The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s (MSCHE’s) Standard 2 declares:
The institution conducts ongoing planning and resource allocation based on its mission and goals, develops objectives to achieve them, and utilizes the results of its assessment activities for institutional renewal. Implementation and subsequent evaluation of the success of the strategic plan and resource allocation support the development and change necessary to improve and to maintain institutional quality.
Standard 2 is an important standard. Compliance assures that a college or university pursues its activities in a deliberate fashion consistent with its mission, evaluates its contributions toward its strategic goals, and puts itself in a position where it can innovate and continually improve. Absent Standard 2, institutions would run the risk of operating in an overly ad hoc and reactive fashion, missing opportunities, failing to address challenges, and inefficiently utilizing their resources, all to the detriment of their students.
When evaluating a College’s position with respect to Standard 2, the outcomes of Periodic Review Reports (PRRs) submitted to MSCHE provide a good starting point for framing analytical questions concerning Standard 2. Useful questions include:
- Does the institution have a comprehensive multi-year strategic plan?
- Are measureable objectives tied to each strategic goal?
- Has the institution specified the major assumptions on which the strategic plan is based and are those assumptions reasonable?
- Are budgeting and assessment activities linked to the strategic plan?
- Can the college document the use of assessment results in refining its strategic plan or adjusting budget allocations?
- Is the college’s enrollment management plan consistent with its strategic plan?
- Are the college’s faculty and/or staffing plans consistent with the strategic plan and budget allocations?
- Has the strategic plan been integrated into all functional academic and administrative units?
- Are related planning activities regularly and clearly communicated with faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni?
- Do planning-related decisions involve faculty, administrators, staff, students, and alumni?
- Can the institution document progress toward each strategic goal/objective and specify budget allocations for each strategic goal/objective?
A review of research questions and MSCHE submissions from other institutions can augment those basic questions. Some additional questions that can be useful include:
- How does the college do strategic planning?
- How are institutional and academic planning linked?
- How do reviews of academic programs and information about the institutional environment contribute to planning?
- How are strategic planning and institutional assessment linked?
- Is every strategic goal/objective linked to shorter-term objectives, metrics by which they would be evaluated, and strategies for their achievement?
- How have institutional planning activities changed over the past 5 years (timeframe between the decennial review and the PRR) and why?
- What issues should the college be planning for?
A useful analytical framework for addressing the above questions is an action plan document that contains among the following information: strategic objective, strategy to pursue that objective, person/area of responsibility, technology/equipment/facilities needed, budget requests (current fiscal year + 3 succeeding years, which is consistent with the PRR’s financial information requirements), and the status or outcome. These documents make it easy to document the status of progress toward the institution’s strategic goals and objectives, determine related budget allocations, project future funding needs, and examine differences between expectations and outcomes. In turn, this documentation facilitates informed adjustments or revisions to an institution’s strategic goals and/or objectives reducing the risk that an unsustainable gap develops between the environment in which it operates and the strategic approach it is pursuing.