Consultants' Notes, September 2017

Consultants’ Notes and Reflections
Campus Visit September 2017

Strategic Planning Puget Sound September 2017 - Launch Presentation

The Strategic Planning Steering Committee (SPSC) met for the first time the morning of September 5. During the course of the three-hour meeting, those present identified several strengths. These included: (1) the strong connections between students and faculty, (2) the sense of opportunity connoted by the university’s location in the Pacific Northwest, (3) an emphasis on experiential learning, internships, and educational potential of Tacoma, (4) a strong alumni network that could assist in leveraging employment and learning opportunities, (5) a beautiful residential campus, (6) a faculty committed to teaching and to building strong connections with students, and (7) an institutional commitment to the value of a liberal education for all students (even at a time when public trust in institutions of higher education is declining and the public’s appreciation of the value of a liberal education is in question).

Questions for further reflection: 

  • Are these strengths distinctive, or special enough to give Puget Sound a competitive advantage in its primary academic mission to provide an outstanding liberal education for traditionally aged students seeking a residential, small college experience?
  • In alignment with and support of the primary academic mission, can these same strengths be manifested even more clearly in the university’s undergraduate and graduate programs that are more professional or pre-professional in character? 
  • Apart from demographic changes noted in the SPSC meeting, and apart from the competition from large universities marketing a small “college within a college” experience, what is the long-term prognosis for the financial health of the institution, given its undergraduate applicant acceptance rate, yield rate, and retention rate?
  • If a new and effective delivery system (e.g. an “”) “disrupts” the marketplace at some point in the next decade, will the university be able to sustain itself? 

In summary, the group identified several powerful social, demographic, financial, and educational forces impacting the university. The challenge becomes, developing the optimal adaptive strategic response the university can make as it plans for the forthcoming ten years. 

The SPSC engaged in two fruitful exercises. The first was to imagine the ideal 21st century liberal arts institution of higher education. What would be its vision and mission? How would it be distinctive? The second was to generate a well-focused statement describing the aspirational ideal future for Puget Sound. The work product of these exercises was collected, and we will prepare a qualitative analysis of all vision statements received to date.

During the September 2017 campus visit we consultants had the good fortune to meet with the

  • Faculty of the university,
  • Leadership of ASUPS
  • Executive Committee of the Staff Senate,
  • Enrollment Leadership Team,
  • Academic Leadership Team,
  • Student Affairs Leadership Team,
  • Finance and Administration Leadership Team,
  • University Relationship Leadership Team,
  • Graduate Program Directors,
  • Director of Institutional Research and Retention, and
  • Chief Diversity Officer and Dean of Diversity and Inclusion

After a briefing on the strategic planning process, we either engaged the group in an exercise related to articulating a strategic vision for the university or we engaged the group in a discussion of topics we believed would be of concern to the group. In the case of individuals, the conversation focused on their institutional responsibilities.

The first Strategic Planning Community Conversation, open to all members of the university community, was held in the afternoon of Wednesday, Sept. 6. After briefing those in attendance concerning the process and timing of the strategic planning process, we consultants shared our initial impressions, gathered from the individual conversations and group meetings that had occurred prior to this community event.  

It is our initial impression that the university is perceived as a place of great opportunity, high academic quality, and strong and welcoming communities; that the students highly value the personal attention which faculty and staff provide; and that the university’s location, in Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest, is perceived as an attractive and high-potential educational asset.  

We asked those attending the Community Conversation to consider the alignment among the way the university presents itself, the expectations students have, and what the students actually experience. Some expressed that the alignment could be stronger.

Final note: Over the three days of the September visit, we heard some concerns about a disconnect between how the university describes its commitment to diversity and inclusion vs. the extent to which its goals in this area have so far been realized. We heard concerns that the university could do more to take advantage of opportunities to market, to celebrate, and to capitalize on the high levels of student involvement in career-related internships, and the interest of students in the university’s social sciences, natural sciences, pre-professional, and professional programs in particular.


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