Generally, strategic planning was synonymous with businesses and corporations. The process was related to the ongoing planning conducted to assure longevity and relevancy in the marketplace. However, strategic planning is important for all types of organizations and given the current climate, especially for higher education. The differences between strategic planning and institutional effectiveness are often misunderstood. Many ask, “aren’t the two the same thing?” While they are mutually complementary and related, strategic planning and institutional effectiveness are different. For institutions that fully embrace both, they are able to see the “treat” or the benefits resulting from the time invested. However, for those institutions that see strategic planning and institutional effectiveness as only a necessary evil, the “trick” is inevitable when they are unable to keep up with shifts in higher education.
Strategic planning is an integrated process that links the mission, priorities, people, and institutional operations to a flexible system of evaluation, decision-making, and action. Strategic planning shapes and guides the entire institution as it evolves over time and within its educational community. This planning is critical to institutional success, and even long-term survival. As the competition within education continues to increase, it is important that institutions participate in a dynamic and continuous strategic planning process. The process provides institutions with the structure needed to carry out its mission while committing the resources necessary to achieve identified initiatives. The process allows institutions to objectively evaluate and anticipate challenges and threats while maximizing opportunities and enhancing strengths.
Strategic planning is means/process oriented and answers the question, “what actions should be taken to best implement the institution’s mission and goals?” Strategic planning focuses on the external and internal environments that affect an institution’s growth. It allows for the development and implementation of strategic initiatives to achieve and further the institution’s mission while anticipating higher education trends and changes necessary to continue meeting students’ needs. The process evaluates the academic, administrative, budget, and facility needs of an institution whether it is traditional or non-traditional in its instructional approach.
Institutional effectiveness, on the other hand, is an ongoing, cyclical process by which the institution assesses its administrative operations, support services, educational offerings, and facilities, by analyzing and using data gathered on these areas to determine how well it is accomplishing its mission and goals against defined benchmarks. Effectiveness planning processes are used to inform decisions and continuous improvement efforts based on assessment results. It is a comprehensive roadmap to guide and measure continuous improvement at the institutional-level. Outcomes assessment contributes to this process by measuring course/program level effectiveness through students’ achievement of learning outcomes. Data gathered from the institutional effectiveness planning process are used to inform strategic planning that is monitored, reviewed, and revised during regular intervals.
Institutional effectiveness is ends/outcomes oriented and answers the question, “how well are students learning and administrative and educational support services functioning?” If students’ needs are not being met, then the institution’s strategic planning loses its impact. Institutional effectiveness assessment tools provide institutions with the data needed to determine whether its mission is being achieved and measures the comprehensive health of the institution.
Together, strategic planning and institutional effectiveness are key components to the success of all institutions. Both play a vital role in assuring achievement of the institution’s mission and providing the structure needed to focus on the future. Strategic planning and institutional effectiveness are only a “trick” when assessment is conducted merely for the sake of assessment. The real “treat” is when institutions collaborate with internal and external stakeholders in order to maintain stability and continue providing students with the quality education they need to achieve their goals.
“The results of the process are only as good as the intellectual investment of the participants in thinking deeply about the issues. What makes the difference is insight, not rote execution of analytical steps.” ~ Bernard Boar
How do you approach strategic planning and institutional effectiveness to benefit from the “treat” and avoid the “trick”?
For more information on Strategic Planning and Institutional Effectiveness read, The Department Head’s Guide to Assessment Implementation in Administrative and Educational Support Units, by James O. Nichols and Karen W. Nichols.