The Methodology for Strategic Planning
Higher education, particularly public higher education, faces opportunities and challenges unlike any other industry. In light of these realities, the Radford University Strategic Planning Task Force and working subgroups considered several significant points regarding the context of contemporary American higher education. First, students today are not the same as students during previous generations, so we must adapt to these new learners. The demographics of our student population are more diverse and represent a broader variety of backgrounds. Students learn using different techniques and personal preferences, especially via technology. Second, in light of the rapid changes in all aspects of our culture, we must adapt to the speed at which society is moving. Third, as a result of the greater financial burden on public agencies at the national, state and local levels, it is unrealistic to expect a return to greater levels of state financial support in the future. Therefore, we must adapt to the changing funding model for higher education.
Public institutions must not only survive in today’s environment but also must be able to adapt, be creative and be innovative. The immediate surrounding locale of the New River Valley, the statewide environment of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the national and global settings all require that Radford University pursue new opportunities and niche markets and respond to societal needs.
During his inaugural message, President Brian O. Hemphill, Ph.D. proclaimed that “We must engage the Radford family in its totality in planning and executing a bold and innovative agenda that positions us for the future.” Since the beginning of his presidency, President Hemphill has focused his efforts on key themes of academic excellence and research; brand identity; economic development and community partnerships; philanthropic giving and alumni engagement; student success; and strategic enrollment growth. The university’s new strategic plan directly supports these areas.
Radford University’s previous strategic plan covered the 10-year period from 2007 to 2017. In order to sustain existing institutional objectives and develop new priorities, a Strategic Planning Task Force was assembled during fall 2016 with the end goal of launching a new strategic plan in January 2018.
The Mission, Vision and Core Values subgroup and the Challenges and Opportunities subgroup immediately began their work, which would substantially inform the work of the other subgroups. The subgroups held campus-wide open forums on November 30, 2016, and December 1, 2016. The subgroups also solicited additional input online. The Task Force accepted the report from the Mission, Vision and Core Values subgroup on February 21, 2017, and the report from the Challenges and Opportunities subgroup on March 16, 2017. Both documents were widely distributed among all subgroups in order to better inform their work. The work of these two subgroups, even before final acceptance of their reports, substantially informed the work of the other subgroups and was an integral step in the overall strategic planning process.
The Task Force was led by Co-Chairs and included 29 members serving as representatives from students, teaching and research faculty, administrative and professional faculty and classified staff and administration, alumni/community and at-large constituents. Dr. Jack Call, Professor of Criminal Justice and Criminal Justice Internship Coordinator, and Dr. Kenna Colley, Interim Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and former Dean of the College of Education and Human Development, served as the Co-Chairs. Nine subgroups were created to align with the six key themes in addition to related development on the institutional mission, vision and core values, identifying unique challenges and opportunities and preparing a supporting budget for the approved strategic initiatives.
Each subgroup was co-chaired by a member of the Task Force and two outside members representing administration and faculty. The subgroups were comprised of 10 to 20 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who possessed a strong interest or expertise in the subgroup’s area of emphasis. In total, approximately 180 students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members were directly engaged in the strategic planning process. Ashley Schumaker, Chief of Staff for President Hemphill, played an integral role by working alongside the Task Force Co-Chairs for much-needed input, guidance and assistance throughout the entire process.
The work of the Task Force and subgroups extended through the 2016-17 academic/fiscal year and into the fall of 2017. The Task Force met monthly to continue its progress until implementation of the final strategic plan in January 2018. Subgroups met weekly or bi-weekly during late fall 2016 and throughout spring 2017. As each subgroup prepared its recommendations, they presented them to the Task Force to open communication and obtain broader feedback. President Hemphill met individually with the subgroups to monitor progress and provide guidance. In mid-spring, the Board of Visitors received an update on the work of the strategic planning process. By late spring 2017, the subgroups submitted their final recommendations.
At the beginning of the summer, the Task Force reviewed and accepted the entire collection of recommendations in order for a writing team to begin work on a preliminary draft of the strategic plan. Writing continued over the summer until a draft plan was presented to the Board of Visitors for review in early fall 2017. Based on feedback from the Board of Visitors, the final draft was presented and approved on December 8, 2017, and the mission was submitted to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV).
Identification of Goals and Strategies
Development of the institutional goals and strategies took several stages: data collection, analysis, selection and consensus. Each subgroup collected data from a variety of internal and external sources and benchmarked them against peer institutions both in and out of state. Prior work on major planning efforts was also considered based on the university’s previous 7-17 Strategic Plan, the Budget Planning Summit and the Futures Group.
The subgroups analyzed relevant snapshot and trend data by inventorying current processes, resources and performances in comparison to external measures. Standard planning activities, such as gap analysis, environmental scan, market factors and SWOT analysis, were conducted to identify what the university is doing now, where the institution should go and what is needed to accomplish its desired new goals.
New goals and strategies were selected in light of the data analysis to not only address the subgroup themes but also to boost enrollment, reach new markets and increase revenues. To ensure consistency in the process and allow for objective review of proposed goals and strategies, each subgroup entered specific information into a common planning template. The template includes accountability measures of key performance indicators, targets, timelines for completion of strategies and responsible personnel. A recommended budget/business plan was also submitted to identify what additional resources would be necessary to carry out the recommended goals and strategies.
Upon submission of all subgroup templates, the entire Task Force divided into smaller review teams. These review teams comprised Task Force members from subgroups other than the templates they were reviewing. Review teams decided whether to accept goals and strategies without revision, to accept them with revisions or clarification or to capture them in a narrative. The review teams summarized their decisions and discussed them with the full Task Force to generate group consensus.
Based on the Task Force’s collective agreement on which goals and strategies should be adopted, a writing team of five faculty and staff converted the approved planning templates into the summarized plan that is presented within the pages of this document. The writing team did not substantively change any recommendations; however, it worked closely with the subgroup chairs as necessary to fully understand and clarify language contained within the recommended goals and strategies. The writing process occurred within the framework of the Task Force.
Transparency and Accountability
The planning process has been transparent in order for all members of the campus community and the general public to remain informed of the Task Force’s progress. A publicly accessible website was created early in the process, providing general information about the membership of the Task Force, scheduled meetings, rosters and reports of each subgroup, relevant planning resources and contact information. Several subgroups collaborated to sponsor multiple public meetings. Five campus forums and one community forum off campus were held to gather input from the broader local constituency. Several of the subgroups collaborated to develop a single university-wide survey and an email questionnaire. Students, faculty, staff, administrators and board members were provided updates on the status of the strategic planning activities through information provided in various settings, including scheduled meetings and open forums.