The importance of strategic planning for a large institution cannot be underestimated. It provides both context for new initiatives and affirms the importance of such initiatives within an institutional context. Done well, a strategic plan provides a roadmap to specific strategic goals while defining the resources needed to reach the destination. For substantive undertakings like online learning, it can be the difference between success and failure.
Higher education, and the not-for-profit sector generally, have been slower to adopt strategic planning than the private sector. In business, poor planning can result in economic loss and even business failure, whereas in the public sector, since bankruptcy is not a consideration, measures of program effectiveness can get lost when providing “social goods.” Education is one example of a social good, and public institutions of higher education are specifically mandated to meet this critical social need with funds coming largely from government sources.
Educating young minds is certainly not akin to producing widgets, and thus different yardsticks are used for both planning and evaluating the effectiveness of these enterprises. Nonetheless, good planning methodologies are needed for both. For the public sector, with increasing budgetary shortfalls, there are renewed calls for greater accountability in measuring both “inputs and outputs” in higher education. For example, recently in Texas, Governor Rick Perry has put forth a proposal to measure professors’ “productivity” in the Texas system in terms of classes taught, research dollars secured, and articles written. (Article from Houston Chronicle)
On the “output” side of the equation, a recent book by Arum and Roksa entitled Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, attempts to measure what college students really learned from their years in school and whether there was less learning taking place than originally assumed. Their study offers a convincing argument that many students can go through four or more years of college and grow very little in terms of their thinking processes and actual academic knowledge. Such studies, which may lead to calls for tighter accreditation standards, are a reflection of increasing pressure, particularly on public universities, to account for what they do and how they do it.
In upcoming posts, I will explore specific policy and implementation issues concerning online learning, and discuss strategic planning methods that can guide online development.
Photo Credit: CC Commons License; “Making a Plan” (Let Ideas Compete)