Strategic Plan 2010-2017: The Call to Action

In the spring of 2008, the General Committee of Sarah Lawrence College, at the behest of the president and the Board of Trustees, initiated a long-term, strategic planning process to guide the College's development over the coming five to seven years, and to provide clear priorities for the next fundraising campaign. At the time, it had been 10 years since the College had developed and launched a strategic plan. Since then, the external environment of higher education and the nation as a whole has changed greatly, marked by unprecedented economic dislocation and uncertainty, demographic change, and greater financial uncertainty for our students and their parents. As the 2008-2009 academic year got underway, there seemed to be no better time to revisit the strategic principles and directions embraced by the College.

At the beginning of the planning process, General Committee commissioned a series of in-depth questionnaires and surveys of recent graduates, current students, the faculty groups, staff, and trustees. Responses to the surveys provided important and useful information about the strategic priorities of the Sarah Lawrence community and its assessment of current strengths, vulnerabilities, and opportunities. Over the summer, a working group reviewed the responses and held several "brainstorming" sessions to correlate the community's survey responses to a review of the 1997 strategic plan and the recent Middle States (The Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA, 19104) re-accreditation report, which noted that financial equilibrium was the most significant objective of the 1997 plan yet to be achieved. Members of the working group included administrators from the Office of the President, the Dean of the College, the Dean of Studies and Student Life, the Dean of Graduate Studies, the Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, faculty from General Committee, Curriculum Committee, Conditions of Teaching Committee, and representatives of the Administrative Staff Committee. To inform the working group's discussions about the shape and emphases of the planning process, faculty and staff across the College initiated environmental scans to identify particular opportunities for innovation, and trends that likely will affect the composition of the student body, demands on the curriculum, and adjustments to emerging realities in the admission arena.

The working group proposed that the College organize the strategic plan around a number of interrelated "cornerstones," each encompassing certain strategic themes, questions, and challenges. Many of the themes are overarching and overlap issues addressed in other cornerstone forums: for example, the imperative to enrich the diversity of the entire campus community, the relevance of financial realities to potential strategic scenarios, access and affordability for students, and an evolving external environment marked by economic volatility, rapidly changing demographics, and intellectual developments in fields across all disciplines. In essence, none of the cornerstones could stand alone, and none could conduct its business in isolation. To advance the planning process, additional questionnaires were sent to students, alumni, and trustees. With the approval of the Board of Trustees and General Committee, in spring 2009, the cornerstone groups began an 18-month process of discovery, discussion, and debate, and formulating of recommendations. The cornerstone groups, consisting of faculty, students, trustees, and staff, were arrayed around the following core topics:

  • Enrollment/Admission/Retention
  • Pedagogy: Structure and Curriculum
  • Working Together at SLC: Faculty and Staff
  • Living and Learning at SLC: Student Engagement
  • Marketing and Visibility: Raising Awareness of the College
  • Financial Equilibrium

Four lead principles were embraced by all participants in the cornerstone process: (1) the Sarah Lawrence pedagogy, dependent on the seminar, conference, and donning system, must, at all costs, be preserved; the new strategic plan must build on the strengths of this educational approach while accommodating innovations to suit the needs of students and faculty; (2) the need to consider in all discussions the financial implications of proposed action; (3) the importance of transparency and inclusion throughout the cornerstone process; strategic recommendations and goal should focus on a five to seven year time horizon.

With the initiation of the cornerstone groups, the planning process was on course to its conclusion in late 2010.

Strategic Planning Process Structure

General Committee of the College
Led initial data-gathering process. Endorsed charges for the Cornerstone Workgroups. Reviewed the proposed final plan and authored the proposed mission statement to accompany the finished plan.

Strategic Plan Steering Committee
Process-oriented group: deans, senior administrators, and trustees. Co-chaired by the Dean of the College, the Associate Dean of the College, and the Vice President for Administration.

Cornerstone Workgroups
Subject area teams charged with recommending strategic priorities and associated initiatives and investments. Faculty, administrators, staff, students, trustees. Each co-chaired by one faculty member and one senior administrator.

  • Enrollment/Admission/Retention
  • Pedagogy-Structure
  • Pedagogy-Curriculum
  • Working Together at SLC
  • Living and Learning at SLC
  • Marketing and Visibility
  • Financial Equilibrium

Cornerstone Co-chairs
Coordinated discussion of overlapping cornerstone issues and priorities. Led the final stages of the planning process before drafting of the plan commenced.

Strategic Planning Data Gathering/Discovery

SpringSummer 2008

  • Reviewed 1996-1997 plan to determine those goals achieved and those not.
  • Collected and aggregated environmental scan information for review by the entire College community.
  • Conducted strength-weaknesses-opportunities-threats surveys:

Faculty, Class of '08 graduates, current students, staff, faculty group chairs, alumnae/i classes '03, '98, '93, '88, '83, Alumnae/I Association Board of Directors

Fall 2008–Spring 2010

  • Appointed six Cornerstone strategic planning groups to address specific strategic drivers and opportunities, and recommended long-term strategic goals and actions.
  • Conducted four open "Campus Confabs" on focused issues to inform the Cornerstone process: Curriculum/Pedagogy; Diversity; Living and Learning; Working Together at SLC
  • Devoted some portion of all Board of Trustees meetings between March 2009 and January 2011 to discussion of findings emerging from the Cornerstone process.

SummerFall 2010

  • Senior Staff with input from General Committee processed Cornerstone recommendations and developed early drafts of the plan document in two parts: a summary report and a detailed strategic implementation grid for tracking progress with the plan objectives.
  • Final wording of mission statement was developed.
  • Trustees, faculty, and staff reviewed and commented on drafts. At its October 2010 meeting, the Board of Trustees endorsed the spirit and substance of the plan document, subject to completion of certain sections.

Spring 2011

  • Recommendations from the newly-created Diversity Committee were received, vetted, and added to the plan document.
  • Final integration of the plan document and initial publication was completed in May 2011.