Strategic Plan III

Human and Financial Resources

Dickinson has completed a strikingly productive decade in regard to resources, recruiting talented and dedicated faculty and staff, organizing and operating in effective ways and growing the college’s financial base. For example, we will shortly successfully complete a $150 million capital campaign, Dickinson’s first full-scale effort of this type, despite the challenges posed by the current economic downturn. Nonetheless, both our programmatic aspirations and new peer competitive group make continued success in expanding Dickinson’s resource base an imperative. In regard to endowment particularly, the college’s limited history of fund raising leaves Dickinson in a vulnerable financial position, absolutely and comparatively. As a result, we must both create an environment that supports faculty and staff creativity/productivity and expand our financial resources. Put differently, over the last ten years Dickinson has out-performed its precariously modest wealth, chiefly through the efforts of the people who make up our community. We need to maintain that high level of human contribution while we simultaneously obtain significant additional resources. This latter goal will have to be achieved chiefly through garnering philanthropic support comparable to the generosity that has fueled other peer and aspirant colleges.

Strategic Goal A: Faculty “Sustainability.” Dickinson is blessed with a talented, dedicated faculty of teacher-scholars. Beyond meeting high standards for teaching and scholarship, they are distinguished by their flexibility and creativity. The former is reflected, for example, in their active participation in interdisciplinary programming; the latter is evident in their striking record of curricular and pedagogical innovation and research. The chief challenge for the future in regard to the faculty is sustainability—defined in this context as the challenge of providing the multifaceted supports that will sustain their exceptional level of performance and commitment to the college. 

Objective 1.  Salary and benefits must remain competitive. Dickinson needs to continue to strive to reach the 90th  percentile of AAUP salary data; at a minimum salary increases should match those of peer institutions. Faculty salary and benefit standards should be measured against these peers, separately from the determination of our administrative and staff salaries and benefits.

Objective 2.  The college should continue to support active scholarly and professional development. At a minimum, the current level of support—especially for travel to conferences, research and professional networking, which at Dickinson and other institutions has been identified by faculty as a top priority—must be maintained.

Objective 3.  Dickinson remains committed to small classes and direct faculty interaction with students as mentors and advisors. This requires sustaining the current 10:1 student-faculty ratio and the current five-course annual teaching load for faculty.

Objective 4.  Ideally, the college needs to carry forward plans to add faculty positions, as outlined in the capital campaign. Added positions are required to support department chairs, who currently receive no reassigned time for their service, and to sustain key curricular initiatives such as sustainability and security studies. Conversely, should reductions in the size of the faculty be required by financial circumstances, the college should look to reduce both use of adjunct faculty and the hiring of sabbatical replacements in preference to reducing the number of core, tenure-line positions.

Objective 5.  Faculty recruitment should reflect our goals for the academic program and for the overall student learning experience. The college places high priority on diversity as a consideration for faculty hiring and on recruitment of faculty who can contribute to all-college initiatives such as sustainability studies. Dickinson also strongly desires faculty who are open to interdisciplinary work.

Objective 6.  Perhaps most critically, the college needs to be attentive to pressures on faculty time. This has been a high priority in prior strategic plans, as reflected in our reduced course load (from six to five annually) and in the shortened sabbatical cycle (from seven years to six). No similarly dramatic improvements are likely in the near future. Nonetheless, SP III does call for expanded faculty activity, for example in the area of advising. The college must simultaneously find ways to ease pressure on the faculty. For example, we should seek efficiencies in committee service that provide more time without reducing faculty role in college decision-making.We also need to support faculty in developing innovative teaching techniques that are less, rather than more, time intensive. Our efforts should include careful study of faculty workload, looking to ensure equity. Finally, we need to sustain, and if possible expand, support for the faculty “life cycle.” For example, we need to expand the endowment for the Mellon and Sloan Foundation funded “provost’s discretionary” program to provide faculty with release time to attend to health and family responsibilities.

Strategic Goal B: Provide a challenging, rewarding work environment for administrators and support staff . Such an environment will foster the initiative, creativity, and dedication necessary to sustain Dickinson’s success through the current economic climate and for years to come. 

Objective 1.  Continue to offer a competitive compensation and benefits package that compares favorably to applicable local, regional and national markets.

Objective 2. Design an organizational framework that will result in even greater institutional efficiencies while maintaining a high-degree of quality service to all constituents. For example, create and maintain positive working relationships throughout the college to promote strong interpersonal connections and sharing of institutional knowledge by way of cross-divisional working groups.

Objective 3.  Be identified as a leading institution in the area of workplace wellness by offering best practice initiatives focused on preventative measures and disease management services that encourage healthy behaviors among members of the Dickinson community.

Objective 4.  Engage employees in the development and implementation of workplace solutions through various forums that encourage open dialogue and discussion of key challenges. Promote lifelong learning by providing a variety of leadership, professional and personal development initiatives to employees and  local communities.

Strategic Goal C: Ensure wise financial management necessary to support our very ambitious vision for the Dickinson educational experience and to compete with the leading national liberal-arts colleges on a permanent basis. 

Objective 1.  Credit Rating: In the current environment of limited credit, it is essential that Dickinson be able to access capital on the basis of its own financial strength and to borrow based on its own credit rating. At present, the minimum level of financial strength the college should maintain equates to an     S&P rating of “A” or better.

Objective 2.  The college’s endowment is far smaller than those of its aspirant institutions. This permanent funding gap must be diminished both through giving and wise management. We should invest the endowment of the college to optimize returns for current and future generations of students within certain parameters. These include an acceptable level of risk; the expectation that investment strategies will result in above-average returns compared to a defined group of peer institutions’ returns; the goal of achieving top quartile investment returns in the majority of years; and an appreciation for the institution’s values related to the “Triple Bottom Line” (i.e., concern for economic benefit, organizational and social policies, and environmental impact). In order to attain financial sustainability over time, we target  a 10-15 year average annual total return net of fees equal to the Spending Rate plus inflation (CPI plus 1 percent).

Objective 3.  Reserves. Dickinson’s reserves—unrestricted net assets minus plant, property and equipment net of debt—provide financial flexibility to meet the challenges of volatile economic circumstances and to take advantage of opportunity. These resources should be no less than nine months of net operating expenses (currently $78 million).

Objective 4.  Positive Operating Performance. The college’s operating budget must be balanced or better, obviating any need to use reserves to cover deficits. Since reserves are created primarily by setting aside prior year surpluses, they are not self-regenerating. Investing them to reposition the institution or to support new initiatives which will, over a reasonable time, provide a net revenue stream is appropriate. Spending them to cover deficits decreases both liquidity and flexibility, weakens the college’s financial position and limits our ability to take advantage of opportunities going forward.

Strategic Goal D:  One key dimension of our “outperformance” of wealthier peers is operational efficiency. We need to secure, permanently, the college’s creativity and emerging leadership in this arena. SP III identifies these promising areas for exploration and innovation:

Objective 1. Partnering: All colleges and universities partner to some extent with others to reduce costs, achieve efficiencies and enhance service. Dickinson has explored and implemented innovations in this area for over a decade and should continue to lead in institutional collaboration. Possible areas of collaboration include, but are not limited to, group health coverage; cross-institutional alumni networking and co-sponsorship of events; joint professional development and training; information risk management and disaster recovery; wellness programming; grant solicitation and bidding; sustainability initiatives; compliance and risk management; internal audit and legal services; and routine administrative functions, such as accounts payable, payroll and accounts receivable. Much of our partnering will be with other liberal-arts colleges, as exemplified by the Shared Services Consortium. We also need to continue and expand relationships with community partners such as the Borough of Carlisle, YMCA, Carlisle Regional Medical Center, local school districts and Downtown Carlisle Association.

Objective 2.  Leveraging Information Technology: The college has invested substantially in information technology, most visibly in the Banner implementation project. This investment has yielded benefits in service to the campus community, provided a reliable campus network and foundation for exploiting emerging and open source technologies, and created computing tools unavailable to most peer/aspirant colleges that enable senior managers to make decisions informed by up-to-date, usable information. Additionally, leading edge analytical tools have proven valuable in responding to the global economic crisis. The college needs to press its advantage relative to peer institutions by fully exploiting its investment in information technology to manage costs, enhance efficiency, and facilitate decision making. Potential steps include exploiting new and emerging technologies such as free, open source software that can take the place of costly commercial products; exploring eProcurement; and expanding access to technologies that allow for flexibility in how and where employees do their jobs.

Objective 3.  Outsourcing: Retaining an external entity to perform a service that might otherwise be performed in-house is a proven higher education strategy that can reduce costs and enhance service. Dickinson has—often for good reason—made relatively limited use of outsourcing. Given current economic conditions, we should take a close look at outsourcing possibilities, knowing that this policy needs to be applied in a manner sensitive to the culture of the college and supportive of its mission.   

Objective 4.  Operational sustainability. Dickinson has as a strategic goal “instilling a culture of ecological sustainability, prudent use of resources and respect for the natural world” into our program; this goal must characterize our operations as well. In particular, we need to be mindful of our action plan for climate neutrality under the Presidents’ Climate Commitment and also to the ways in which sustainability in operations can bring long-term efficiencies and cost savings by reducing waste.