The Work We Need to Do Together

In the fall of 2010, I said that over the next two years we needed to do two things. First, we needed to get healthy as an organization by developing a sustainable financial plan and recruiting a mix of students who are coming to Central for the right reasons. Second, we needed to be much more intentional in our planning, choosing what we wanted to become rather than settling for a future bequeathed to us by time and circumstance. To be the masters of our own fate we needed an academic plan well-rooted in what we know about how young adults develop—a plan that helps our students connect and engage with one another and with the primary communities to which they give their allegiance.

Now, in my third year as president, we need to move forward, implementing the plans and strategies we have developed. As Mary Strey begins her second year as vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, she and her associate deans will have first responsibility for implementing the initiatives identified in the strategic academic framework. Working with Peggy Fitch, vice president for student development, Mary also will be responsible for the strategies that will more fully align Central’s academic and student development goals. Margaret Tungseth, our vice president for finance and administration/treasurer, in partnership with Dave Sutphen and Central’s office of advancement, will have first responsibility for identifying the resources Central will need to fund its academic and related initiatives. This effort will be part of a more general refining of our financial strategy for ensuring a sustainable balance between revenues and expenses. The office of advancement will continue to engage in conversations necessary to meet our fundraising goals. Carol Williamson, vice president for enrollment management/dean of admission, faces perhaps our most daunting challenge: the recruitment and enrollment of a class of first-year students, almost all of whom we can reasonably expect to graduate from Central within four years.

What We Have Learned

The first and no doubt most enduring lesson we learned over these last two years is that nothing is easy. The challenge of bringing in a first-year class is but the latest example of just how tough the current climate has become for small liberal arts colleges like Central. We now have a much better understanding of the interplay between retention and admission, between enrollment and success, and why it is important to pursue enrollment and admission strategies that favor applicants who are most likely to become our graduates. We can thrive on smaller classes of first-year students, but only if our year-to-year retention is at or close to 90 percent, and our overall graduation rate is at or close to 85 percent.

The Central community has embraced our planning because it has understood the kinds of progress we need to make and the range of strategies we are putting in place to achieve our goals: educationally, developmentally and financially. The Central community – students, faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and friends – represent a wellspring of energy and enthusiasm for the tasks we have collectively set for ourselves.
We also know well what it means to be intentional. At Central, we have a history of designing the future rather than just letting it happen. It is a history that has been repeated over the last two years – first, with the events of the inaugural year, and then with the process that developed the strategic academic framework over this last year. Now we need to draw on those experiences, and the good will they generated, to move from planning to intentional implementation.

Intellectual Foundations

The Strategic Academic Framework developed and affirmed over the past year provides the four principles that now inform all of our efforts:

  • At Central we place particular emphasis on intellectual and social engagement among students and faculty as core elements of the college’s mission and programs of integrative learning. We seek to create opportunities for meaningful interaction and participation, not just in the classroom but also in communities and environments conducive to learning throughout the region and the world.
  • We have a parallel commitment to a climate of intellectual engagement, consisting not just of physical spaces but of the intellectual infrastructure to renew ourselves as scholars and educators – a climate that allows us to engage faculty and students with societal challenges in both regional and global contexts, and to do so in ways that help create a future that is sustainable and supports individual growth as well as societal renewal.
  • Just as important as intellectual engagement is our commitment to fostering the value of citizenship within and beyond the college community. As a college we seek to educate students who find meaning and fulfillment from their engagement in civic life, extending from a local region to a global society facing common challenges.
  • In all of our planning we need to maintain a balance between incremental and transformative change. Figuratively speaking, in going forth with this plan we have sought to balance the strategic with the operational, to merge visionary with practical considerations, and to make the case not just for the singular pipe, but for the entire organ.

Reinforcing these principals as well as drawing strength from them is our commitment to integrated learning as a fundamental educational strategy. Integrated learning builds on the three questions that frame Central’s core curriculum in which we encourage students to develop their own answers to three basic questions: Who am I? What have I learned? What does it mean to live a life of meaning and purpose?

It then follows that the kind of education we seek for our students means helping them assemble a narrative of participation that presumes a developmental framework. Rather than a series of separate and separable courses, we are pursuing a curriculum of intentionally designed educational experiences that promotes overall development. We want our students to understand their educations are not a smorgasbord of different things but rather a narrative of linked and intentional educational experiences.

Our commitment to integrated learning means we will pay attention to all of our students rather than concentrating our support and advising resources on those students most at risk. The class dean/class director structure is a means of fulfilling this promise.

What makes this commitment to integrated learning feasible is the fact that integrated learning it is well-rooted in Central College’s history of building relationships among and between all those who are part of our community. Integrated learning grows out of a decade of successful development of intersections as the first building block of Central College’s core curriculum. The language we use to explain the name intersections points us in the right direction: An intersection is a place where people can meet, regardless of their backgrounds, beliefs and areas of study. Here we are able to learn the most about ourselves and our world. It’s at these crossroads where ideas and people connect, converge and collide. That’s where interesting things happen.

Getting Started on the Work We Have Agreed to Do Together

As we enter the third year, our intentional activity in regards to our strategic academic framework reflects a broad consensus among campus constituencies and has received the enthusiastic endorsement of the college’s board of trustees. All of us – students, faculty, staff, trustees and members of the Pella community – have an important three years ahead of us, ones I expect will be filled with substantial achievements that reflect both our commitments and our principals. Some achievements may happen quickly; others will take substantial time; and still others are yet to find their place on our agenda. Planning, in this sense, is the act of looking over the horizon in such a way as to allow us to marshal our energies and make the most of our financial assets. The agenda laid out in the balance of this paper, then, is our starting point, one we will revisit on an annual basis noting our achievements, taking stock of what we have yet to accomplish, and responding to the constantly changing circumstances that have become the hallmark of American higher education.

Develop and Implement Central College’s Integrated Learning Model

A. Develop a full articulation of Central’s Integrated Learning Model as an outgrowth of Intersections and the fundamental questions related to identity, relationship to others, and leading a purposeful life that are raised by this shared academic experience.

B. Jump-start a college wide conversation about Integrated Learning by becoming students of our own practice. As part of this effort collect and share stories and vignettes of students, both present and former, whose educations and lives model the importance of Integrated Learning.

C. For Central’s Integrated Learning Model establish outcomes, a sequenced learning grid, implementation strategies, and assessment rubrics.

D. Implement the structural changes required by the Integrated Learning Model.

E. Continue the implementation process to establish a developmental approach based on the sequenced learning grid by focusing first on:

  1. Career Services
  2. Athletics
  3. Residential Life

Become a Model of Community Scholarship, Teaching, and Learning

A. Develop curricular models that support student scholarship and collaborative inquiry across disciplines.

First tasks:

  1. Focus on potential of Emerging Scholars Program.
  2. Consider development of Integrated Studies major templates (e.g., global health, global sustainability and arts management.)
  3. Include roles of student scholarship and collaborative inquiry across disciplines in discussion of teaching load transition.

B. Enhance support for student scholarship through such means as a summer scholars program, conference attendance and presentation, and collaboration with faculty and outside experts. Incorporate work of the Central College team attending the council on undergraduate research workshop.

C. Develop a pedagogical incubator to foster and support innovation in scholarship, teaching, and learning. Start with hosting an inaugural chairs’ conference.

D. Begin the process of developing a comprehensive assessment of the strengths and needs in academic technology at Central College. Include recommendations related to prioritizing processes, defining long-term objectives, and developing sustainable models of hardware and infrastructure.

Become an International Community of Global Learners

A. Create a campus community that is more international in character as well as composition. First step is to identify the needs, challenges, and current community capacity in both academic and student development to help ensure that international students feel welcome and succeed.

B. Internationalize the curriculum and the extended learning environment of the college. First steps include:

  1. Assess the effectiveness of ongoing faculty development opportunities related to international education and language acquisition.
  2. Identify the learning outcomes sought for global experiential education, and take steps to assure that both study abroad and the core curriculum support them.

C. Expand and enhance the opportunities for Central College students to study abroad.

  1. Undertake a comprehensive review to identify the successes and lessons learned from the Central College Abroad (CCA) sites; apply the insights from this process to make recommendations based on analysis of programs, curriculum, and education, as well as finances, staffing, and the role of co-op schools.
  2. Consider a limited number of new education abroad initiatives in key areas of the world (including those outside Western Europe), either through CCA or arrangements with external providers of such programs. First step is to determine the feasibility of a program in Ghana. Determine the parameters of such a program (consider summer, semester, Central and/or co-op schools, partnership with U. Ghana, internships, social entrepreneurship, and global health).

Make Accelerated Investments in Academic Programs that Address New Strategic Areas of Interest for Students and Global Needs that They Will Need to Fulfill

A. Pursue the development of accredited programs that allow students to qualify for professional careers in the health sciences. Work with accreditors to determine the realistic possibilities.

B. Utilize our study abroad program to develop new opportunities in global health and well-being. Start with inventorying opportunities presented through the Heartland Global Health Consortium (HGHC)

Develop a Portfolio of Programs to Reflect Central’s Commitment to Global and Community Engagement

A. Empower students, faculty, staff, and area residents to reach their potential as global citizens by transforming the Center for Community-Based Learning (CCBL) into a regional platform for civic engagement, helping extend our classrooms further into the community and providing students with a wider variety of service venues and opportunities. Develop a comprehensive proposal that includes cost and on-going budget analysis, resources, and implementation strategies.

Strengthen the Impact of the Creative Arts as Forces of Enhanced Community and Engagement, Within and Beyond Campus

A. In partnership with the arts community of Pella explore collaborative opportunities for increased exposure to the arts while helping to build Pella as a “destination” for the arts, thereby increasing the reputation and awareness of the arts and creativity at Central. Develop a comprehensive proposal that includes cost and on-going budget analysis, resources, and implementation strategies.

B. Convene a series of collaborative, campus-wide discussions focusing on the arts more broadly on campus in order to provide “casual encounters” with art in a variety of venues.

Develop and implement enrollment strategies in service of an optimum enrollment plan

A. Focus on enrolling students with a higher probability of retention after the first year and graduation after six years.

  1. Undertake and continue geographic analysis identifying emerging markets for intensified student recruitment with emphasis on retention.
  2. Review financial aid distributions in light of shift in policy to maximize retention.

B. Review past market research for insights to predict market response to messaging.

  1. Integrated Learning – A Central education is a narrative.
  2. At Central I got to do so many things; the experience is relational not transactional.
  3. Research and test program messaging specific to new academic initiatives such as Integrated Studies major templates (e.g., global health, global sustainability, and arts management).

C. Working with groups charged with building global enrollment, explore strategies for changing the mix of international students and learners on the Pella campus.

Build the narrative, streamlining the Central College story into one voice.

A. Define narrative of Central College and identify key messages focusing on major priorities and in support of strategic initiatives.

  1. Brand promise – It’s personal. Where people and possibilities are Central. Two aspects of this promise: At Central College I get to do so many things – no two Central educations are alike. Relational not transactional. Transformational. Authentic expression of culture of Central College.
  2. Celebrate Central with key words and phrases: You are Central; ______ is Central; Central to the world; Central to your world; Central is ______.
  3. Refresh visual image to accompany narrative
  4. Connect and develop integrated learning language

B. Develop and implement comprehensive communication plan with focus on stakeholder education of narrative, content collection and creation, and deployment of messaging, communication priorities and evolving strategies as outlined in this document.

  1. Educate both internal and external members of the Central community about the college’s key messages, showing how to articulate the Central College narrative in words and images.
  2. When setting priorities, target emerging markets and collaborate with others charged with academic initiatives and messaging. Integrated learning is the lens through which we see all other things. Link communication research and efforts by collecting Central narratives related to agenda of successful integrated learning model and development of initiatives in this plan.
  3. Identify key constituencies, communication vehicles and multi-generational strategies to communicate Central’s narrative including digital and print spaces, focused story and visual content, media interest, history and heritage.

Advance fiscal responsibility and resource development in order to support strategic initiatives and our community.

A. Examine finance and administration processes and planning in service to a sustainable future.

  1. Understand relationship of cost and price.
  2. Develop a multi-year budget and articulate what a multi-year budget strategy means for the Central College community given current enrollment prospects, with and without increased retention.

B. Understand current and future scope of resources and needs.

  1. Develop execution plan for campus-wide, comprehensive information technology strategy in partnership with the scholarship, teaching and learning team, which is assessing academic needs. The team will assess strengths and needs of information technology services, prioritize processes, define long-term objectives, and develop sustainable models of hardware and infrastructure.
  2. Study facilities with regards to purpose, use, maintenance and future needs.

i. Design modest and thoughtful master plan for campus with attention given to residences and the student center; land acquisition; academic and performing arts resources; and managing our footprint.

ii. Create a vibrant plan for conferences and events with intentional focus on external revenue and campus visitors paralleled with opportunities to showcase, draw in audiences and collect proceeds for Central College camps and events.

C. Plan comprehensive proposal with analysis for costs, ongoing budget, resources, and implementation dates for targeted resource acquisition in support of initiatives including:

  1. Faculty development
  2. Learning and technology, undergrad research and scholarship
  3. Engagement: global, civic and sustainability
  4. Well-being: campus ministries, athletics, arts and culture
  5. Special initiatives and facilities

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I want to conclude as I began by reminding us all what we seek is an educational community that is healthy, committed to an academic model that is a narrative rather than a smorgasbord, and one that is a product of Central College’s long history of placing relationships at the center of its endeavors. What we need to be about now, perhaps more than ever before, is strengthening Central College as an educational community people want to join. We’re in the business of recruiting graduates whose successes will derive from their experiences as part of our community. As I also suggested at the opening of these comments, the road ahead is a path of uncertainty – changing demographics, changing economic conditions, changing political circumstances. We need to be both nimble, evermore willing to consider new things and alternate approaches, and at the same time rock-solid in our commitment to our core principles and values. Our ability to do both is what makes us Central.

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