Improving Outcomes from Your Planning Process during Turbulent Times: At Keene State College, Creating the Highest Value for Students and the Community, with the Least Cost, Requires Accountability, Assessment, Continuous Improvement, Agility, and Transparency

Article excerpt

Thirty-five years ago, when I worked for the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the board brought public and private higher education campus leaders together at statewide public policy and master planning discussions. Those meetings contributed toward public funding being leveraged via the efficient and use of resources, to promote access to higher education and choice across public and private institutions. Higher education was seen as a public good, contributing to a more educated citizenry and economic growth. That has changed.

The retreat of state funding for higher education and other factors has increased competition and program duplication among campuses. Subsidies of in-state student tuition has shrunk; the perception of public good investments has transformed into students paying their educational costs, for what is considered private good, by borrowing against future incomes. Students are paying a higher share of costs and both public and private campuses are becoming more enrollment driven. To strengthen themselves in this new environment, campuses have invested in new programs, academic quality, tuition discounting, facility improvements, and philanthropic fund raising.

For the last 30 years I've led integrated planning processes as a chief finance and planning officer. The role speaks to the importance of directing and redirecting campus funds and effort towards strategic priorities. The goal is positioning the campus to create the highest value for the least cost. While the goal has remained relatively constant, the art and techniques of integrated planning have changed substantially over time.

One of the changes is how accountability, assessment and continuous improvement have become integrated into campus planning efforts. The continuous loop of "Plan, Do, Assess, Act" (See Figure 1.) is not simply theory Assessment efforts and benchmarking performance provide evidence crucial to demonstrating how campus planning priorities are contributing to the value/cost equation. Assessment of knowledge gained in the core curriculum and in capstone projects, and by benchmarking retention rates and costs per student against peer and aspirant institutions, provide valuable evidence to the campus, governing boards, and accrediting commissions that planning priorities are moving the college up the value/cost continuum.

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Planning processes which match organizational capacity with environmental needs also need to demonstrate organizational agility. Seizing opportunities quickly reduces the risk of start-up expense and accelerates the return on investment; moving quickly helps campuses and their partners fill voids and market needs. Manufacturers and health care institutions need properly trained workforce and they do not have the time to wait for campus responses mired down in process or budgetary conflict.

The reputation for responsiveness to community needs that community colleges have earned for their agility is exactly what public and private colleges are organizing to achieve as well. At Keene State College, New Hampshire's public liberal arts college with 6,000 students, we are starting up a nursing program; creating a new facility to improve our technology, design and safety programs; and forging formal partnerships with the local chamber of commerce, schools and community colleges to help manufacturers meet workforce needs. We simultaneously face a 48 percent reduction in state funding.

That amount of change, where new activities are launched while other core activities experience constraints, takes greater transparency for stakeholders to understand how decisions are made. …

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