Incorporating Changing Reality into College Strategic Plans: Part 2: Matching Students’ Expectations

This series of blogs started around Earth Day (April 25, 2023 post), with a question of how best to incorporate Earth Day’s aspiration on a local level. I decided to focus on my own college and university: Brooklyn College (BC) and CUNY.

Within this focus, last week’s blog started with a recent NYT summary of what students expect from their college experiences and what my college offers through its strategic plan. As I mentioned then, my college’s most recent strategic plan applies to the years 2018-2023, meaning it’s about to expire. The plan spans 43 pages; last week’s blog covered only an introductory paragraph and two lists of associated documents and goals. The purpose of this and the following blogs are two-fold. First, I want to examine how we could correlate our strategic plans with students’ aspirations; doing so would make the plans useful as a student recruitment tool. At the same time, by being at the forefront of addressing societal challenges, we could justify the support that the university is getting from society.

The two key documents are the BC Strategic Plan (revised August 1, 2018) and Strategic Plan 2, which was drafted in April 2019 and includes the tabulation and prioritization of objectives, key performance indicators, and targets. As I mentioned earlier, the original strategic plan spans 43 pages while the tabulated form is only 5 pages.

As I mentioned in the previous blog, the plan has 5 goals that I am repeating below:

  • Goal 1: enhance our academic excellence.
  • Goal 2: increase undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral students’ success.
  • Goal 3: educate students about opportunities 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

The goals each include 4 objectives, except goal 4, which has 5 objectives.

Table 1

Objective Strategic Action Priorities Key Key Performance Indicators and Targets
1.1 Improve undergraduate, master’s and doctoral programs that distinguish our strengths in the liberal arts, science, business, creative arts, and education to support students for success locally and globally. The provost, deans, chairs, departments, and Faculty Council will critically examine our undergraduate and graduate academic offerings through regular program reviews, external evaluations, and annual assessment plan and reports. The analysis will ensure that our curricula, majors, and programs reflect emerging knowledge and skills and deliver academic excellence and value to our students. 1.1a All academic programs and departments will engage in detailed analyses to ensure academic excellence, alignment with the College’s mission, integration of emerging knowledge, and value to our students.

1.2a Increase the percentage of underrepresented minority faculty hired from 20.8 to 30% (2016-2017 IPEDS).

1.2 Attract, develop, and retain an innovative, diverse, productive, and engaged faculty and staff. The Office of Diversity and Equity Programs will require department specific affirmative action plans for tenure track, lecturer, substitute, and adjunct faculty to enhance opportunities in the areas where they are underrepresented 1.2b Increase the average number of faculty pieces of scholarship/creative activity from 0.9 to 1.3 (2017-2018 PMP).

1.2c increased number of funded research grants from 45 to 53 (2017-2018 PMP).

Table 1 shows two of the four objectives of the first goal: enhancing our academic excellence. The table ends with key performance indicators for each objective.

As can be seen above, the Strategic Plan is a very good assessment plan, with numerical targets that can be periodically assessed to indicate success or failure. One of the key documents in the strategic plan is the attached report card that summarizes how we are doing. However, the only report card available is from 2018-2019, which serves as a reminder that most of the plan covered the COVID-19 pandemic period, where all our best intentions were temporarily frozen.

I don’t serve in any administrative position in my college and I have no role in the decision-making of running the college. However, I am the assessment coordinator of my department and I serve in the Campus Planning Committee of our Faculty Council, which periodically meets with some of our top administrators. I suppose that makes me a “qualified observer.”

Strategic plans are common to almost all academic institutions. I haven’t gone over many of them but it is a safe bet that many of the goals are similar throughout.

If we try to compare this set of goals with student aspirations as documented in the NYT piece that I summarized in the previous blog (on which CUNY ended up rather well), we might end up wondering.

Figure 1 in last week’s blog was compiled to summarize students’ expectations from prospective students (ages 16 – 19) and recent graduates.

The top six priorities of the two groups were the following:

Pre-Freshmen: Affordable tuition, high-income potential for graduates, safe campus, low student debt after graduation, near family or hometown, and popularity of STEM majors.

Recent graduates: Affordable tuition, high earning potential for graduates, low student debt after graduation, safe campus, popularity of STEM majors, and racial and ethnic diversity.

As the NYT piece mentioned, the top criteria for both groups are financial. The three categories of top ten schools that Frank Bruni compiled all demonstrate high earning potential. So, if a school wants to attract students and financial support, it had better show the potential for future high earnings or at least significant improvements in earning potential.

To show potential high earnings, schools have to demonstrate a trail of significant earnings increases by graduates. A high earning goal is not enough (you can start rich), schools have to show significantly enhanced earning potential. However, proving such a change does not seem to be one of the goals included in the strategic plan itself.

A goal should indicate how graduates will do at least a few years after they leave school. There is a Wikipedia site that indicates this for Brooklyn College graduates. It’s organized by profession, and it is impressive. A summary of the site is shown the following results:

Listed (famous) alumni in all disciplines             1602

Famous alumni who graduated after 2000           39

Earliest famous alumni graduated in                      1933

The total number of alumni according to the BC official website is 160,000, meaning that the Wikipedia site only accounts for 1% of the total. Can one expect prospective students (or ones that just finished school) to associate their own prospects with this 1%? I doubt it. Colleges can do much better. They need to construct a much broader database of alumni and one that will better reflect how the college has been doing more recently. In a number of past recent blogs, I have advocated using the college as a laboratory for students to address current local and global challenges such as climate change (see Campus as a Lab Part 5 – October 4, 2022, and the earlier blogs in this series). Through this model, Social Science students can help construct such a database and pave the way for presenting the results to prospective students.

Next week, I will try to learn from the US federal government how to apply the concept of “broader impact” to the strategic plans of learning institutions.

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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One Response to Incorporating Changing Reality into College Strategic Plans: Part 2: Matching Students’ Expectations

  1. Beau Parker says:

    You can create a university-wide strategic plan and then break it down into portfolio or departmental plans. Clarify their goals, projects. The implementation of a strategic plan depends on the institution’s ability to turn strategic thoughts into operational action.

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