10 Steps to Institution Assessment & Strategic Planning

Higher educational institutions have been managed without any planning for long. Then started a new trend where many new institutions started coming up. This was attributed with a rise in demand of highly educated workforce with more than graduation degree. With mushrooming of institutions, there was a decrease in placements of students in certain institutions which further affected the enrolments of students coming to these institutions leading to closure of these institutions. Thus strategic planning became the prerequisite for launch of any new higher educational institution.

Overview of strategic planning in higher education

Institutions requiring strategic planning and assessment develops some strategy  in sync with some other forms of planning i.e. information technology plan, academic master plan, or facilities master plan.

Components of a strategic plan

There are various steps to strategic planning and each step serves a specific purpose. These steps to institutional strategic planning comprises of multiple components.

Strategic Plan

Foundation to strategic planning for Institutions:

The first step for strategic planning is deciding institution’s mission statement. Mission statement tells us why the institution has been started and what its intended operations are to achieve. Whether educational body is governed by state or privately, mission statement give reason to the existence of the institution.

Mission statement of an educational institution in short is a basic statement of purpose. At times institutions also provide separate set of institutional goals, these can be appended to or displayed in conjunction with the mission statement. Precisely, mission statement is “This is what we are here to do”.

Values

Values explain what educational institution stand for and ways in which it intends to conduct its activities. Many a time, values are so important for institutions that they have programs and assessment measures to support and sustain them. To sum up values are “These are the characteristics we believe are important in how we do our work”.

The Institutional Vision Statement

The second step for strategic planning is the institution’s vision statement. The vision statement is the institution’s destination for the length of the strategic plan. Vision statements contain the specific characteristics or features that will define the institution in its future. The Vision Statement is used to motivate and inspire. The vision statement of an institution is “what it intends to become within a certain timeframe”.

The strategic goals and objectives

Defining goals and objectives will be third step of strategic planning. Interchangeably used words ‘goal’ and ‘objective’ have a very subtle difference in its meaning.

The word ‘Goal’ connotes specific achievement; a target reached and ‘checked off’. The word objective is slightly more general in connotation. An objective helps set a course by giving a general direction, but an objective doesn’t usually contains specifics of its own completion. Goals and objective are always time-driven in any educational institution.

The implementation plan

Fourth and critical step to strategic planning is implementation plan. Its function includes converting goals and objectives into working plan. This is not shared with public and most of the times with the governing board as well. Primarily, it is improved and altered as and when situations and environment changes. Implementation Plan identifies the resources each objective, goal and budget requires; it includes people, time, space, technology, and funding. It has to be directive, clear and documented.

Coordinating the planning process

For planning process to be successful there are a few things necessary like, the planning committee.

The planning committee

The next step is to have planning committee to coordinate the planning process. It is important to have planning committee for three reasons:

  1. The work of strategic committee must be known by its members. As strategic planning committee is not formed only for making plans; it has to participate in its implementation and assessment to make its plan work effectively.
  2. To ensure that plan is being implemented effectively, to keep the plan interactive and on track, monitoring is prerequisite. Working of higher educational institutions is complex, and committee members are generally from varied field and expert in their own areas, so they can check its progress well.
  3. It is important to know how the planning process works for as many stakeholders as possible. Non-permanent members like, faculty and students should be rotated from time to time. This rotation will enhance knowledge of all stakeholders, that can be applied their respective departments of the educational institution and it give students insight into the strategic planning process and its actual implementation. As entire institution is involved in planning process so implementation is also more effective and it boost strategic thinking across the institution.

The charge to the committee

The duties of the planning committee should be well documented. It should have:

  • The size and composition of the planning committee
  • The length of term of non-permanent members
  • The scope of responsibility and authority of the committee
  • The expectation for the participation for each member permanent or non-permanent.

Deciding the planning year

It is important to align budget cycle and planning cycle in the institution’s planning process. It requires careful analysis of the various steps in the annual budget cycle to determine when annual planning goals need to be confirmed to support the decision-making in the budget.

There is a HR calendar as well. If HR calendar is in sync with strategic plan of the institution, it helps in professional development plans which have attendant training cost; and, annual payroll data, which usually reflect the largest non-capital institutional expenditure.

Using a planning consultant

Hiring a planning consultant before start of educational institution is beneficial in many ways; primarily, they are planning strategically to start the institution and they will be required to demonstrate institutional planning to various stakeholders at various occasions. Planning consultant helps the institution implement the plan they have decided to work upon, for consultants have prior knowledge of how to implement a strategic plan in a higher educational institution. A planning consultant supports them where there is any shortfalls and complex/problem areas of their plan.

Assessments and metrics

Fifth step in institutional strategic planning is institutional assessment.

Institutional assessment

Planning-related assessment in institutions takes place in two ways: institutional effectiveness and learning outcomes. These are basics of planning process, as they show the accountability and improvement in the procedure implemented. Along with institutional effectiveness and learning outcome, administrative assessment is also inseparable segment of institutional assessment.

Institutional effectiveness

Institutional effectiveness is checked against the ‘institutional goals’ set as part of its mission statement. The institutional goals act as the base for their assessment methods. For this, planning committee also frames questions to assess the progress of strategic plan for institution.

Learning outcome

The assessment here discussed is for the process of implementation of strategic plan, not of the persons/stakeholders involved in planning or implementation. Learning outcome is a constituent of institutional planning process that must be guided and integrated into the strategic plan. It also gives the procedural improvement data to inform the planning process.

Administrative assessment

Administrative staff is one of the important part of the institutions, though often ignored while assessing the institution. It helps identify and improve supervision, management, and the work environment.

The self-sustaining planning process

Sixth step: Assessment and revision of strategic plan from time to time is significant to keep plan flexible and updated. There are 4 timeframe for assessment: first two are annual and rest two are multi-year assessments/at the end of full planning cycle.

Annual cycle assessment

This can be represented in following figure:

Annual Planning Cycle

Annual Cycle Assessment

In figure above, it is shown that first assessment takes place at the beginning of the year when planning committee reviews the achievements of previous year’s plan and accordingly sets the goals and steps for coming year. Secondly it shows mid-year review which helps institution understand that if any changes are needed to ensure goal completion.

Full cycle review

Report on achievement of the strategic plan

The annual assessment process will make year on year basis document of achievement. At the same time, institution should also make document of other accomplishments apart from planned ones, as it shows institutions ability to adapt to unexpected situations and taking advantage out of those challenges, while keeping an eye on goals.

Review of the effectiveness of the planning process

The final assessment of an institution’s strategic plan comes as the previous plan is coming to an end and a new plan is developed to be implemented. At this point, focus is on how to make next plan more effective. Figure below shows the cyclic process.

Process to Develop, Implement, and Review a Planning Process

PlanThe “Face” of Planning on Campus

The continuous evaluation of planning process is one part of self-sustaining strategic plan; at the same time, a single person should be there to coordinate planning on campus of the institution. Though all involved in planning and implementation have to work in coordination, but, one should be repository of all information, so that in case of any doubt, no further chaos is created by multiplicity of “faces” of planning.

The critical impact of institutional culture

Seventh step: The implementation of strategic plan in any institution depends on three crucial factors: the institution’s unique environment; the structure and competence of the administrative staff of the institution; and the development of staff commitment.

The environment

The environment for any higher education institution is sum-total of external environment of competitors and economic conditions; and internal environment (institution’s mission statement and its historical development).

Administrative structure and staff competence

Administrative situation in an institution affects the institution’s culture by personalities, experiences and competence in big way.

Developing staff commitment to strategic planning

Once mission and goals are defined, the need for collective commitment drives effective planning. To ensure collective commitment, a college/ university planner must be able to understand and work within the campus culture.

The various components of campus culture

There is a huge difference in corporate culture and academic culture as working of faculty is very different from corporate. This cultural difference increased by the evolution of staff as professional administrators. Along with these, there are other stakeholders in college/university are students, campus safety, etc.

Defining issues in cultural terms

Planning groups are involved in activities that require commitment; and to nurture that they need three elements: social process, leadership and structural design. First, Social processes also known as “enculturation” is a process in which people are absorbed in organizational culture. Second, The leader ensures that social processes are implemented effectively and on regularly, with focus on institution’s vision. Third, structural design facilitates leaders an environment to enforce the vision that binds the goal together.

Developing a culture of planning and strategic thinking

There are various ways to make sure that all stakeholders are part of planning process in an institution. This can be achieved by discussing different steps with them and accepting their good suggestions. Inform stakeholders about the strategic planning process and its implementation. Acknowledge participation of the stakeholders in the planning process.

Word can be spread about various stages of planning process and its implementation through various media.

From strategic to operational

Eighth step is to take planning from strategic to operational. A strategic plan for any institution for any time duration should be focused to make institution reach its vision. Vision is said to be driver of the plan if it is led by changes and improvement in academic activities. If due to any specific critical situation educational institution has to shift its focus from academic plan to that need; institution must do that, and it should also reflect in strategic plan related to that critical situation.

In institutions there are various departments and divisions makes implementation of a strategic plan complex process. Operational and tactical planning provides the institution with the tools and insight to implement the plan. Operational planning is planning at the departmental level of a higher education institution. In this all departments and divisions decides about their own visions and the critical resources required. Tactical planning involves the policies and procedures necessary for effective management, planning, budgeting, and assessing.

The relationship of other types of institutional plans to the strategic plan

Ninth step to strategic planning is to associate other institutional plans with strategic planning. There are various departments and divisions in higher educational institutions, each of these create their own plan e.g. academic plans, facilities and master plans, IT plans, and advancement plans. Strategic planning process integrates all these different plans into one single plan; it results in two benefits i.e. to anticipate and prioritize budget demands; and identifying complementary, competing and contradictory goals.

Summary of thoughts

Lastly tenth step, Critics emphasise that strategic planning can be applied by team leadership and specialist thinking; and is too linear to lead transformative process. It is difficult to think strategically and from higher educational institution’s perspective at the same time, so thinking for institutional strategic planning process is more of integrative and conceptual thinking rather than specialist thinking.

If college/university’s strategic plan is implemented, executed and work effectively; it indicates that all departments and divisions are able to work out their plans effectively.

Mostly higher education institutions either do not use strategic planning or do not use it properly. This leads to cropping up of problems at different departments/divisions from time to time.

Dedicated planners, internal or external, can bring experience, intuition, and creativity to a critical and crucial process.



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