What Is a Bridge Plan?

(And Does Your Institution Need One?)

Between staffing shortages, staff burnout, and leadership transitions, there are a lot of reasons why you might want to delay your next strategic planning process. But operating without a plan slows institutional momentum towards your long-term goals.

Fortunately, there is a third way: bridge plans. We talked to Nicholas Santilli, PhD, Senior Director for Learning Strategy at SCUP, about what bridge plans are, why more institutions are using them right now, and how to tell if a bridge plan is right for you.

What is a “bridge plan”?

A bridge plan is a short-term strategic plan that “bridges” the gap between strategic plan cycles. While a strategic plan usually covers a 3–5 year horizon and takes 9–12 months to create, a bridge plan only covers a 1–2 year horizon and takes about 3–5 months to create.

Often, a bridge plan is best designed as an extension of the existing plan. It is more streamlined and focused than a regular strategic plan and focuses more on tactics aligned with an existing strategic focus.

Why would a college or university use a bridge plan?

A bridge plan allows a college or university to continue to pursue defined strategic pathways during times of uncertainty or rapid, unpredictable change. It’s also a good solution for when faculty and staff are overwhelmed due to a highly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.

If you’re dealing with staff burnout and overwhelm, a bridge plan allows the institution to take a breath before launching into a deliberate, time-consuming planning process. People are tired; pursuing a bridge plan gives faculty and staff a moment of grace before they begin a strenuous planning process on campus.

When might it make sense to do a bridge plan?

There are many different reasons you might pursue a bridge plan before you do your next strategic plan. Some of the most common we’re seeing are:

  • Your previous strategic plan expired during or right before the COVID-19 pandemic and you haven’t had the bandwidth to begin a new planning process.
  • Your institution is hiring a new president or other key leadership member and you don’t want to start a full strategic planning process until the new hire is ready.
  • To allow time for the institution to keep positive momentum going while institutional leadership charts a pathway forward focused on promoting student success, equity, and institutional thriving.

How do we get started with a bridge plan?

We have three suggestions for you as you get started:

  • Weigh the pros and cons of moving forward with a short-term bridge plan. Does it make sense to continue the pursuit of existing strategic pathways? Or do you need to create an integrated strategic plan that outlines a future-focused institutional strategy?
  • Determine if your institution possesses the necessary human capital and financial resources to commit to a deliberate strategic planning process that may take up to 16 to 24 months.
  • Identify what your goals are in designing a bridge plan. In particular, how could it help your institution reach stability in the face of this volatile environment?

Need help with your college or university’s bridge plan? Learn more about Integrated Planning Coaching.