Strategic Plan Executive Summary
Strategic Plan III
Reaffirming Our Mission in Challenging Times
We believe that our distinctive version of a useful residential, undergraduate education in the liberal arts is the college’s best response to current and future challenges. These challenges are very real. SP III is structured around a series of major concerns that we, with many other peer institutions, face. They include:
- Intense competition in the arena of enrollment, especially among our new peer group,
- A pressing need to enhance the residential experience at the college,
- The absolute requirement to address shortcomings in our facilities in key areas,
- An imperative to build stronger connections and mutual support with our alumni, and
- The need to extend the past decade’s progress in providing the college a more adequate financial base required to achieve our aspirations.
SP III outlines the distinctive ways in which Dickinson will address these challenges. Like our earlier plans, SP III outlines broad goals and objectives, with detailed implementation schemes to follow. Some projects, such as individual facility improvements, can be achieved in a relatively short, defined time frame. Others, such as cultural change in student life or alumni philanthropy, are long-term ventures. Yet even here, we can make an important start.
Enrollment Management: SP III recognizes that there are currently formidable challenges to achieving our goals in this arena. The proportion of high-school-age students in Dickinson’s traditional primary pool (the Northeast) is declining. Moreover, the population of students of color—who have not historically been adequately represented in the college’s recruitment pool—is rising. Current economic instability has diminished both the real and perceived ability of families to afford a private college education. And Dickinson has entered a new peer group of colleges with considerable wealth that many seem willing to deploy in an “arms race” to recruit desired prospective students.
Therefore, we must sustain and strengthen selectivity by increasing the quality of applicants and by improving the college’s yield rate. Dickinson needs to strengthen its position as a first-choice college.A key element in this effort will be reshaping our geographic and demographic reach according to national and international shifts in prospective student pools. We need to optimize the relationships among students’ actual and perceived financial needs, the college’s financial resources and macro-economic trends. This means defining a discount rate target that is competitive in recruiting and realistic in regard to our resources, especially as we anticipate greater socioeconomic diversity. Funding our educational program while simultaneously providing access to families with greater demonstrated need will be a major challenge for the coming decade. One critically important avenue for us to follow—already well traveled by virtually all of our peer and aspirant schools—is fundraising for financial aid.
Facilities: In the next five years we must redress deficiencies that interfere with our academic and residential programs and that cripple our ability to achieve our recruitment goals. Facilities improvement is not a frill or an option; rather it is an essential step to ensure the financial strength of the college by making the case that the experience is worth the price.
SP III proposes an investment of $35 million in facilities projects over the next few years. We aim to address pressing campus needs, move the college incrementally toward the larger vision articulated in the Campus Master Plan and remove obstacles to improving our admissions and retention performance. Projects will be chosen from: (1) science facilities to reunite the biology department, remediate deficiencies and continue toward a full “science campus,” (2) initial renovation of the Holland Union Building to reconfigure the cafeteria and provide a central gathering space for the campus, (3) a phased plan to address inadequacies in our athletic facilities—steps such as an expanded fitness center, squash courts, varsity sports arena, field house with indoor track and completion of Biddle Field facilities; (4) progress on a comprehensive plan to improve residences, particularly through construction of a new facility (to relieve overcrowding and return students from off-campus for the full residential experience), improving the Quads and targeted modernization of areas most deficient regarding deferred maintenance and programmatic obsolescence. Sustainability must remain a key criterion in operations to meet our institutional values and goals, including our commitment to reach zero net emissions of greenhouse gases and climate neutrality by 2020.
Resources: Over the last ten years Dickinson has out-performed peers relative to our modest resources, chiefly through the efforts of the people who make up our community. SP III focuses on the need to sustain that high level of human contribution by providing a challenging, rewarding work environment for faculty, administrators and staff. Additional areas of high performance that must continue are operational efficiency and financial management. The latter includes careful management of our credit rating, wise deployment of our reserves and balancing our operating budget.
While acknowledging the importance of human contribution and strong financial management, SP III asserts an additional truth. Reaching our goals to enhance the Dickinson experience and to maintain our position among a new peer group requires building wealth. Endowment size and deeply rooted cultures of philanthropy drive institutions’ prestige. We need to translate the momentum of our current capital campaign into the permanent, pervasive culture of giving that characterizes the best colleges. As we move forward in building a 21st-century alumni relations program we must be sure that it is appropriately integrated with our fund raising activities. At the same time we will proceed to plan another fund raising initiative, defined in the year ahead with counsel and support from the board of trustees. The priorities for this effort will grow naturally from SP III.