Cameron Shirley

Cameron Shirley

2022–2023 SCUP Fellow and Dean, Institutional Effectiveness & Innovation

Davidson-Davie Community College

SCUP Coaches: Crystal Kollross, Executive Director, Institutional Effectiveness, Pasadena City College, John Kilmarx, Associate Vice President, Academic Administration, Indiana University of Pennsylvania-Main Campus

Read their research proposal

Cameron Shirley currently serves as the dean of Institutional Effectiveness & Innovation at Davidson-Davie Community College in North Carolina. In this role, she leads initiatives including strategic planning, accreditation, student success projects, assessment and institutional research. Cameron enjoys collaborating with faculty, staff, and students across the institution to help build a culture of student success. Cameron previously served as the Title III Project Director at Davidson-Davie. Prior to joining the community college system, Cameron gained experience in strategic planning at Elon University and was a high school history teacher in North Carolina. Cameron received her B.A. in History with Teacher Licensure from Elon University, her M.A. in History from James Madison University, and her M.A. in Higher Education from Elon University.

SCUP Fellows Research Project

Project Title: The Impact of Strategic Plan and Organizational Structures on Perceptions of Equity Work in Community Colleges

Project Description:

My research project, The Impact of Strategic Plan and Organizational Structures on Perceptions of Equity Work in Community Colleges, will look at the relationship between the structure of strategic plan documents, the organizational structure of the colleges, and mid and senior level leaders views on the progress made towards goals and objectives related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Many institutions are incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusion language into their strategic plans, but what progress is being made? How do campus constituents see these goals being enacted? Are organizations set up to do this deeply meaningful and necessary work, or are they extra tasks assigned to a committee? These questions are a few of the initial prompts that interested me in this work and led to this proposal.

Through this research, I hope to better understand the different ways diversity, equity, and inclusion goals are written, organized, and implemented within strategic planning. Because I will be looking at recently developed strategic plans and this project has a one-year time frame I will not be able to follow through towards final outcomes and whether or not institutions have fully executed the goals set in the plan, but instead, gather perceptions from mid-level and senior leaders about this work and the direction the institution is heading, as guided by their planning offices. Additionally, this research will gather information on how institutions plan to measure success, both quantitatively and qualitatively, within goals explicitly seeking to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion. While enrollment numbers, persistence rates, and completion of credentials disaggregated by different identity groups are obvious metrics that colleges use to measure success, I am curious to discover some of the more nuanced ways that planning teams think about measuring equity and gathering feedback from student, faculty, and staff in assessing progress.

Planners in both community college and university settings will benefit from this research to better understand how organization within strategic plans can align with organizational structures and how that impacts their work. In addition, follow up studies could look at the end of the life of the institution’s strategic plan to see if they met goals around diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Project Goal & Applicability

Project Goals:
Goal 1. Analyze the ways diversity, equity, and inclusion appear in institutional strategic plans
Goal 2. Identify assessment metrics used to measure diversity, equity, and inclusion goals
Goal 3. Identify ways that implementation of the strategic goals is perceived by faculty and staff
Goal 4. Understand the relationships between organizational structures, strategic plan formats, and senior and mid-level leaders perceptions of this work

With this research, I hope to be able to identify strategies that help colleges and universities create strategic plans ready for implementation with organizational structures that align to their strategic vision. This will be done within the context of diversity, equity, and inclusion due to the importance of equity work in community colleges and to better understand strategies that can expand equity initiatives from being words on paper to tangible changes leading to improved outcomes.

Methodology & Rationale

This project will be a mixed methods study utilizing both qualitative and quantitative data to better understand the relationships between diversity, equity, and inclusion goals written in strategic plans, organizational structures, and faculty/staff perceptions of implementation of DEI-related goals.

I will identify community colleges within the Achieving the Dream network that have launched new strategic plans between January 2020 and July 2022. This network of colleges has made equity work a priority and the programming led by Achieving the Dream is done with an equity focus, so it makes sense to think about this group as a cohort and recognize they are thinking about diversity, equity, and inclusion intentionally. I will analyze college websites to determine how many institutions meet this criteria. Once the plans that meet the criteria are identified, I will use text analysis to look at the ways that institutions structure their strategic plans and specifically the language used to communicate a commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. An iterative coding process will be used to identify common themes among strategic plan structures and language.

In addition to studying strategic plans, additional institution-level data will be utilized to better understand relationships between strategic plans, organizational structures, and perceptions of implementation of the plans. I will use email to reach out to chief strategic planning officers at institutions identified in the initial search for strategic plans. This email will invite them to participate in the next phase of the study which will ask them to share their organization charts, assessment metrics (if not clear within plan language), and participate in a multi-level leadership self-assessment. Institutions that agree to participate will be kept anonymous but internal research naming will be used to connect the strategic plan with relevant organizational charts and self-assessment results.

The multi-level leadership self-assessment survey will come in two forms: a senior/cabinet-level survey and a mid-level leadership survey. Both surveys will include Likert-scale questions that address broad-level questions around diversity, equity, and inclusion at the institution and perceptions about implementation of the strategic plan. Additionally, the survey will specifically ask senior and mid-level leaders to identify progress along multiple goals and objectives from their institution’s plan. Open-ended qualitative questions will differ between senior and mid-level surveys but focus generally on themes of accountability, responsibility, and structure of strategic initiative implementation. The qualitative and quantitative portions of the survey will be analyzed at the institution-level, collectively across all institutions, and by any thematic categories identified in initial analysis of the plans.

Project Deliverables

Your required deliverables are your presentation at SCUP’s annual conference, and/or a webinar, and a five- to seven-page research project summary shared with all SCUP members due by September 30th, 2023. What other products/outcomes do you envision from your project?

In addition to the SCUP presentation and project summary, I hope this project can result in a short practitioner-focused article published in an open-access resource to help college leaders and strategic planning officers apply any findings to their strategic planning goals, structure, and implementation. Furthermore, this yearlong project is limited in scope due to time constraints, so I hope this community college-focused research can lead to additional research studies across multiple institution types.

What do you hope to learn from SCUP?

I am looking forward to connecting with members of the SCUP network through this project and creating a new group of colleagues to learn from and with. Additionally, the model of fellows having SCUP coaches is appealing as I am still in the early stages of my strategic planning career. As I move into the second year in my current role, I know additional coaching will improve my ability to make critical decisions for our institution.