Blue diploma, mortar board and tassel resting on grass

Intentional Strategic Planning

It still feels like 2020 snuck up out of nowhere. And here it is already February. Last year, around this time, we discussed some strategies for planning to succeed. So it makes sense to check in a year later with more strategic planning strategies.

Shouldn’t a Strategic Planning Be…Strategic?

Nearly every institution has student success as part of its strategic plan or among its top priorities. And rightfully so! Student success is essential to the core mission of every higher education institution, large or small, public or private.

Blue diploma, mortar board and tassel resting on grass

But as we know, it’s a lot harder to actually improve student success than just saying so. If you feel you’ve tried all of the ‘best practices’ out there and are still looking for new ways to improve student success, it may be time for a new tool.

Since most institutions don’t have an endless supply of funds, college and university leaders need to be choosy in the initiatives they implement. They also need to be mindful of ‘initiative fatigue’ – a concept described by Kuh, et. al in the 2015 book, Using Evidence of Student Learning to Improve Higher Education – exhaustion from ramping up for new initiatives, followed by burnout. So, how does an institution identify the “right” support initiatives – those that are both directed toward the students who need the most support and that are effective in promoting their success? To do this, an institution needs to fully understand its students’ graduation and completion rates – broken out by student type – and how the reality compares to the expectation for those students.

RealityCheck Can Help Shape the Strategic Planning Process

Let’s consider an institution that learns from its RealityCheck Report that its part-time, transfer-in students are graduating at rates lower than expected. Leadership then takes a deep dive into the unique needs of this student population. Then they might identify the supports currently offered to those students. Leadership can engage a variety of stakeholders to discuss:

  • What’s working and what isn’t?
  • Where are needs not being met?
  • What barriers exist to these students’ success and how can we eliminate them or minimize their impacts?
  • What resources/benefits do other students receive that these students don’t? If some student groups are exceeding expectations given the institution and student characteristics, there may be lessons learned internally which could apply to other groups of students.

As a result of these discussions focused on specific problems of particular student groups, institutions can make better decisions about how to direct their strategic planning efforts and resources more effectively. Thus, “Improve graduation rates” remains an institutional priority on the strategic plan. But now the action steps which follow can be better specified, given the results of the institution’s RealityCheck Report. Achieving the institution’s strategic goals largely depends on directing the right resources to the right students.

Want to Know More?

Find out more about RealityCheck by contacting IEHE. Learn how you can:

  • Use your RealityCheck Report to understand what you’re getting right, and where you have room for improvement.
  • Focus your institution’s limited resources on students who can benefit most from the support.
  • Show others the evidence that your team is making a difference in student success.
  • Better tell your institution’s student success story.

The Institute for Effectiveness in Higher Education (IEHE) innovates and improves higher education standards through our strategic research, publicly available resources, and partnerships with colleges and universities. We provide extensive expertise on data strategy, IPEDS, institutional research and student success to drive institutional effectiveness.