Do the words “vision statement” make you wince? Us too! They make all of us wince when they are developed “on high” and “checked off” the to-do list without another thought. But . . . and it seems that in higher education there is always a “but” . . .
Other examples might be a decline in department majors, using instructional technology, adding research expectations, and initiating graduate programming. In each case, there is either a problem to solve or a new venture to consider. All will bring change and all will likely generate resistors. Again, some will be the result of self-interest while others will be because of self-perceptions of inadequacy.
The faculty in our colleges and universities are frequently portrayed as being the focal point of resistance to change within the academy. When one spends many years in the academy, one will realize that resistance to doing things differently is a trait that exists in administrative ranks as well. In fact, change is difficult for everyone, although the range of tolerance for change is a wide one. Any change, no matter how small or inconsequential, leads to a level of resistance from some quarter. Higher education attracts a wide range of personalities who can express their opinions without fearing many sanctions due to tenure protection and generally more tolerant management.
As changes among traditional faculty lines have taken place, and as new appointment types have emerged and been adopted, little thought seems to have been given to establishing the ideal balance of instructional resources in a given unit, neither has there been much planning for future changes that would result in new ratios or mixes of instructional types. Rather, new appointments are made on an ad hoc basis to address present needs. In addition, the increase in the different types of faculty appointments means that alternative training, orientation, evaluation, and development programs are called for, and it is often years after a new appointment type is made that these sorts of issues are recognized and dealt with. Finally, another critical challenge is assimilating these individuals into the tenure track (TT)-dominated culture of higher education such that there is mutual respect and understanding for the contributions of all parties. The responsibility for addressing these issues lies primarily with the department chair and secondarily with the dean who approves all full-time hiring and who has oversight of academic programs across departments.
Ten years ago, I was a new director of admissions at the University of Michigan- Flint with an enormous goal: to grow enrollment at a school that had many competitors in the state. I was encouraged because we had strong leadership, a good product, great staff, and a strong infrastructure. We also had a customer relationship management system (CRM) with a bridge to our student information system (Banner). In admissions, we had a CRM manager, a business analyst, and a Banner specialist. This team was supported by a divisional ITS person who was very forward-thinking. In all, the team was small but mighty.
Almost every institution of higher education has a strategic plan, but how many institutions actually make use of that plan? According to Wayne Smutz, dean of continuing education and extension for UCLA, not many. Yet an institution’s strategic plan can be a powerful tool for spurring it to action. At the recent University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) West 2015 Regional Conference, Smutz detailed a seven-point plan for constructing and using the institutional strategic plan for change.
Calls for accountability in higher education have been heard for a number of years, with some of the first salvos being concerned with student learning and continual faculty productivity, the latter of which led to many institutions approving new policies on post-tenure review. Today, questions continue, but they are now focused on retention, graduation rates, the cost of higher education, and the value of the degrees in some of our disciplines.
Although you might know a few faculty members who are adamantly opposed to online education, online programming—the development of individual courses and degree programs—continues to expand. My experience, both at my institution and in my conversations with online administrators across the country, reveals that colleges and universities are beginning to think more strategically about their online offerings. I especially see evidence related to developing strategic plans for online education. If you Google “online education strategic plan,” you will find dozens of examples that various institutions have developed.
To manage resources effectively, it’s important to know how much it costs to teach students in your programs. Instructional costs vary from program to program based on class size, faculty salaries, equipment, and technology. And not all programs will generate enough revenue to cover costs. That’s OK as long as those high-cost programs are balanced with “cash cows,” programs that generate more revenue than expenses. Instructional cost data can play an important role in strategic planning.
“Our goal was to make sure students on campus understood that they would be working in a global environment,” says Karen Kashmanian Oates, Peterson Family Dean of Arts and Sciences at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. As scientists and engineers, WPI students are poised to enter a truly global marketplace, with companies headquartered outside the U. S. or requiring working in or with these other locations.
Constructing a strategic plan for global engagement that will benefit both students and the institution, however, requires more than a simple study-abroad program. In a presentation for the American Conference of Academic Deans (ACAD), Oates and her co-presenters explained the situation thus: “Without a strategic plan for global engagement in place, most interactions have been reactive instead of proactive, with engagements neither initiated nor coordinated with central university aspirations.” By constructing a strategic plan, the institution can help meet institutional goals.