Elon University: Transforming a College

Elon University

Elon University is a private university in Elon, North Carolina, situated between the cities of Greensboro and Raleigh. The institution was founded in 1889 as Elon College by the Christian Connection, which later became part of the United Church of Christ.

Though no longer affiliated with the UCC, Elon’s mission statement states that the university “embraces its founders’ vision of an academic community that transforms mind, body, and spirit and encourages freedom of thought and liberty of conscience”, and emphasizes its commitment to “nurture a rich intellectual community characterized by student engagement with a faculty dedicated to excellent teaching and scholarly accomplishment.”

Over the years, Elon has grown to become a nationally recognized leader in engaged, experiential learning that prepares graduates to be creative, resilient, ambitious and ethical citizens of a global culture. At Elon, more than 7,000 students learn through hands-on experiences and close working relationships with faculty and staff whose priorities are teaching and mentoring.

Elon’s rigorous curriculum is grounded in the traditional liberal arts and sciences with an emphasis on global experiences and career development. More than 70 undergraduate majors are complemented by professional and graduate programs in communications, law, business, health care, and education. U.S. News & World Report gave Elon a #1 ranking for “Best Undergraduate Teaching.” Elon is also ranked as the #13 most innovative national university.

Elon University has more than 250 campus organizations and programs, including numerous student government, special interest, and service organizations. The mascot for Elon’s 17 varsity sports teams is the Phoenix, adopted after a 1923 fire destroyed almost the entire campus and the college’s subsequent recovery.

Elon as a Case Study

North Carolina’s Elon College once struggled to attract students and remain solvent. Today, Elon University enrolls students from 46 states and 40 foreign countries. Since 1988 it has erected a new library, student center, football stadium, fitness center, and science facilities on its 500-acre campus. The number of applications has risen 40 percent since 1995, and SAT scores of incoming students have improved by 98 points. Elon has emerged as one of America’s most desirable colleges.

How did this transformation happen? What can other colleges and universities learn from Elon’s remarkable turnaround? How can they implement similar strategies?

The late George Keller, an eminent scholar in the field of higher education, analyzed the little-known college’s strategic climb to national distinction. He examined the decisions made by Elon’s administration, trustees, and faculty to transform a school with a limited endowment into a top regional university. He was so impressed by the progress at Elon that he wrote a compelling case study about it that has been studied around the world.

In his book Transforming a College: The Story of a Little-Known College’s Strategic Climb to National Distinction, Keller sheds light on high-stakes competition among America’s colleges and universities―where losers face contraction or closure and winners gain money, talented students, and top faculty. For Elon’s 125th anniversary, a new foreword and afterword from Elon president Leo M. Lambert tell the rest of the story of the university’s ambitious agenda to position Elon as a top-ranked liberal arts university and a national leader in engaged teaching and learning.

Transforming a College is a must-read for prospective students and parents, to learn how the institution makes itself appealing to applicants and its efforts to provide added value to its academic offerings.

“The book is not intended to be a recipe for success. Rather, Keller hoped that others would draw inspiration from Elon’s ascent. His words written in 2004 are just as true today, if not more so. ‘America has never needed as many highly educated, creative, spirited persons as it does today.’” —University Advancement

Homeschooled Applicants

Homeschooled applicants to Elon University are required to submit standardized test scores for admission and scholarship consideration. Applicants are encouraged to pursue a rigorous program of study throughout their four years of high school. Elon recommends the following distribution of courses:

  • English: 4 units required (3 units must be completed for admissions consideration)
  • Math: 3 units required (Algebra I, Algebra II and Geometry), 4 recommended
  • Science: 3 or more units, including at least one lab science
  • Social Studies: 3 or more units, including U.S. History for U.S. residents
  • Foreign Language: 2 units required, 3 recommended (Students who have not completed at least two units in one foreign language must complete a 121-level foreign language course at Elon.)


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