Given the environmental pressures faced by universities across the country, but most especially by regional universities such as ours (a challenging demographic shift; decreased state funding; pressure to keep college affordable; questions about the relevance of a college degree, especially one in the liberal arts and humanities; and increased external scrutiny and calls for accountability, among other things) it is imperative that we as a college think carefully and creatively about both how we operate and about what we aspire to be. Beyond these external forces, however, strategic planning offers CASL an opportunity to engage in a productive and empowering re-imagination of the college and its future direction. Through the strategic planning process we have come to know ourselves better and to appreciate both what we do well and to see what we could do even better.
With this understanding in hand, CASL is positioned, through its strategic plan, to better tell our story in ways that are both meaningful to our community and understandable to those outside of the college, and to engage in creative collective planning to foster enrollment growth, and to enhance the vitality of our scholarly endeavors.
CASL launched its Strategic Planning initiative in the Summer of 2014. Initial steps centered on a team of CASL faculty, staff, and students working with facilitators (paid for by donations from the Dean’s Advisory Board) from the Kardia Group to collect data and to chart a pathway for an internally driven and authentic strategic planning conversation for the college. To build awareness of, and support for, the need for strategic planning and to ensure that the strategic planning document crafted reflected the collective values of the CASL community, this team worked diligently throughout the Fall 2014 and Winter 2015 academic terms to engage all elements of the CASL community through community building activities, surveys, strategic planning forums, attendance at department meetings, social media discussions, mission statement feedback, student feedback, and informal coffee dialog sessions (to name but a few of the many tactics employed). This information, in turn, gave rise to a list of five areas of focus for the college. A preliminary completion date for the strategic planning process was also then set for the end of 2015.
To flesh out the initial five areas of focus and identify key questions related to these areas to bring back to various CASL constituencies, new focus area specific working groups were established with invitations sent to the CASL community for additional volunteers to join in the clarifying work. Over the course of the Winter 2015/Summer 2015 academic terms this group engaged in their work. Once the separate groups reconvened in September of 2015, it became immediately obvious to all that the five focus areas needed further refinement and that at least one key area of concern was not fully captured within the existing categories. Accordingly, the overall team engaged in a further round of dialog and feedback collection with the CASL community.
Out of this feedback, in the late Fall of 2015, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee determined that a refined list of strategic priorities (now numbering four) along with some specific initiatives related to promoting these priorities was emerging from our conversations. The new priorities were shared with the college in January 2016 and a new timetable established to complete the work on the strategic plan set for December 2016.
During the Fall 2016 academic term a small Implementation Group convened to identify specific objectives tied to the strategic priorities as well measures of success, a timeline for implementation, and champions to move the objectives forward. The document offered represents the end product of much faculty, staff, student, and alumnae/alumni work to refine these priorities and to reflect what we heard from all of you.
The document is being offered for formal endorsement by the college through its Executive Committee. Once endorsed a formal implementation team will be established to help move the plan forward and to evaluate progress on an annual basis.
Student learning is central to our mission. At the core of student learning is the ability to ask important questions, acquire the knowledge necessary to answer those questions, and evaluate and apply that knowledge to develop answers. Students who master these skills will succeed in the classroom and in life. In CASL, we believe that these skills emerge from broad exposure to a range of distinct disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving and analysis, from exposure to path breaking faculty research, from the adaptation of high impact pedagogical practices, and from the transferrable skills inherent in liberal arts based education.
Initiative 1A: Improve Student Success
- Increase accessibility and effectiveness of academic advising.
- Increase faculty mentoring in order to enhance students’ learning experience, both curricular and co-curricular.
- Offer more flexibility with course scheduling, such as weekend, night, remote courses, in order to meet the needs of all students and to maximize space utilization.
- Develop new or revamp existing degree programs that can be completed by a combination of online, hybrid, evening, or weekend classes.
Initiative 1B: Employ High-Impact Educational Practices (HIP)
- Create and grow Study Away/Abroad courses and programs.
- Re-invigorate internships, paid and unpaid, through a coordinated structure to increase student and employer participation.
- Expand and support research opportunities for students and student-faculty collaborations.
Initiative 1C: Optimize use of CASL Resources and Technology
- Improve learning environments and academic support offices to promote student learning/success.
- Promote student interactions and build community through improvement of indoor and outdoor common areas.
The underlying framework for the excellence that CASL offers its students is the college’s talented faculty. This cadre of engaged teacher/scholars inspires our students through innovative pedagogy and by exposing them to leading edge research/scholarship not only in the classroom but also through public talks and mentored research opportunities. Ensuring that CASL faculty thus have the time and resources necessary to continue this tradition of excellence is a top priority for the college and a necessary prerequisite for student learning, student success, and enrollment growth.
Initiative 2A: Increase and Strengthen Support for Faculty Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activities
- Increase funding for research support.
- Leverage Office of Sponsored Research to identify external grant/funding opportunities applicable to CASL faculty.
- Increase communication and awareness of research and other scholarly activities.
Initiative 2B: Broaden Engaged Community-Based Research and Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration
- Foster interdisciplinary and community-based research.
- Develop ways to recognize interdisciplinary and community-based research in annual merit cycle.
- Dedicate CASL staff to support roles to free faculty from administrative work.
Initiative 2C: Support and Facilitate Excellence in Faculty Teaching and Pedagogy
- Create mechanisms to foster innovative teaching.
- Increase communication and awareness of innovation and exemplary teaching activities.
Enrollment growth is a longstanding goal for the University of Michigan-Dearborn and will continue to be an important priority for the campus for the foreseeable future. For CASL, enrollment growth serves a number of critical purposes. Most immediately, enrollment growth increases revenue for the college, revenue that, in turn, can be invested to promote the college’s other strategic goals. More importantly, however, enrollment growth will promote greater accessibility to the university, will enhance the diversity and inclusivity of our campus, and will ensure that more students than ever, even those enrolling in other colleges, will be exposed to the many benefits/advantages of a broad-based CASL education. To ensure ongoing accessibility to CASL and the best possible student experience and successful outcomes, the college is also committed to expanding scholarship opportunities and financial support for its students.
Initiative 3A: Grow FTIAC Enrollment
- Communicate the value of a liberal arts degree.
- Show how CASL is creating visionaries, critical thinkers, and creative solutionaries.
- Create academic programs more in line with what students need/want/etc.
Initiative 3B: Grow Transfer Enrollment
- Create clear academic pathways for transfer students.
- Foster relationships with community colleges.
- Create transfer friendly mindset on campus.
Initiative 3C: Grow Graduate Enrollment
- Streamlining pathways from bachelors to masters degree at UM-Dearborn.
- Online degree programming for working professionals.
- Promoting job advancement through academic programs.
Initiative 3D: Retain CASL Students
- Foster better collaboration among faculty and advising.
- Promote learning centers, SI tutoring, office hours and other student services.
- Provide more opportunities for peer mentoring and student engagement.
Initiative 3E: Increase Scholarship Support for CASL Students to Further Accessibility
- Increase, on an annual basis, the amount of gift support for CASL specific student scholarships.
- Increase “Get to Graduation” Scholarship to assist students who have exhausted financial aid to complete degrees.
Embedded within Priority 1 is the principle that a firm foundation in the liberal arts and sciences is essential to student success. A related priority that will thus guide CASL’s actions in the coming years is to build a stronger sense of community and to engage in more outward facing dialog about the value of a CASL education. In the increasingly competitive world of higher education where universities battle for enrollments to ensure sustainability, where students battle with mounting financial and time demands, and where the general public battles with how to prepare to thrive in an increasingly uncertain future, we have seen an increasing tendency toward constraining intellectual growth, and a focus on immediately transferrable skills.
Unfortunately, this has led to a de-valuation of the liberal arts as frivolous superfluities. We reject this notion and contend that a liberal arts education is fundamental to enabling society and individuals to thrive intellectually, socially, and professionally. Indeed, as former Twitter CEO Dick Costello recently argued, the keys to success in today’s global technology driven world are: “creative synthesis, disciplined thinking and awareness beyond oneself—all of which can be attained through a liberal arts education.”
This reality is precisely why the University has included a strong foundation in the liberal arts and sciences as a critical element in the Dearborn Discovery Core. A CASL education matters to all and it enriches everything we do at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
Initiative 4A: Make Membership in the CASL Community Meaningful, Purposeful, and Rewarding for Students, Faculty, and Staff
- Create more regular CASL-focused on- and off-campus programming and activities.
- Facilitate engagement efforts of CASL Staff Engagement Committee.
- Foster opportunities for CASL faculty, staff, and students to come together.
- Encourage college-level activities to bridge disciplinary/departmental silos.
Initiative 4B: Highlight CASL’s Foundational Curricular Role within the Broader University
- Articulate and document CASL’s contribution to Dearborn Discovery Core.
- Make clear CASL’s role in supporting curricular needs of academic programs in other colleges.
Central to CASL’s ability to meet all of the preceding strategic priorities is the need for the college to operate more efficiently and intentionally. The college’s organizational and financial structures have served CASL well and enabled the college to grow and flourish. The new realities of higher education, however, along with the recent erosion of CASL enrollments, requires a re-examination of our current practices with an eye toward rationality and efficiency in the service of students, faculty, and the wider university community. Accordingly, the college views the enhancement of organizational efficiencies as a key prerequisite for the success of CASL’s strategic goals and for the college’s long-term health.
Initiative 5A: Align Human Resources and Organizational Structure with Strategic Priorities
- Enhance recruitment, development, and retention of a diverse, talented workforce in alignment with college and university strategic priorities.
- Identify training and career development opportunities for CASL staff.
- Allocate administrative support functions to respond effectively to new organizational needs in support of students and faculty.
- Align performance management goals around leadership development and core competencies.
Initiative 5B: Improve Systems, Physical Resources and Processes to Align with Strategic Priorities
- Enhance awareness of administrative and academic work flows and processes, optimizing technology.
- Partner with university to develop data dashboard to improve availability, accessibility, and consistency of data for administrative and academic decision-making.
Initiative 5C: Increase Financial Health of the College
- Increase awareness of university and college’s budget process.
- Leverage campus-wide resources.
- Provide resource allocation to fund CASL strategic priorities
- Increase training and development of staff to support all cycles of grant activity.
Jorge Gonzalez del Pozo