There are some interesting and amazing things going on in High Point, North Carolina. Last summer I visited High Point University and learned first hand about how my long-time friend Dr. Nido Qubein was leading an amazing journey to reinvent HPU.
At that time I met Roger Clodfelter. Roger has a very unique title and set of responsibilities at HPU. In the following article, he provides fascinating insights into what is going on at the university and, more importantly, what you and I can do to lead our own reinvention efforts.
MS: Please tell my readers a little about High Point University, and tell us why High Point University is undergoing a transformation?
RC: HPU is a liberal arts institution with approximately 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students from 52 countries and 44 states at campuses in High Point and Winston-Salem, North Carolina. It is ranked 15th by US News and World Report among comprehensive universities in the South and in the top 100 nationally. The university offers 68 undergraduate majors, 33 minors and seven graduate-degree programs. It is accredited by the Commission of Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and is a member of the NCAA, Division I and the Big South Conference.
The transformation of High Point University began when Dr. Nido Qubein became the University’s 7th president in January 2005. As an HPU alum and longtime resident of High Point, President Qubein was compelled to take the University to a new level of national prominence. Through a $110 million transformation of the campus, academics, student life and scholarship programs, this transformation will brand High Point University as a destination university and will position us as one of the most prestigious universities in our region.
MS: What is your title, and what do you do in that role?
RC: I am the Director of WOW!, and my focus is our “student experience.” Specifically, I manage our Student Activities Office, Student Recreation Center, and our soon-to-be-hired Campus Concierge. But from a “Big Picture” perspective, my job is to ensure our students are “living the promise.” The promise comes from our branding statement: “At High Point University, every student receives and extraordinary education in a fun environment with caring people.”
The “promise” extends to every facet of the student’s life so I work with many offices and departments around campus to ensure we are providing the highest level of service. At HPU, our focus is 100% student. We provide services that you won’t find at any other university in the world:
- Valet parking
- Complimentary refreshments daily from our campus kiosks
- Free ice cream from our very own HPU Ice Cream Truck
- Live music 5 days a week in our Café
- A unique “gifting” program
- Free car washes
- Plus, many other surprise programs that will commence this August.
To encourage our staff to “seek out” opportunities to help students, I developed a “WOW! Card” program. The WOW! Card allows peer-to-peer recognition for outstanding service to a student. Each month at our staff meeting, one card is selected and read. The recipient and sender of the card are both recognized. This is one way we promote the “WOW!” spirit on our campus. Everyone is expected to put the student first.
President Qubein is committed to providing a first-class experience to our students, visitors and alum. My position, by title and by responsibility, demonstrates the University’s clear intention … to be extraordinary.
MS: At the beginning, what was your overall transformation strategy?
RC: If you want to attract the best students (or clients/customers) you have to provide them with the best service, facilities and EXPERIENCE! President Qubein recognized this and went directly to fundraising efforts. His passion for HPU and more importantly, his ability to communicate that strategy, led to a $20 million fundraising success within his first month in office.
A branding statement was also developed: At High Point University, every student receives an extraordinary education in a fun environment with caring people.
This branding statement set the tone for staff and faculty. It was immediately apparent that every team member was expected to work hard to provide this extraordinary experience for students. The fact that the President’s message was so well received by generous donors (who could have their money to any other university) made it easy for all of us to “get on board!”
MS: What are some examples of that transformation?
There are hundreds of physical examples and I have listed some of them below, but I want to point out that all of the physical examples were the product of one of the many philosophies by which Dr. Qubein leads: Walk in “their” shoes. This is why I spend so little time in my office. I, like the rest of the team, am committed to listening to our students and to understanding their needs. We have positioned suggestion boxes all around campus and encourage students to let us know what they think – good or bad – about the student experience at HPU. We monitor those comments and respond quickly. We also conduct monthly focus groups so we can sit face-to-face with our students and listen to their concerns.
RC: Some other examples of our transformation include:
Blessing Residence Hall
A 240-room residence hall (named Blessing because the anonymous donor felt it a “blessing” to be able to contribute to the HPU vision) is an apartment-style residence hall with all private bedrooms. Blessing is designated for incoming freshmen … a rarity in college dorm life.
Slane Student Center
A major addition to our existing student center that more than doubled its size by adding a state-of-the-art fitness center with a suspended track above multiple basketball courts, cardio equipment with personal televisions attached to each one, an outdoor swimming pool, a full size Starbucks, soon-to-be-opened Chick-fil-A and Subway, expanded Café space, etc., etc.
We have also added the Phillips School of Business, David Hayworth Park, Kester International Promenade, Williard Baseball Stadium, Steele Sports Complex and Vert Track and Soccer Stadium.
Ground breaking has also taken place for the Wilson School of Commerce, Qubein School of Communications, and a second Blessing Residence Hall.
These are all new facilities built over the past two years, but they are all the result of a very simple directive given by the President: “Walk in their shoes.”
MS: What results have you seen from these efforts? Are you able to measure transformation?
RC: We can measure results quantitatively through our admissions office. Here are some impressive figures:
- Inquiries are up (30,000 for 2007)
- Freshmen enrollment increased 30% from 2005 to 2006
- Projected freshman enrollment increase of another 30% from 2006 to 2007
- 70% increase in freshman enrollment in two years
- Average SAT increase of 30 points this 2007 class over 2006 class
- 2008 Campus visits are already up 25% over last year!
The most impressive results can’t be quantified; it’s the energy people feel on our campus. Our students are inspired and motivated, and can be seen on every corner of campus … reading, walking, playing, talking. There is a sense of pride from faculty, staff and students that I have not seen in my 10 years at High Point.
MS: What’s next for the HPU? Is transformation an ongoing program?
RC: Dr. Qubein talks about complacency leading to failure; therefore, our transformation never ends. We are focused on changing our physical campus, improving the academic profile of our students, serving the City of High Point, but most importantly, serving our students in an environment of “seamless” learning.
MS: What advice would you give to a business or organization that wanted to transform itself?
RC: Decide “what” you want to be first. The “how” is secondary, and will become clear once the vision and the passion are evident.
MS: Are there pitfalls to transformation? What are they?
RC: There are risks associated with any change; people don’t like to change because they’re afraid to fail. But if your effort to transform is sincerely based on improving your customer’s experience, you can’t lose. In our case, our transformation was built on better serving our students.
MS: Does it take a significant financial investment to transform?
RC: There’s no doubt that physical transformations can require significant financial resources. However, a willing attitude is the only investment necessary for some transformations to succeed. Having a team that supports a central vision and a leader who can motivate them are the only real requirements for lasting change.
MS: How would you suggest a leader go about transforming his or her organization?
RC: The most crucial element for transformation is a well-defined vision. When President Qubein unveiled our branding statement, it was like he gave us a road map. A map usually offers several paths that lead to the same point. These different paths are the “experiments” that we conduct on our journey. We don’t always know exactly what path to take or which direction to travel, but if we’re committed to reaching the ultimate destination, then the best path will reveal itself and we will reach our destination. At HPU, the destination is “Extraordinary.” With a leader like Dr. Qubein, a dedicated and motivated team, and a clear destination, we cannot fail.