Message from the President
A Message from President Durden
During one of his "office hours" around campus, President Durden listens as a student shares her concerns.
I am pleased to share with you the third successive five-year Strategic Plan for Dickinson College. The initial parameters established in 2000 for Strategic Plan I have served the institution well for nearly a decade. When we revised the Plan in 2005, we retained the basic structure of the original document, adding accountability and sustainability as a defining characteristic and institutional information and practices as an enabling condition. It is now time, however, to once again reconfirm and alter as necessary those key elements that define Dickinson. The world is a far different place than it was a decade ago, and we are a far different institution. While we have moved into a new sphere of peer institutions, we operate now in a financial climate of limited resources, and we face a public that is seriously questioning the value of a liberal-arts education offered at institutions such as ours.
In many regards, the current strategic planning effort followed our earlier practice. Like its two predecessors, Strategic Plan III (SP III) was drafted by an ad hoc working group of faculty, administrators and students (officially a subcommittee of the all-college Planning & Budget Committee). The working group engaged in broad consultation with the campus through our all-college committees and open sessions. The plan was also shared with a variety of alumni and parent groups to benefit from a more “external” view and critique. A new strategy in the planning process for SP III included the formation of an ad hoc committee of the board of trustees who were in on-going conversation with the campus planning committee throughout the process. As before, this strategic plan articulates broad goals and objectives for the next five years. In other words, it sets the parameters within which detailed implementation plans are already underway. Finally, all three of our strategic plans share a common voice and style; they read as truly parts of an uninterrupted dialogue on how we can best accomplish Dickinson’s mission.
Central to that dialogue in SP III is the identification of five fundamental obstacles to our success that must be overcome: enrollment competition, shortcomings in residential life, facility deficiencies, an increased need for alumni commitment to the college and overall lack of wealth (especially in endowment) as compared to our peer and aspirant institutions. The last item—lack of wealth—particularly points to a major difference between the first two strategic plans and the 2011 version. We are living in troubled economic times. It is true that Strategic Plan I was drafted at a difficult moment for Dickinson, but the challenges then were chiefly internal—shortcomings that could be remedied by us alone. Now, we plan in an era of global constraint, with potentially existential challenges for all institutions of our type.
Strategic Plan III meets the need of all academic strategic plans to articulate mission and core values, and it carries forward the “First in America” ambition that has fueled our last decade of institutional achievement. But the plan does so pragmatically through a frank identification of the obstacles that confront us. It is, as our founder would insist, an example of liberal learning applied “usefully,” in this case to the benefit of the college itself. In order for us to meet our challenges and to maximize opportunities related to them, we must intentionally—within the framework of our material and financial resources—remove those obstacles that obscure success. We also must make changes to the campus that permit us not only to secure more firmly our position and student demand in our current level of competition, but also to expand our candidate pool by attracting those students who previously would apply to and attend schools that remain our aspirants. We must do so by communicating information about our value proposition—the indispensible asset (a “useful” liberal-arts education) Dickinson College offers its students and alumni to permit them to negotiate contemporary challenges and find opportunity.
We believe that—despite current challenging times for all of higher education—Dickinson College is stronger today than it has been at any point in the 227 years of its history. Strategic Plan III seeks to chart the next stage in the college’s ambitions and the conditions and resources we will need to realize those ambitions. We should all be proud of the accomplishments and momentum of the past decade at Dickinson. We must continue in our partnership to secure Dickinson’s position among the leaders in undergraduate liberal-arts education.
William G. Durden ’71