Blog Post

Integrated Planning at Nicolet College

Two Attendees Share Their Perspectives on the SCUP North Central 2023 Conference Presentation
Published November 10, 2023
By Mai Sleem, MBA, Qatar University | Janet Lebeda, EdD, Wayne State College
Challenges: Planning Alignment

Institutions referenced in this resource:
Nicolet Area Technical College

During “Horizons 2025: Integrated Planning at Nicolet College,” presented at SCUP North Central 2023 Regional Conference, presenters Christin Van Kauwenberg, director of business intelligence, and Erika Warning-Meyer, chief of staff, described how the community college implemented integrated planning. Two conference attendees share the insights and ideas that resonated with them.

Perspective 1: The Immense Potential That Integrated Planning Holds

by Mai Sleem, MBA

Initiating Integrated Planning

In the summer of 2022, Nicolet College experienced a strategic shift in its planning paradigm. Kauwenberg and Warning-Meyer’s remarks provided valuable insights into that transformative journey, which included using SCUP resources to kick-start its planning initiative.

The presenters outlined essential learning outcomes to guide planners through the process.

  • Understand the Importance of Integrated Planning. It is crucial to grasp the value and benefits of integrated planning toward effectively advocating for and communicating its importance within an institution.
  • Create a Structured Timeline for Integrated Planning. Nicolet College’s insights into organizing its timeline, a fundamental step, could serve as a blueprint for other institutions.
  • Leverage SCUP. Effectively utilizing proven resources, like those from SCUP, can significantly enhance the quality and efficiency of the planning process.
  • Initiate and Integrate Planning Seamlessly. Implementing a new planning process can be overwhelming, particularly without a clear starting point. Nicolet College’s experience and guidance provide practical steps.

Critical Aspects of the Planning Initiative

The presenters also delved into the planning process, focusing on new campus leadership, governance culture shift, reorganization, and achieving increased alignment within the institution.

  • New Campus Leadership. Fresh perspectives, ideas, and strategies were deemed essential for the success of planning processes.
  • Governance Culture Shift. Recognize the need for a change in decision-making processes and policy implementation. Move toward a more inclusive, collaborative, and forward-thinking governance culture, aligning with the institution’s goals and objectives and based on data-driven decisions.
  • Reorganization. Nicolet College restructured various departments and units to align with the integrated planning approach. Reorganization aims to streamline communication, enhance collaboration, and ensure cohesive efforts toward common objectives.
  • Increase Alignment. A central objective of Nicolet College’s planning process was achieving alignment.

The Strategic Plan

Personally, this was one of my favorite parts of the presentation.

Van Kauwenberg and Warning-Meyer compared their proposed framework to mountain elevation, effectively illustrating the degree of leaders’ involvement and establishing a timeline that signifies the number of years required for implementation. The Horizon 2025 strategic plan distinctly delineates the various roles of and stakeholders involved in integrated planning.

Nicolet College’s process began with environmental scanning and was followed by meeting with the Board of Regents (BOR) to understand their vision for the institution. Subsequently, they established an executive committee, incorporating BOR members, to initiate the planning process.

An essential component of this initiative is academic strategic planning, which informs the overall strategic planning. It provides a foundational framework for the vice president of academic affairs to establish boundaries, setting the stage for detailed academic planning.

Nicolet College then developed plans for student enrollment, technology, facilities, and marketing. Notably, they used the SCUP framework to construct an operational plan, enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of the planning process.

Additional Considerations for Effective Planning

Van Kauwenberg and Warning-Meyer emphasized the significance of implementation planning, overcoming challenges without dedicated strategic planners, ensuring that planning does not become just another task, and designing the process with a forward-thinking approach.

  • Importance of Implementation Planning. Having well-structured implementation was emphasized as essential to effectively translate planned strategies and goals into actionable steps.
  • Addressing the Challenge of Dedicated Strategic Planners. The presenters provided strategies for leveraging existing resources and expertise within the organization.
  • Integrating Planning in Daily Operations. It should be a simple and ongoing process so that employees will not think of it as an additional load.
  • Designing the Process with a Forward-Thinking Approach. Highlight the planning process itself while planning for the institution’s future. This meta-level thinking involves aligning the planning process with the desired outcomes and ensuring it is strategic, efficient, and responsive to the institution’s goals and evolving needs.

A Success Story

Van Kauwenberg and Warning-Meyer shared key factors that contributed to their planning initiative achievements:

  • Presidential Support. The strong support provided credibility, resources, and the influence to drive the planning process effectively throughout the institution.
  • Building the Planning Muscle. Nicolet College deliberately focused on strengthening the institution’s planning capabilities and building a robust “planning muscle,” involving staff at various levels. This fostered a culture where planning was seen as a collective responsibility rather than a task confined to specific departments.
  • Appropriate Elevation. By elevating the planning process to an appropriate level within the organization, they made integrated planning part of the overall strategic framework. That aligned with the institution’s vision and mission, ensuring that planning received the attention, priority, and resources necessary for its success and effectiveness.


This session was an eye-opener, offering practical advice and actionable steps. It emphasized challenges and achievements—and the immense potential that integrated planning holds for the betterment of academic organizations. Integrated planning serves as a cornerstone for achieving institutional goals and fostering a proactive and responsive educational landscape.

Author Biography

Mai Sleem, MBA, serves as senior academic planning and accreditation specialist in the Office of Associate Vice President of Academic Planning and Quality Affairs, under the VP for academic affairs at Qatar University (QU). She is closely involved with the college’s academic planning, program offerings, and program accreditation. Sleem worked for a decade in QU Student Affairs and has intensive experience in enrollment management, admissions and registrations, and student life, and established the Enrollment One-Stop Services at Qatar University.

Perspective 2: Work to Make Planning “Not Just Another Thing”

by Janet Lebeda, EdD

The session focused on a community college’s journey to develop integrated planning at the institution. Nicolet College, situated in North Central Wisconsin, is primarily attended by part-time students in the traditional age group. Christin Van Kauwenberg and Erika Warning-Meyer shared their experiences and insights into changing their institution’s culture and processes to align their planning processes.

Starting their presentation with a poll to gauge where other institutions represented in the room were along the Integrated Planning Maturity Model, most session attendees said their institutions were proactive, describing them as operational, coordinated, and emergent with “trust seeds.” The second most popular response was at the reactive stage: planning was tactical, there were silos, and time was spent firefighting and on short-term planning.

Nicolet College’s previous planning was not integrated: unit plans were disconnected and not systemic and strategic plans faced difficulty in execution. They placed themselves between chaotic and reactive on the maturity model. This set the foundation for a change in their approach to planning, which was an interesting way to put integrated planning efforts in perspective.

Most all of us know of or have heard of—for some time—integrated planning and its benefits. However, so many of our institutions are at the early stages of the maturity model and have work to do to mature. I think many institutions halted their progress along this path during the pandemic and are perhaps just now returning to their efforts, which is like my own institution.

The presenters noted that, like many institutions, they were facing initiative fatigue as they undertook this alignment. The timing was right, though, as they were undergoing a change in leadership, a reorganization, and a shift in governance culture. Their focus was on alignment and a culture of continuous quality improvement rather than just another set of new initiatives.

One of the aspects of Nicolet College’s implementation of integrated planning that I found the most interesting—and could see being the most helpful at my own institution—was their Horizons 2025 planning guide. It laid out a matrix considering the direction, priorities, strategic plans, operations, and tactics against the elevation of the planning (80,000 feet to ground level), the horizon (in terms of years), the thought leaders involved, and the role and outputs of the efforts. Taking the time to lay out this guidance and keeping it as a reference to direct them was a wise idea: they could consult it and not get too far into the weeds with the plans and people as they worked to integrate the planning across campus.

As plans are developed, they are stored in SharePoint to encourage transparency and further promote integration. With each plan, the elevation level was communicated. Nicolet College also created a Gantt chart, a bar chart that depicts a project schedule, to present the various planning processes and their timelines. This gives a visual representation to the flow of planning, noting that annual updates of strategic plans are scheduled to be completed in time to inform the budget planning for the next year. In addition, program reviews are aligned with the update of academic plans, which influence budget and grant planning.

While Nicolet College is still working through their efforts, now turning to operational planning, they noted that in retrospect they should have put more consideration into implementation planning. Van Kauwenberg and Warning-Meyer said that they are working to make planning “not just another thing” but rather building their capacity and strengthening their “planning muscle” as an institution.

As I listened to the presenters’ stories about their process, I naturally thought about my own institution and its efforts to activate and implement a recent iteration of its strategic plan. I am new to my current institution and joined them just as they had finalized a new strategic plan, the development of which had spanned over the years of the pandemic. During the efforts to complete the plan, in a time in which the world was not quite sure how to plan, they were not able to put as much focus on implementation planning as they would have liked.

As a result, much of my work now is focused on plan implementation and activation. I can take several useful bits of information from Nicolet College’s experience to apply to my own situation, having already begun to put thought into what an elevation chart might look like for our institution as well as how our Gantt chart of planning types might look. While I can picture in my head an ideal future of integrated planning, sometimes just starting by writing down the current state is the next best step. Either way, I hope to be building more capacity in my own institution’s planning muscle in the future.

Author Biography

Janet Lebeda, EdD, is the director of strategic initiatives and special projects at Wayne State College. She is a project management professional, certified in Prosci’s Change Management process, and has an MBA with an emphasis in leadership and change management. While she has held higher education roles from grant management to academic affairs, her focus now is strategic planning and project and change management. Lebeda has taught at the community college level on project management, human relations, and business English topics.