“Distinctively Dickinson”: The evolution of brand at a liberal arts college

Julie L Ramsey, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation is a case study of the evolution and impact of branding and positioning strategies at Dickinson College, a small private liberal arts college located in central Pennsylvania. Research includes a review of literature on the linkage among market competition, branding practices, strategic planning and change. This qualitative research study is based on interviews with faculty, students, trustees and administrators. It addresses the following questions: What process was used to shape the brand? How has brand, in turn, shaped academic and co-curricular programs? Are these academic and co-curricular priorities and practices aligned or in tension with brand? How is the success of the brand evaluated? The author finds that branding and positioning initiatives can have a meaningful impact on the institution when linked to an institutional strategic planning process. At Dickinson, some key brand messages are linked to the international focus of the academic program; others emerge from the college's institutional history. Together, they establish an institutional position designed to be "distinctively Dickinson." The author finds that different internal constituencies interpret the brand messages differently. A brand rooted in broad interdisciplinary programs enables faculty across the curriculum to share in the development and delivery of programs that support the brand, lending credibility to the brand message and attracting internal and external validation. Student Affairs administrators are eager to relate their work to the brand but struggle both philosophically and practically to deliver on brand promises made to students. Presidential leadership is vitally important to the consistency and effectiveness of the brand message. At Dickinson, the president consistently articulates the brand in the context of a "leadership story" rooted in the institutional history. Building an effective brand based on these principles has helped Dickinson emerge as one of the more noteworthy and highly ranked liberal arts colleges in the country today. Leaders of other institutions can apply the lessons of this case by basing the brand on broad-based multi-disciplinary themes that build on existing academic strengths and on natural components of the institutional history that link to relevant issues and contemporary concerns.

Subject Area

Higher education|Marketing

Recommended Citation

Ramsey, Julie L, "“Distinctively Dickinson”: The evolution of brand at a liberal arts college" (2006). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3209982.