his leadership brought the school greater visibility. Additionally, when the Franklin & Marshall College Poll, formally known as the Keystone Poll, was moved to F&M in 2003, the College gained additional accreditation and further national visibility. 

Since John Fry left Franklin & Marshall for Drexel University in 2010, F&M has seen three presidents: alumni John Burness, who served as an interim president for one year following Fry, former President Daniel Porterfield, and current President Barbara Altmann. Through these administrations, there have been varying priorities and strategies for fundraising, marketing, and increasing awareness of the College.

Vice President of Communication Barbara Stambaugh explained that Franklin & Marshall’s current marketing strategy under the Altmann administration is in transition for a trifecta of reasons. New leadership roles in key positions in Administration and Communications allows the institution to reassess its marketing strategy with fresh perspectives. Stambaugh described how F&M is “embarking on a strategic planning process to determine institutional priorities going forward.” Finally, the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed the needs of the school’s population and consumers’ behavior, leading to a change in previously established marketing channels. 

The planning process involves strategizing how the College can best communicate the upcoming content to future generations of students and how to market its best characteristics. These characteristics include “its excellent academic reputation, its successful track record in guiding graduates to lives of meaning after F&M, and its increasing national visibility.” To conclude, Stambaugh noted that “message integration is a track [F&M] intend[s] to pursue.”

Franklin & Marshall’s current campaign, Now to Next, started in 2014 in the leadership phase under former President Porterfield and then was launched publicly by President Altmann in October 2018. Since Altmann’s launch in 2018, $177 million has been donated out of the goal to raise $200 million by the end of 2021. This funds generated from the Now to Next campaign will be utilized for “advancing academic excellence,” “strengthening an extraordinary student experience,” and “supporting every student every day.” Bottom line, the goal is to lift the College to a new level of national prominence.

Although F&M is successfully campaigning and is noticeably implementing forward-thinking marketing strategies that consider the changing consumer behavior, Franklin & Marshall falls short on their level of alumni engagement in comparison to competing institutions. This implies a lack of affinity among F&M alum, which may be explained by their experiences while on campus. Over a decade ago in John Fry’s exit interview, he noted how alumni felt connections to their local organizations: “the fraternities, sororities, athletic teams.” It was not that they look back at their time at college aloofly, it is just that “their experiences didn’t seem to translate to a love of alma mater” itself. A decade later, Stambaugh made a similar point that the bond alumni maintain with the College stems from specific niches of their student experience and that she “consider[s] improving alumni engagement to be one of the most important things we can do for F&M.” 

Although measuring the quality of the student life experience at F&M and the level of alumni engagement does not provide a complete explanation of why alumni donations and engagement are low, there is a correlation. Franklin & Marshall promotes four pillars that define the College’s values: individualized education, academic excellence, supportive community, and successful outcomes. Franklin & Marshall is in fact one of the top-producing institutions of Fulbright grant winners and prepares students for prestigious graduate programs and employment opportunities; however, one of the college’s weaker points is the student experience. Simply looking at the college rating site Niche, F&M scores an A+ for academics yet a B- for Student Life. Looking to the Climate Survey Final Report, of the students who indicated that they considered leaving F&M, 69.2% of those students indicated so due to a lack of a sense of belonging. However, as a whole, the majority of respondents indicated that the climate on campus is improving, signifying that the College’s efforts are making a positive impact. 

When asked if she saw room for improvement within the student experience at F&M, Barabara Stambough thought that “there is always room for improvement in everything we all do, every day—both as an institution and as individuals. Looking for ways to improve our environment, our communities, our places of employment, and ourselves is how we evolve and aspire. It’s also true that F&M has students, staff, and faculty who care deeply about our College and do great work to support the student experience.” 

The internal work and improvements that F&M continues to do is crucial for the college to continue to heighten their national presence, credibility and have their rankings and recognition match the level of academic rigor students endure while at F&M.

Junior Ellyn Fritz is the News Editor. Her email is efritz@fandm.edu.

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