Strategic Planning: Engaging Faculty and Other Stakeholders Early

As July 2010 draws to a close, the news is full of reports of state budget shortfalls, belt-tightening initiatives to cope with the approaching demise of stimulus funding, and growing protests from faculty and staff as institutions make politically unpopular decisions in re-allocating increasingly scarce resources. In this environment, it is critical to engage as many stakeholders as possible as early as possible in the strategic planning process. By involving more stakeholders (faculty, students, staff, alumni, and representatives of the community) in the initial industry scan and identification of priority challenges for your institution, you can plan for resource allocation in a way that builds engagement and buy-in from the campus community (which will be critical as you move from planning to implementation) and enables you to harvest the knowledge and the brainpower of stakeholders across (and beyond) the campus.

At a recent Academic Impressions conference, Larry Goldstein (president of Campus Strategies, LLC) and Pat Sanaghan (president of The Sanaghan Group) facilitated a future timeline exercise, in which a diverse group of senior leaders, including provosts, chief financial officers, and vice presidents from different institutions, collaboratively identified and prioritized trends and challenges facing higher education over the next decade. This future timeline exercise can be used to solicit input from a variety of campus stakeholders in a way that builds their buy-in and trust in the planning process.

"This exercise can get us beyond struggles over turf and get us thinking instead about challenges that are going to impact us as an organization. You want the faculty, students, administrators, and alumni in that room all to leave the exercise with much more of a systems perspective."
Pat Sanaghan, The Sanaghan Group

Conducting a Future Timeline Exercise

This facilitated, one-hour exercise allows you to harness the brainpower of 40 to 100 individuals. Participants place post-its on a series of flip charts, noting events, issues, and trends likely to have an impact on how institutions need to operate. The flip charts are marked by year (2011, 2012, 2013, etc.) and allow the participants to assemble a timeline for challenges their institution is likely to face. Afterward, the participants debrief and discuss the timeline, with the goal of arriving at a list of 10 to 12 prioritized challenges to address.

For details on how to set up and facilitate the exercise, read this paper on the future timeline design.

Sanaghan notes that by conducting multiple exercises, it is relatively easy to gather input from 1000 individuals over a two-month period. (For instance, you could facilitate the exercise over a working breakfast 10 times over the course of two months.)

"Don't just rely on bringing in an expert to tell you what the future looks like. Engage all the knowledge and expertise of your institution in that conversation. Higher education is full of smart people; take the opportunity to get their hearts and brains involved in the planning process."
Pat Sanaghan, The Sanaghan Group

This allows you to:

  • Solicit input and involvement in the planning process outside of your cabinet
  • Get key constituents talking across silos about the horizon and what challenges and opportunities the future holds for your institution
  • Identify challenges that you would otherwise fail to identify, by including the perspective and brainpower of multiple stakeholders

Encouraging Cross-Silo Dialogue

Goldstein stresses the importance of inviting participation from as many individuals representing as many different constituent perspectives as possible. You can organize individual future timeline exercises for groups of faculty, key administrators, students, community members, and alumni, but you may also benefit by facilitating future timelines in which many of these stakeholders participate together and share their perspectives.

"We did this four to five times at one university recently," Sanaghan recalls. "People became excited as they talked across boundaries. We had a timeline developed by faculty, students, and cabinet members. We had another timeline in which the participants included the board of a business school, senior vice presidents of local companies, and a former governor. They came up with a future timeline that surprised us. It had an international perspective and a very complex view of the next ten years; they challenged us to think more broadly about the future of the university."

For example, that group highlighted a trend that the other groups had not been aware of -- the rising economic power of China and the importance of developing strategic relationships with Chinese institutions in order to play a competitive role in this century.

Open Sharing of the Results

Sanaghan suggests populating a central portal with the results from the different future timelines conducted on your campus, making both the raw data and the prioritized lists available. That way, any member of the campus community could log in and see, for example, what the faculty thought about the future of the institution. Or perhaps there was a future timeline exercise conducted with 100 alumni in the room. In that case, anyone could log in and see what approaching challenges for the institution the alumni identified and thought significant. This promotes transparency and builds buy-in. "These stakeholders are now connected to the process," Goldstein notes, "and they have a stake in its outcome."

"You want to see people's fingerprints and mind-prints all over the plan. This creates ownership of the plan, so that when the plan comes out, these stakeholders are committed to its implementation."
Pat Sanaghan, The Sanaghan Group

Example: A Year-by-Year Diagnostic

Here's an example of a future timeline from a June 2010 Academic Impressions conference. Senior leaders from an array of institutions identified core challenges that they expect to face over the next 10 years. The results: one set of institutional leaders' diagnostic of the next decade in higher education. Here are the challenges that were on their minds (transcribed and uncensored).

2010. Population growth in the South and West; shifting student demographics; growth of online instruction; more focus on accountability and transparency to the public for state universities; state budget problems and dwindling state support for higher education; rising concern over student access and affordability; declining endowments; limited access to borrowing capacity for tuition payments; decline in enrollment of men; more veterans returning to college; rewriting of rules for Pell Grants; more data-driven decision-making; traditional colleges face difficulties in being nimble to respond to student demand and the demands of industry; growth of for-profit institutions; failure of high school to prepare students for college; the need to balance facilities for on-campus students with infrastructure for distance learners; shift in age of retirement (people working longer)

2011. Increased investments in sustainability (and throughout the decade); student demographics shifting away from traditional student; accountability of outcomes; changes in regulatory environment; change in student health insurance offerings; increasing costs of a physical campus dovetailing with growing demand for online education; increased need for internationalization of curriculum and student experience; need for increased diversity among faculty, staff, and students, and in the curriculum; increased dependence on adjuncts; increasing poverty rate, unemployment; education for an unknown future (graduates statistically will have nine careers, two of which we don't know yet); proliferation of cost drivers; decreased attention span of students; growth of online learning and demand for alternate delivery of instruction; increased international competition; increased demand for transparency of operations and decisions; growth of for-profit institutions; some shift in focus from education to job training; rising concern over college affordability

2012. Declining numbers of high school graduates; top majors shifting; global security concerns; declining state and local financial support of public colleges & universities; accountability; influx of international students; potential new crises (information hacking/ terrorism); personal data devices; shift in student demographics (more adults, more people of color, more women); potential change in presidency and political climate; social networking sites as a teaching aid become the norm; mobile devices; education seen as less of a public responsibility; greater use of business models in education; impact from climate change on coastal universities' infrastructure (more storms, sea level rise); increased need for disability accommodations (veterans); revisions to curriculum; new student generation brings new expectations; increased international competition; increased expenditures on technology

2013. Global learning communities; breakdown of current traditional classroom/isolated subject teaching model; increased percentage of total revenues from non-grant/tuition sources; administrative leadership pipeline is weak; expectation of 24/7 access to education; lack of financial resources (especially state/federal funding); strong "sustainability" legislation; growing focus on job training; declining private support via traditional fundraising methods; increase in open source materials

2014. Rising cost of higher ed; economic impact of job loss (college degrees not leading to higher pay); frequency of career changes; mass retirements of aging faculty; changing student demographics (minorities becoming the majority); growth of higher education overseas; funding of public (system) universities likely linked to retention/graduation rates

2015. Aging population creates a leadership void in the absence of succession planning; greater emphasis on "packaged" education in the form of online/distance courses (more virtual education); inadequate production of Ph.D.s in sciences, math, business; increased competition with private sector; reductions in number of high school graduates; outsourcing; portability of academic credits on a global level; more international education (online collaboration, required international experiences for students); multiple states privatize higher education; China, India, other nations take their place in educational leadership, influencing education content and delivery.

2016. Presidential election and shifting of domestic priorities; increase in the number of potential Hispanic students matriculating at colleges and universities as they become the majority population in the United States; IRS removes exempt status of a 'name' private university because of financial abuse; loss of HBCUs due to decline in numbers; many community colleges now offer three-year bachelor's degrees.

2017. Refocus on American production; will bricks and mortar, residential housing, and traditional college become passe?

2018. Stability of K-12 education; sustainability; tenure abolished except at research universities.

2019 and Beyond. Just-as-needed services -- meet students where they are and where opportunities are; advanced degrees becoming more necessary for career preparation; dissolution of the tenure system; continued decline in state support for public higher education; continued issues with preparation of college entrants (remediation); dominance of China as the world's soon-to-be largest economy; "virtual world"; increasing dysfunctionality of political processes and governmental services; first focus will be assessment rather than education delivery; mental health screening for all students; President Obama's 2020 graduation plan.

12 Priority Challenges

This group of institutional leaders grouped and prioritized the emerging influences on higher education that were identified on the future timeline, and they arrived at this list of 12 high-priority challenges they felt institutional leaders must address in planning for the next decade:

  • Rising competition from for-profit sector
  • Globalization
  • Changing demographics in North America
  • Cost of education (for the institution)
  • Decline of monetary public support for higher education
  • Accountability/business emphasis (regulatory compliance)
  • Technology breakdown
  • Current models/new models
  • Performance-based funding
  • Cost of attendance
  • K-12 prep for high education
  • Diversification of funding

Surprises and Discoveries in the Future of Higher Education

As institutional leaders discussed and reviewed their forecasts for the next decade of higher education, they cited six emerging influences on how institutions will need to operate that they found surprising and unexpected:

  • Rise of China as an international economic power
  • Lack of identification of competencies for students as an issue
  • Global security
  • Number of catastrophic events likely to occur over course of 10 years
  • Abolishment of tenure
  • Understanding of education as private vs. public benefit