Revitalizing Strategic Planning at Community Colleges: Now That the Economic Environment Seems to Be Stabilizing, Community Colleges Are Seeing Drops in Their Enrollment That Will Require Them to Plan More Strategically

By Lovik, Eric G. | Planning for Higher Education, January-March 2014 | Go to article overview

Revitalizing Strategic Planning at Community Colleges: Now That the Economic Environment Seems to Be Stabilizing, Community Colleges Are Seeing Drops in Their Enrollment That Will Require Them to Plan More Strategically


Lovik, Eric G., Planning for Higher Education


ECONOMIC UNCERTAINTIES AFFECT INSTITUTIONS DIFFERENTLY depending on their type, size, control, location, and other factors. As noted in recent higher education news stories, many institutions, especially small private colleges heavily dependent on tuition revenues, are at risk of decline unless they strategically pursue ways to thrive (Hoover 2013). In the case of community colleges, economic recessions typically drive enrollment up; however, now that the economic environment seems to be stabilizing, these colleges are seeing drops in their enrollment that will require them to plan more strategically (Lipka 2013). The ripple effect of declining enrollment can be serious, no doubt, because the resulting decreased revenues can lead to program closures, termination of staff and instructional positions, and suspension of capital improvements and campus growth. To be sure, there are other reasons why colleges should take strategic planning seriously. Beyond enrollment fluctuations, factors such as regional population dynamics, industry demand for skilled employees, and opportunities presented by new instructional technologies affect college leaders' future plans. The purpose of this article is to describe how a public two-year institution reviewed its strategic plan, made relevant enhancements, and communicated and implemented its new plan.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Effective strategic planning in higher education, whether at a small, rural community college or a large, public research university, should drive improvement and ultimately enable institutional transformation (Dooris, Kelley, and Trainer 2004). College leaders handle strategic planning, including related long-term and institutional planning, in various ways (Rowley, Lujan, and Dolence 1997; Rowley and Sherman 2001). Planning participants might work together in committees or similar ad hoc or standing groups, or they might function within an administrative unit of the institution. Typical steps in a strategic planning process include formulating key performance indicators (KPIs); assessing the external and internal environments; identifying and analyzing strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT); developing strategies, measuring the cross-impact of KPIs, strategies, and goals; and, once the final draft is created, monitoring and revising the plan on a routine basis (Rowley, Lujan, and Dolence 1997).

While strategic planning is an institution-wide activity, senior leadership is best suited to oversee the effort. In support of senior leadership, a college's institutional research function can perhaps most effectively collect, analyze, and use the data relevant to college-wide planning (Clagett 2004). Typically, the institutional research office is closely involved in environmental scanning, enrollment predictions, evaluation and assessment, and the gathering of other elements of background information necessary for effective planning.

One danger in higher education organizations is that of administrative units working in silos. Thus, while the institutional research function is necessary, it must not work alone. Interdepartmental collaboration is key to the effective management of any institution, and such collaboration is just as important in the development and implementation of a usable strategic plan. Seymour, Kelley, and Jasinski (2004) address the importance of connecting the planning, improvement, and research areas. Without a systematic framework for how these functions operate together, strategic planning will not be as successful as it should be.

All administrative and academic areas in a college should not only support the institutional mission but also align with specific elements of the strategic plan. Clearly, an institution's financial resources must align with well-crafted goals to ensure the effective coordination of budgeting and planning (Goldstein 2005). To be sure, the purpose of higher education organizations is to advance learning. …

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