Strategic Planning Committee 2015-2016

Our Proposed Mission: Dickinson College provides undergraduates with a useful education in the liberal arts and sciences. Rooted in a dynamic academic curriculum and sustained by an inclusive community of inquiry, a Dickinson education prepares students for lives of engaged citizenship and service.

I. Preamble

Chartered just days after the conclusion of the American Revolution in 1783, Dickinson was established to educate leaders for the newly emerging democracy. Our founders saw education in the liberal arts and sciences as essential preparation for citizenship. This expectation continues to inspire the college. We educate Dickinson students to engage the world through critical and creative thought, civil and respectful discourse, and service to the greater good.

In this time of leadership transition, this report acknowledges our strengths and suggests strategic directions. Informed by our history and responsive to our current environment, this report reaffirms our strong position among liberal arts colleges, our continued commitment to enhancing the Dickinson experience, and our determination to set an ambitious direction for the college.

II. The Environment – Challenges and Opportunities

The external environment when we were founded on the edge of the nation's frontier was complex and uncertain. The same can be said of the environment today. The recent instability of the economy, the rise of student debt, rivalry for private support (which also has become more directed to restricted purposes), increased governmental intervention, technological change, and demographic shifts have contributed to an increasingly competitive marketplace and intensified expectations for outcomes of a college education. Dickinson is not immune to the pressures this environment exerts. We must be cognizant of these trends and realities if we hope to thrive as an institution.

The challenges of the recent recession and uncertain economy have led to stagnant family income growth. Coupled with rising tuition costs, this trend has made attending college, especially private colleges and universities, a less affordable option for high school seniors. Reduced governmental support for education and predatory lending practices have doubled the burden of student debt over the past decade alone. Dickinson continues its commitment to generous financial aid packages to insure access and that our students graduate with as little debt as possible.

Demographic shifts are changing the college-bound population of students in the US. In the coming years, we will continue to see increasing numbers of first-generation students and domestic students of color seeking a college education. Additionally, more international students than ever before are coming to the US for higher education. These demographic changes provide an opportunity for Dickinson to widen the applicant pool and diversify the student body. It is also important for the college to make necessary changes that enable all students to feel they belong and are an integral part of our campus community.

The challenges to attract and enroll potential Dickinson students is increasing. Colleges and universities are proliferating new programs, building new facilities and renovating outdated ones, and increasing discount rates. And, recently, there has been extensive public critique of liberal arts colleges in particular. Given the complexity of these challenges, Dickinson must continue to articulate our core conviction that our liberal arts education prepares our students exceptionally well for the future.

III. Dickinson Today

Dickinson offers a stellar educational experience. The bedrocks of our community of inquiry are the teacher-scholar model and close student-faculty interactions in the pursuit of knowledge. These connections are fostered by small classes, innovative pedagogy, and extensive student-faculty research programs in which students are true collaborators. Students also participate in the broader academic community by attending and presenting at conferences, workshops, and artistic performances, as well as by designing and participating in community-based research.

A flexible and expansive curriculum along with small class sizes allow us to blend established disciplines, innovative methods, and emerging fields of learning and inquiry. Students benefit from a first-class library and the thoughtful use of information technology to explore new avenues of academic inquiry.

We are renowned for our range of inter- and transdisciplinary majors and courses and for the national visibility of our global education and sustainability programs. Dickinson remains committed to providing a useful education - one that requires each of us to be active and engaged in the learning process.

We commit resources and provide support so that faculty, students, and staff can apply their learning, engage with others, and apply their knowledge to issues on campus and in the wider world. We believe that our approach to the liberal arts and sciences best prepares students for the increasing complexity and interconnectedness of our world. Through these and other activities, we seek to foster critical thinking, creativity, and civil discourse among Dickinsonians.

A layered, intentional system supports students as they reach for new goals and push the boundaries of their knowledge. Research tells us that students who find their "community" and who are connected to campus resources and caring adult mentors are retained at higher rates and are more successful in college. In fact, entering and belonging to the community are two of the most critical tasks for first-year college students. Our system of support creates multiple opportunities for connections with peers, faculty members, advisors, and mentors -- all with the goal of creating the essential conditions to foster and support student learning. This academic year the College Deans have been working to articulate further the four-year Dickinson experience. The result is an emerging proposal for a "Dickinson Four." The intent is to create a roadmap that helps students focus on important academic milestones and engage in activities that build skills that will prepare them for life after Dickinson.

We believe no college can achieve its academic and social goals without reflecting the richness of diverse peoples, voices, experiences, and ideas in the United States and the world. The college has long been intentional and proactive in our commitment to diversity and inclusion. More than a decade ago, led by a group of dedicated faculty, Dickinson revised the curriculum to this end. We included courses that explore the ways in which lived experiences as members of dominant and marginalized groups both enrich and complicate our lives, with emphasis on our obligations to one another. This curriculum allowed us to alert students, faculty and staff to the value of cultures and opinions all-too-often absent from academic study. As a result, we have increased the diversity of our students, faculty, and curriculum. However, numbers alone are not enough to ensure that everyone enjoy full citizenship.

Supporting this vibrant educational experience requires ample financial resources. We acknowledge the prudent fiscal management and operational efficiency that has sustained Dickinson in recent years. To date, we have managed our funds responsibly and optimized the value we can provide. Operating from a position of strength, we are prepared to implement programs that increase affiliation of students, faculty, staff, parents and alumni, resulting in increased support for the college.

For more than 200 years, Dickinson has provided a quality education. We affirm the good work of the college and dimensions of our educational program that are integral to our mission. During this time of leadership transition, we intend to raise the college to even higher levels of excellence as we prepare our students to seek solutions to the unscripted problems that they will face in an ever-changing world.

IV. Inquiry, Inclusion, and Engagement

Throughout the 2015-16 academic year, we have reflected on the many conversations, comments, and contributions we received from the community concerning our strategic direction. Three themes have emerged to inform our immediate strategic direction: Inquiry, Inclusion and Engagement.

Inquiry means the pursuit of a useful education, one that teaches critical thinking, fosters openness to new ideas based on evidence, encourages thoughtful and reflective approaches to today's challenges, and prepares students to be lifelong learners. Our community of inquiry encompasses all aspects of our campus including decision-making and operations.

Inclusion means full citizenship, in principle and practice, for all members of the community, each of whom brings a unique voice to Dickinson. Our definition of inclusion requires that we challenge traditional and emergent dynamics that shape and limit experiences on campus, in the United States, and in the world. Inclusion necessitates going beyond metrics of representational diversity to create an environment where everyone is empowered to ask questions, contribute ideas, challenge institutional assumptions and paradigms, and revise viewpoints.

Engagement means connection with and contribution to community. Dickinson educates students to act collaboratively in intellectual, civic, and social enterprises. This begins in and outside of the classroom, extends across the Carlisle community and to our centers abroad, and reaches the many communities in which our graduates live and work. Engagement also fosters continual connection of our alumni to the Dickinson community through support for students' career development, recruitment initiatives, fundraising, and long-term affinity for the college.

V. Our Goals

The following strategic goals reflect the community's priorities and allow us to move forward during this time of leadership transition. Each of these support our mission while also connecting to and cutting across the guiding principles of Inquiry, Inclusion and Engagement.

  • The substantive scholarship, innovative teaching, and visibility of our faculty strengthens the college. We must enhance supports for both dimensions of the teacher-scholar model.
    • Increase the kinds and total support for faculty research/creative performance and development. Initiatives may include fully-funded, full-year sabbaticals; expanded reassigned time opportunities; and fora for collaboration and shared research.
    • In parallel, deepen support for innovative and effective pedagogy. Particularly, explore the opportunities that a dedicated Center for Teaching & Learning would provide for faculty beyond the array of current development opportunities.
    • Continue to grow the size of the faculty to provide stability for departments, enhance current programs, and address concerns related to faculty workload.
  • Dickinson has developed a distinctive approach to the liberal arts and sciences. Hallmarks include global education, sustainability, interdisciplinarity and active learning. While we need to maintain our leadership position in these areas, we also recognize that this is also the moment to build on our other strengths. 
    • Complete new strategic plans for both global education and sustainability. A priority must be to connect each to the other and identify significant connections to other distinctive elements of our academic program.
    • Dickinson has a healthy and vibrant presence in the arts and humanities. Increasing support will further enhance these programs, bring them greater visibility, and benefit the college as a whole.
    • Continue our effort to enhance civic engagement, and to integrate civic engagement into the educational experience.
  • The demand for Dickinson has been consistently strong as evidenced by the high numbers of both applicants and enrolled students. At this moment it is critical that we are both intentional and bold in our communication, recruitment, and outreach efforts.
    • Expand our geographic reach to ensure increasing numbers of interested prospective students. Commit to opening up 3 to 5 new geographic recruitment territories in the next few years.
    • Determine appropriate recruitment goals for economic and social class, domestic students of color, and international students to build a campus community that more accurately reflects our society at large and our commitment to diverse and global perspectives. Simultaneously, we must keep in mind the limits of our available resources for effectively recruiting, funding and supporting our students.
  • Dickinson has made great progress toward building a community that connects with, seeks to understand, and celebrates the diversity represented by our students, faculty and staff. We are well-positioned to expand our commitment to diversity by challenging traditional power dynamics in all of their forms -- social, cultural, economic, and intellectual – so that everyone at Dickinson is able to participate fully in the life of our college and thrive. 
    • Identify and work to remedy existing inequities on campus that inhibit learning, marginalize groups or individuals or prevent full participation in campus culture thereby ensuring full citizenship of all members of the community.
    • Strengthen the supportive structure for faculty, staff and students to create a more inclusive community. This includes a range of activities from formal programs on diversity to informal opportunities for discourse and sustained dialogue.
  • Our investments to build inspirational physical spaces, such as Rector and the Kline Fitness Center, underscore the value we place on the intersection of intellectual and social activity. As we build new and renovate existing facilities, we must continue to prioritize the creation of spaces that encourage respectful and lively interactions among all members of the community.
    • The Holland Union Building and Allison Hall are the two spaces that speak most directly to our goal of meaningful interaction of students and the Dickinson community as a whole. Renovation of these areas is our top priority.
    • Dickinson takes pride in its beautiful and historic campus where students live and learn. Spaces such as residence halls and academic buildings require on-going care even when not part of a major renovation project. Attention to our continued maintenance remains critical for us to provide a safe and welcoming experience.
    • Confirm our efforts to become a sustainable campus including achievement of our goals under the Presidents' Climate Commitment.
  • Over the past two years, we have implemented an effective layered support initiative for first-year students. Now is the right time to build on this success and develop a coherent approach for students that spans all four years. The “Dickinson Four,” currently under development by the College Deans, offers a potential model of extending tiered support.
  • Careful and thoughtful management of our resources has brought the college to a position of financial stability. Both to accomplish the important goals set out above and to meet the environmental challenges identified earlier, however, we must significantly increase our financial resources.
    • Bolster alumni, student, faculty, administration, and staff affinity with the college in order to build a stronger culture of philanthropy.
    • Create a more robust and targeted fundraising operation. As soon as feasible, launch a comprehensive campaign that achieves immediate goals and also creates a structure for long-term fundraising.
    • Fundraising for financial aid must be a high priority, both because it enables recruitment of the strongest and most diverse class possible and because it provides flexibility for the entire college budget by reducing our dependence on tuition.

Achieving the goals proposed in this report cannot be taken for granted. They impose an obligation of accountability upon us. To meet this obligation, appropriate committees and divisions will establish specific key performance indicators (KPIs) that are achievable and reflect these strategic priorities and goals. 

Appendix. 2015-2016 Strategic Planning Committee


Stefanie Niles, Vice President for Enrollment, Marketing & Communications
Helen Takacs, Associate Professor of International Business and Management 


Suman Ambwani, Associate Professor of Psychology
Ethan Andrews, Class of 2016
Brenda Bretz, Senior Associate Provost of Academic Affairs
Meridith Brozik, Executive Secretary in Library & Information Services
Brontè Burleigh-Jones, Vice President for Finance and Administration
Joyce Bylander, Vice President and Dean of Student Life
Natalie Ferris, Class of 2018
Isaiah Gibson, Class of 2017
Jessica Jones, Assistant Vice President of Relationship & Research Management
Marcus Key, Joseph Priestley Professor of Natural Philosophy
James McMenamin, Assistant Professor of Italian
Brett Pearson, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy
Jerry Philogene, Associate Professor of American Studies
Claire Seiler, Assistant Professor of English
Sarah Skaggs, Associate Professor of Dance and Director of Dance
Mike Reed, Vice President for Institutional Initiatives
Robert Renaud, Vice President and Chief Information Officer
Tim Richwine, Mechanical Lead in Facilities Management
Stephen Weinberger, Robert Coleman Professor of History
Neil Weissman, Provost and Dean of the Faculty, Professor of History

Committee Support:

Ashley Perzyna, Assistant Chief of Staff in the Office of the President