Strategic Priorities for 2010-11

September 10, 2010

Dear Fellow Scots,

With the first few weeks of classes now behind us, the fall semester is well and truly underway, and so I write to offer a view of where we will focus our energy and investments in the coming year as we seek to advance our core mission, strengthen our foundation, and sustain our momentum. As one might hope and expect, this thinking is guided by the comprehensive strategic planning process we undertook last year. In fact, from this point forward these memos on priorities will serve to refresh our strategic direction on an annual basis.

Before looking at the year ahead, however, it’s worth noting some significant events and achievements of the past year, on whose momentum we now can build.

Welcoming the Class of 2014

Thanks to the extraordinary effort put forth by the entire Wooster family during yield season last spring, we have welcomed one of our largest first-year classes ever: 626 young men and women from 38 states and 24 countries. Multiethnic and international students make up 26 percent of the class. There are 24 high school valedictorians, 79 legacies, and 61 who are the first in their families to attend college. This is one of the largest, most diverse, and most academically strong classes in Wooster history, and they arrived on campus with all of the energy we might expect.

The yield campaign last spring was matched by an equally heroic effort this summer by our colleagues in residence life, facilities, grounds, student life, academic affairs, dining services, and a host of other offices to prepare for the arrival of this large class. Those preparations paid off, as move-in and orientation ran with a well-oiled precision and good cheer that left the parents and families of our new students walking on air.

Moreover, they are coming to us for all the right reasons. When asked during the summer ARCH orientation programs, “Why Wooster? What clinched the deal for you?” they frequently mentioned our academic program, or a specific aspect of it, like I.S. or undergraduate research. They found Wooster welcoming and friendly, with a real sense of community, and were impressed by the time and attention faculty and staff devoted to them. Our recognition in Colleges That Change Lives and in U.S. News & World Report as one of the top liberal arts colleges for teaching was frequently noted.

We also asked our new students to give us feedback on college web sites, comparing ours with others. Their response was overwhelmingly positive for Wooster’s: “easy to search and navigate,” “inviting and open,” “creative, fun, yet professional,” “very informative,” “one of the best and most accessible.”

Notable Accomplishments in 2009-10

For the second year running, U.S. News has singled us out as one of a handful of liberal arts colleges that “do the best job of educating undergraduates” - ranking Wooster fifth in the nation, behind Carleton, Davidson, Grinnell, and Williams and tied with Oberlin.

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation has just awarded a $254,000 grant to support our environmental studies program, while the McGregor Fund has given us $250,000 to support the launch and development of our undergraduate research center.

Construction of the Scot Center is proceeding on schedule. The deck that will support the main floor of the east wing is complete, and structural steel for the upper floors is rising, a daily reminder that, thanks to the generosity of so many members of the Board and friends of the College, those eager first-year students will be able to use this magnificent new facility by the second semester of their sophomore year.

Last but not least, we ended the 2009-10 fiscal year with a surplus budget.

Now let’s turn to the year ahead.

Initiatives to Fulfill Our Educational Purpose with Distinction

In the long run, the best strategy for our prosperity is to steward and deepen the integrity of our core mission to provide a residential liberal arts education that is distinctive and demonstrably superior.

In the coming year, we will undertake five strategic initiatives in our educational program:

1: Diversity and Global Engagement: We will continue our commitment to provide opportunities for our students to develop their capacities for responsible global citizenship, building on the work begun last year with the launch of the Center for Diversity and Global Engagement by developing a more cohesive, dynamic, and vibrant program. This will include student programming that is more integrated with the life of the Center, that involves a wider range of students, and increased opportunities for faculty to expand their research and teaching in the areas of diversity and global engagement.

In addition, we will identify a sustainable model for our new “Wooster-In” off-campus study programs by outlining the needed supports for faculty and staff wishing to offer programs and determining program feasibility. We have now run several highly successful pilot programs in Italy, Trinidad, and Thailand, and one is planned for India. The strategic question is how we can regularly offer “Wooster-In” programs that are feasible for the College and accessible for our students.

We will also evaluate the Global Social Entrepreneurship program and identify options for sustaining and expanding it and use the recent grant from the Mellon Foundation to support field study abroad for faculty interested in extending their expertise in the global nature of environmental problems.

2. Student Educational Planning & Advising: We will continue our efforts to create a comprehensive advising program, uniquely Wooster’s, which both encourages students to develop a clear sense of purpose in their educational programs and builds upon the strong student-faculty and student-staff relationships that occur at Wooster. At the beginning of this academic year, the Advising Center was renamed the Educational Planning and Advising Center to reflect this intentional and integrative approach to advising.

Through this initiative, we will thus continue the integration of our four centers of advising (the Educational Planning and Advising Center, the Lilly Program, the Learning Center, and the Career Center) to create a comprehensive, four-year, developmental approach to student-driven and intentional educational planning. This program will integrate several aspects of our students’ lives, including advising on the academic program, engagement in co-curricular activities, vocational development, and the exploration of career opportunities.

3. Community of Learners: Our educational mission extends beyond the academic program to embrace all of the learning and growth that takes place outside the classroom. Therefore, consistent with our Core Values, this year we will advance two initiatives designed to strengthen our campus as a Community of Learners.

First, we will articulate a philosophy of campus life in which we make explicit our beliefs about how living and learning together advances our mission. This philosophy will guide our student development programs and housing strategies.

In addition, we will seek to deepen the understanding and endorsement of “The Wooster Ethic” on campus, making it the reference point for guiding judgment and behavior in our community. This continuing initiative will engage all areas of the College in understanding how “The Wooster Ethic” relates to their work and their roles and responsibilities in fostering and upholding it.

4. Wooster’s Independent Study Program: Building on the strengths of our I.S. program, we will develop a distinctive, integrated, and comprehensive approach to strengthening our students’ skills, including oral and written communication skills, research sophistication, and the application of technologies. We will continue, on the basis of the recent successes of the Independent Study Symposium, to provide support for students to present their work to wider audiences and provide faculty with support to help their students further develop the necessary skills and abilities.

Our work in this area will be fostered by a grant, mentioned above, recently awarded from the McGregor Foundation for $250,000. The foundation was most impressed with our program of undergraduate research and believes that we are positioned to build an exemplary program in developing student capacities for research, communication, and technology application.

5. Bringing Theory to Practice: We will work to integrate students' academic work in the classroom, their experiences in campus life, and their learning through practice in the field. We will investigate the further curricular integration of our existing programs and the feasibility of creating new internship programs, beginning with establishing stronger connections with our alumni community and seeking their ideas about effective, “real world” ways to link theory and practice.

In addition, a comprehensive assessment and planning project focused on our on-going work with our entrepreneurship program will answer the open question as to how we can best structure a program of entrepreneurial opportunities for our students.

Initiatives to Strengthen the Foundation of Our College

We have several planning initiatives and research questions to engage this year, all focused on securing the foundation of our future prosperity.

The top priority will be a continuation of our efforts to develop a Comprehensive Resource Plan for the College. Much of our work here is continuing: The Investment Committee of the Board is working on a policy to guide our endowment strategy. We will continue to craft a plan with specific targets for external support, endowment giving, and the cultivation of a diverse and sustainable donor base, as well as continuing to refine our strategies to balance enrollment, student academic profile, diversity, and net tuition revenue.

The second priority involves a fundamental strategic question: the Optimal Size for Wooster. Our working assumption to this date is that we are a college of 1,800 students in residence in any given semester, and with the enrollment of this year’s class we are now, for all practical purposes, at maximum capacity. In the coming year, the administration and the Board will do the consultation, research, and analysis necessary to determine whether this is the optimal size for Wooster’s future.

Two other projects that we will complete this year are the Faculty Salary Project and the Staff Salary Project. We made a very significant intervention in the structure and level of faculty salaries for 2010-11. This year, we will work with the Teaching Staff and Tenure Committee and the Financial Advisory Committee to develop a set of principles and guidelines that will enable us to steward faculty salaries in a sustainable way over the long run. This work will yield a set of recommendations that we will bring forward for consideration by the Board of Trustees at the June 2011 Board meeting.

We also will bring to conclusion a study of hourly and salaried staff salaries currently underway, with much the same discipline and principles as the Faculty Salary Project. We have contracted with a consulting firm with expertise in comparative salary research and policy development and expect to bring the findings of this project to the Board in the spring.

In addition, we will begin three other projects that will inform our longer-term planning and resource allocation decisions.

We will commission an update to our Campus Facilities Master Plan. Our current master plan was last updated in 2006-07 and has been guiding our campus stewardship and development since that time. With the Scot Center project well underway, it is time to do a comprehensive assessment of our facilities needs and priorities. A central element of this process will be a comprehensive plan for student residences, tuned to the size of the College and our residential life philosophy.

We will develop a comprehensive Marketing Plan for Wooster, with the goal that in future college guides Wooster will not be anyone’s “best kept secret” but instead known much more broadly for its excellence in delivering on its core mission. The distinctive qualities of our graduates, and their successes in a wide range of endeavors, will be a feature of this plan.

And we will develop the first comprehensive Strategic Plan for Information Technology for the College that is tuned both to our mission and resources, but also to a vision for the role information and information technology will play in advancing our strategic framework.

Initiatives to Sustain Our Momentum

The initiatives discussed above are all part of a broader process of cultivating a campus-wide, sustainable culture of planning. Using all the work and feedback from last year’s planning process, we have crafted a comprehensive Strategic Framework, which we will share with all Wooster constituencies in the next few days. This Strategic Framework is the first edition of an agile, living-plan document that will guide College decision-making and resource allocation in the near term. We have affirmed our mission and values, and established our objectives. The question now is: How are we going to achieve them? Answering that question is the work before us this fall.

In addition, we will begin preparation this year for the Higher Learning Commission continuing accreditation process, which will formally begin next year. All of our strategic planning efforts have positioned us to make the accreditation process what it should be, an organized reporting out of our current plans, actions, and assessment of our progress on them.

I am very optimistic about the coming year and, indeed, about Wooster’s future. The essential elements are now coming together to build and realize our vision for the College. I am so grateful and honored to have the privilege to work with all of you as we guide Wooster forward.


Grant Cornwell