Strategic Planning

Disruption. The new normal. VUCA. Whatever you call it, the truth is the same: The pace of change is rapid and constant. The world that higher education serves today is vastly different than 10 or 20 years ago. “Business as usual” is a luxury few can afford; higher education institutions are asked to prove their worth, redefine their purpose, and respond more quickly to society’s needs.

In this new normal, higher education strategic planning is no longer an empty exercise or a leadership vanity project. It is imperative for each institution to survive . . . and thrive.

Why do it? Why integrated? Who does it?
When is it done? How is it done? Learn how.

What is strategic planning?

Strategic planning is a deliberate, disciplined effort to produce fundamental decisions and actions that shape and guide what an institution is, what it does, and why it does it.

The college or university strategic plan provides guidance for institutional decisions, both long-term and day-to-day, and makes sure that decisions and operations:

  1. Carry out the institution’s mission, vision, and values
  2. Comply with mandates and regulations of government, accrediting bodies, etc.
  3. Keep the institution operationally and fiscally healthy, now and in the future

5 Components of Strategic Planning in Higher Education

The components of every strategic plan will vary according to an institution’s culture and needs but generally include:

  • Explanation of the planning process
  • Foundational information (an institution’s mission, vision, values)
  • What your institution wants to achieve (goals, strategic issues, objectives, etc.)
  • How your institution will achieve its goals (strategies, tactics, actions, etc.)
  • How your institution will measure success (metrics, KPIs)

Why do strategic planning?

Higher education strategic planning helps an institution focus on its future success. How is the world changing, and how do we need to respond? What opportunities do we have to make a difference? What changes do we need to make today so we’re ready for tomorrow?

It gives an institution an opportunity to reflect on its performance. Is the institution achieving its vision? Living by its mission? Serving students in the ways they need? What should we start doing? Keep doing? Change? Stop doing?

Why is integrated planning important for strategic planning?

Higher education institutions are complex. The success of any initiative—from improving graduation rates to creating a more inclusive environment—requires expertise, time, and work from multiple units. At the same time, each unit has its own activities and work that it’s focusing on. By building relationships across departments, integrated strategic planning prevents duplicate activities (or worse, initiatives that work against each other), creates opportunities for collaboration, and makes sure that time and effort are spent on initiatives that realize the mission. Integrated strategic planning saves an institution’s resources while improving its work.

Integrated planning also helps with a strategic plan’s implementation. An integrated university or college strategic plan reflects the beliefs and experiences of the institution’s stakeholders, motivating people to change and experiment. It’s linked to the budget, so there are resources to implement plan strategies. It’s informed by assessment, so the strategic plan can adapt and stay relevant.

Who does strategic planning?

Strategic planning should involve the input and participation of the entire campus community—both internal stakeholders (faculty, administration, staff, students, alumni) and external stakeholders (community members, employers).

The planning committee or team leads the process. Since strategic planning can be a long, complex process, there may also be additional committees or task forces to tackle different topics or parts of the process.

Planning Committee

  • Chair: president, senior-level administrator, or faculty member (depends on the institution)
  • Faculty
  • Representatives of key stakeholder groups
  • Student(s)
  • Top-level decision makers (provost, VPs/directors of key campus divisions and departments)

When is strategic planning done?

Most strategic plans are cyclical. As one strategic plan nears the end of its horizon (the length of time a plan covers), a new planning process begins for the next strategic plan.

A plan’s horizon depends on the institution and its needs. Most strategic plans cover five to 10 years, but some may cover as few as three and others as long as 20.

If a new president assumes leadership of the institution, the new president will often conduct a new planning process that reflects the president’s priorities.

How is strategic planning done?

The strategic planning process needs to be adapted to an institution’s culture and operations. For example, a tightly controlled top-down process may face challenges in a highly decentralized institution.

Strategic planning processes need to include the following activities and characteristics:

  • Communicate the process, purpose, who is involved, and how decisions will be made
  • Seek and use feedback from as many stakeholders as possible, both on and off campus
  • Scan externally and internally to identify strengths, areas to improve, opportunities, and potential threats
  • Prioritize what the institution wants to accomplish
  • Outline how the institution will invest its resources (including time and people) to accomplish those goals
  • Align resources, day-to-day work, and initiatives across the institution with the plan
  • Measure, monitor, and modify the plan as needed

Learn how.

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