The Strategic Plan: An Overview
After many years of working in higher education, one of the things I have learned--sometimes painfully--is that a college cannot, and should not, be run as if it were a business. We certainly need to be financially viable, but we don't eliminate departments if they fail to generate revenue: we recognize that it's important to offer certain classes even if few students take them. We encourage professors to spend time talking to students, reading to increase their own knowledge, publishing papers, and engaging in other activities which may not contribute to a narrowly defined "bottom line."
Still, I believe a college can and should learn some things from business. For example, almost every business now has a strategic plan that builds on its core values, expresses a clear vision, and outlines the goals it wishes to achieve and the initiatives it will use to achieve them.
Businesses develop strategic plans because no institution can stay the same if it expects to survive. The world around us changes, and we must change as well or risk being left behind. Or, as Mark Twain put it in his own inimitable way: "Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just stay there."
At Westminster we spent the last year and a half developing a new strategic plan for the college, a plan that reflects an open, inclusive, and highly collaborative process. At its core, our plan is built on the long-standing strengths of the college.
We are the only private, non-denominational, comprehensive liberal arts college in Utah.
Large universities make their reputations on research, graduate education, and the professional achievements of their faculties. Faculty quality is measured by the books they publish, the awards they win, and the research dollars they attract.
In contrast, schools like ours build their reputations on the power of their educational environments the power to create informed, responsible, lifelong learners. Schools like ours build their reputations on the success of their students, not just in their first jobs but throughout their careers, and not just in their careers but in all facets of their lives. I believe that Westminster is enormously effective in carrying out this mission.
What are the secrets to our success?
To begin, we get to know our students by name, all of them.
If students don't make it to class, their professors will notice. One of my favorite stories is about the student who couldn't quite make it out of bed to get to his 8:00 a.m. economics course. After two weeks of this, the professor decided that if the student couldn't make it out of bed to come to class, the class would come to the student. He marched the entire class into this student's dorm room where he began the discussion of the day's reading assignment. And guess what? That sleepy student was never late for class again.
Another equally important key to our success is that we support educational practices empirically linked to high levels of student learning and development. These include maintaining high expectations for student performance, fostering active and collaborative learning, promoting student-faculty interaction, and providing an enriching and supportive environment beyond the classroom.
We actually monitor our adherence to these practices each year through a nationally administered survey, the National Survey of Student Engagement. The survey benchmarks our performance relative to that of other schools across the country. I trust you are not surprised to hear that we perform exceedingly well against these benchmarks. We are committed to providing an educational environment that is built on these exemplary practices in the decade to come.
This is what Westminster does. This is what we focus on. This is what we have been doing well for a very long time, and, now we are about to do it even better. Our new strategic plan specifies that beyond the courses they take and the grades they earn, our students will be expected to meet specific college-wide learning goals. These goals cover skills and attributes we believe are critical for success in our rapidly changing world: critical thinking, writing and other communication skills, ethics and social responsibility, and skills in both leadership and teamwork.
Thus, over time, a Westminster degree will mean that graduates have done more than accumulate enough credits to graduate; it will mean they have demonstrated mastery of specific core competencies. In the process, we will be more accountable for the abilities and the sensibilities of graduates of Westminster.
Few schools anywhere in the country have taken such a bold step. Our plan contains other daring and exciting elements, many of which are featured in this issue of the Review.
Permit me to refer to one you should not miss.
For most of its history, Westminster College has enjoyed an exceedingly positive reputation. Nonetheless, this reputation has spread slowly beyond Utah. The college is not as well known in other states as it should be, even within the intermountain region. As the college continues to increase the quality of the educational experience it provides, we intend to gain a greater measure of national visibility. Thus, a central thrust of the college's long-range vision is to become widely recognized as a distinctive and distinguished institution, one of the premier institutions of its kind in the country.
Working together to develop a plan for our future has done much to unite our campus. Creating a plan that both builds on our strengths and encourages bold initiatives has generated a new sense of institutional pride. That, in turn, has led us to adopt a new attitude.
I joined Westminster two years ago because I believe in what we do and the way we do it. Westminster is a student-centered, learning-centered institution; it blends liberal arts and professional education to help students master identified learning goals; it is committed to producing graduates who are well-rounded human beings with both the ability and the desire to succeed.
At Westminster, I believe we can continue to improve, to offer students an even richer, more powerful, and more meaningful educational experience than we do today.
I am personally and professionally committed to helping Westminster become an even greater source of community pride, as it becomes recognized far beyond the state of Utah as a college of distinction and as a model of educational excellence.
The articles in this edition of the Review should illuminate some of our activities. I hope you'll want to find out more about what we are doing, and I encourage you to review the complete strategic plan at our website: www.westminstercollege.edu/strategic_planning. I invite you to come to campus and look around. Talk to the faculty and staff. Get a sense of the place. And by all means talk to our students--they are not only our most important product, they are our only product, and one in which we have enormous pride.