Top Six Elements of a Strategic Plan

Posted by Joe Bauman, M.S. on Jan 7, 2019 3:25:17 PM

Developing or updating a strategic plan for an institution of higher education is a substantial endeavor. Engaging colleagues in committee and subcommittee meetings, discussing the future direction of the institution, and coming to a consensus on goals to guide the institution for the life of the plan: these considerations are at the heart of the collaborative process that is strategic planning in higher education.

When you are ready to write your strategic plan, having a clear structure to organize all the information you have gathered during the process helps. There are six common elements of strategic plans in higher education. Keeping these elements in mind should make the writing process easier.

  1. Context: summarize all the background information you discussed during the discovery phase of the process. While this isn’t the “meat” of the plan (the remaining five elements are the “meat”), it’s common for the context to be the longest section. This section often includes:
    • A brief history of the institution
    • The vision, mission, and values of the institution
    • Recognition of the members of the strategic planning committee and subcommittees
    • Data trends showing how well the institution is meeting the needs of its students (e.g., course success rates, graduation rates, etc.)
    • Challenges and opportunities facing the institution (i.e., environmental scan or SWOT analysis)
  2. Goals: identify the main goals and initiatives the institution needs to achieve success. Goals are usually hierarchical, with abstract goals at the top level (e.g., “improve student success”) and specific goals down subsequent levels (e.g., “increase graduation rate”). It’s best not to have too many goals, so the plan is focused on what’s most important to the institution. Pro tip: identify goals that you can impact. An easy recipe for a plan you cannot implement is to have goals that no one knows how or is empowered to reach.
  3. Measures of success: whenever possible, try to have quantitative measures of success. In addition to identifying concrete measures of success, also identify the current metric and the desired metric for each measure. For example, “improving graduation rate” may be your goal. To identify your measure of success, you may decide that you will “improve our IPEDS graduation rate from 53.5% for the 2012 cohort to 60.0% for the 2015 cohort.”
  4. Parties responsible: identify which persons or departments will take the lead for each of the institution’s goals. This will provide a level of focus and accountability that will be critical as you begin implementation of the plan.
  5. Due dates: you can build due dates directly into the measures of success, as noted above. If there are other key milestones, be specific about them now.
  6. Resources: provide the best estimate of what resources will be required to implement the plan. At this stage, the responsible parties can make a first attempt at outlining what they will need to get those initiatives off the ground. The plan will evolve over time, so it’s best to see these resource estimates as moving targets.

As you move into the implementation phase, SPOL can help keep track of who is responsible for each initiative, the budget allocated, and milestones you have crossed. After all, no one wants to waste time developing a strategic plan that just sits on the shelf.

Topics: Institutional Effectiveness, Strategic Planning, Budgeting, Continuous Improvement