University President Reveals new strategic plan

by Inji Kim

On Nov. 17, President MaryAnn Baenninger announced the process of developing a New University Strategic Plan. The current strategic plan, SHINE is the short-term strategic plan under which the University has operated for the past two years ever since the President’s arrival to the Forest. The program is specifically targeted to increase enrollment and retention, improve communication, and generally enhance institutional effectiveness. In her announcement, Baenninger expressed that even though the previous plan has successfully served its function, she also feels like “the time has come for us to build a new strategic plan that will undergird decision-making and resource allocation over the next several years.”

The final draft of the new strategic plan that includes two phases is currently envisioned to go to the Board of Trustees for approval at the February 2018 meeting. If approved in this meeting, the plan is targeted to operate through fiscal year 2022. Until then, the President will work with the Cabinet and the the Annual Planning and Budgeting Council to develop strategies and tactics to further the goals of SHINE.

Regarding the two phases of the strategic planning effort, Baenninger explained that “at present, we are not in a position to develop a strategic plan in the absence of extensive data about the likely impact of possible new University initiatives, programs and directions—and their associated messaging—on potential students, their parents, others who are involved in students’ decision making about which school to attend and alumni and friends who we would like to become or remain engaged with the University.” Phase I will largely focus on intensive study and data collection regarding each of the three schools of the university that will be utilized to inform the strategic planning in Phase II. The Theological School, chaired by the Dean Javier Viera, is currently identifying the strengths and weaknesses of its programs with Stamats, a market research firm. The work that aims to support the school’s Curriculum Transformation initiative has been underway for a while and is expected to be completed by January 2017. The Caspersen School of Graduate Studies is going through a similar course of assessment on its current program offerings to develop new programs as well. Under the leadership of John Witherington, Executive Director for Graduate Admissions, the goal of the school is to identify programs that “build on current strengths and are relevant and attractive to prospective students,” said Baenninger. This work is also already underway and is expected to be complete early in the Spring 2017 semester.

Finally, the College of Liberal Arts will be working with Art & Science Group (A&S), a preeminent consulting firm providing market-informed strategy to higher education, independent schools, and the non-profit sector. Many other liberal arts institutions such as Bard College and Agnes Scott College have collaborated with the firm for strategic interests and critical investments. Chaired by Associate Dean Jessica Lakin, CLA will collect data to achieve tangible positive results in terms of applications, matriculations and giving. Lakin will also chair a Strategic Planning Group for Phase II, consisting of faculty, students and staff from across the university, as well as several trustees.

Beginning with a period of intensive study of the undergraduate experience that includes both curricular and co-curricular experiences, CLA hopes find better ways to frame and market the diverse range of experiences by the campus community. The process for CLA research will begin in early December when a team from A&S will visit the campus to have community conversations. Following the research, a small working group will then work collaboratively with A&S to develop and refine the ideas that will be tested in the marketplace with potential applicants, admitted students and possible donors. The process is planned to take place over the spring and summer and will be presented to the community in late spring and early fall. “It is my expectation that we will not go into this exercise with preconceived notions about what ideas will or won’t be compelling to our market,” said Baenninger, explaining that the end goal is to determine what is necessary for the best undergraduate experience for both internal and external audiences.

On her ending note, Baenninger stressed the distinctiveness of the new planning process compared to all previous planning processes the university has been engaged with. “The questions we need to ask ourselves are, by definition, empirical in nature, and any strategic decisions that we make or planning that we do need to be informed by relevant data,” she said. “We simply can’t afford to direct resources toward any messaging or substantive initiatives,” she noted, explaining that Drew is at a crucial moment in its history and that the university must take initiatives completely knowing that the decisions will positively affect important outcome variables.

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