Incorporating Changing Reality into College Strategic Plans: Part 1

Last week’s blog focused on the celebration of Earth Day, ending with a promise that this week’s blog would focus on a local effort. The natural local effort for me to address is my place of work: the City University of New York (CUNY). As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs (September 20, 2022, and April 18, 2023), CUNY is a multi-campus institution. My home campus is Brooklyn College and the central Graduate Center of the university. Like many other universities throughout the country and the world, we are now living through a transition period on many levels. I’ve mentioned many of these transitions repeatedly in earlier blogs, including the global need to change our energy sources away from fossil fuels, registration decline as a result of the decrease in population, adaptation to the tail-end of the COVID-19 pandemic, budgetary constraints, etc. These pressures are not unique to my school. Nor, in most cases, are they unique to the US; they are global. CUNY is a public institution that is supported by the state and city of NY. Like most other universities during the pandemic, most teaching and learning were remote. Like many other institutions and places of work, it was also supported by the federal government. This support is now ending and registration is still lagging behind pre-pandemic levels. Mandatory budget cuts are in the works, yet the amount is not yet known because the state budget is behind schedule (it should be voted on this week). Brooklyn College’s president has assembled a committee that includes students, faculty, and staff to advise him where to make the changes in ways that we don’t deviate from the college’s strategic plan. The goal is to avoid sacrificing our future to accommodate the present.

At the same time, state and city mandates require us to start to implement an energy transition away from fossil fuels so the state can be in the lead for zero carbon toward midcentury. If we don’t show progress on this front, the school will be fined. The guiding document for the required actions rests in the college’s strategic plan. The rest of this blog, and the following few blogs, will explore ways to accommodate fast-changing realities in that document.

Educational institutions have the clearest vision on this issue because we exist to ensure a better future for our students; if students don’t think that we are doing a good job at preparing them for the future, they will not come, and we will have to close shop.

Recently, an analysis was done on students’ motivation for colleges and universities.

The analysis was summarized by Frank Bruni in a New York Times op-ed entitled, “There’s Only One College Rankings List That Matters”:

Over recent decades, tuition at many public and private schools has risen much faster than inflation in general, to heights that have led millions of students to take on a magnitude of debt that dogs them and dictates their job decisions deep into their post-college lives. Still other students wonder whether college is even worth it in the end. The sticker price for tuition, room, board and required fees at some private schools is now over $80,000 per year.

Small wonder, then, that when The Times and Morning Consult surveyed 2,000 young people between the ages of 16 and 19 and another 2,000 between the ages of 22 and 30, those respondents rated the affordability of tuition and their likely earnings after graduation as the most important factors in the college experience — many times more important than, say, whether varsity sports are a major part of campus life or how small the size of a typical class is.

Figure 1 (source: Morning Consult via NYT)

The article’s conclusion, from the variety of responses in the poll, is that students’ priorities for choosing colleges mostly fall within the following three categories:

  1. If you’re a prospective student, your main consideration in choosing a college is likely the prospect for high earnings – the Ivy League schools dominate the top 10 choices (with some business school exceptions).
  2. If your priority is high earnings + low price, the top 10 are still dominated by Ivy Leagues but the exceptions include CUNY Bernard Baruch College.
  3. For those whose priorities are high earning + low price + less selective, CUNY schools make up half the top 10 selections.

I haven’t seen the raw data bases on which these rankings are based. However, the main point of the article is to show that there are many ways to rank colleges based on students’ priorities and preferences. Nevertheless, it appears that my place of work ranks decently, which is always heartening.

Let me now go from the country’s level to the document that outlines our goals and objectives. It attempts to figure out how to incorporate changing realities into our operations in such a way that after students leave the institution, they will be able to effectively and productively operate within the shifting world.

At Brooklyn College, the key document to achieving these objectives is the Strategic Plan. The most recent 43-page strategic plan covers the years 2018-2023. The introductory paragraph, given below, emphasizes the flexibility of the document:

The Brooklyn College community developed the Strategic Plan 2018-2023 (pdf) through an extraordinarily inclusive and transparent process. The Plan is not designed to sit on a shelf: it is a living document. Through internal and external evaluation, we learned that the Plan was too complex and that we needed to prioritize its strategic actions and develop its key performance indicators. We completed this work at the end of April 2019. The streamlined Strategic Plan is entitled Strategic Plan 2.0 (pdf). We undertook the process described below to do this work. By clicking on the hyperlinks, you can review the corresponding documents.

The rest of the document outlines the individual sections followed by the school’s goals.


Goals from the Strategic Plan 2018 – 2013:

  • Introduction
  • Purpose, mission, vision, and values
  • Goal 1: enhance our academic excellence.
  • Goal 2: increase undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students’ success.
  • Goal 3: educate students for fulfilling work and leadership in their communities.
  • Goal 4: develop a nimble, responsive, and efficient structure to serve our students and carry out our mission.
  • Goal 5: leverage Brooklyn College’s reputation for academic excellence and upward mobility

In next week’s blog, I will try to expand the plan and suggest how we can incorporate the major changes in global reality that have taken place over the plan’s 2018-2023 span.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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