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The Carletonian

Carleton’s strategic planning process continues

<teen working groups have been addressing issues since fall term as part of Carleton’s Strategic Planning review process.

The Carletonian continues to speak with the working groups about their tasks and goals for improvements over the next ten years, including a group focused on the “ideal student body” and another on tuition and financial aid.

As conveners Dana Wright ’95 and Justin Wender ’91 explained, the Ideal Student Body and Tuition and Financial Aid working groups are charged with very similar tasks. 

“One of the questions we need to answer is how do we best use our resources,” Wender, the convener of the Tuition and Financial Aid working group, said.  “Do we have the resources to admit an ideal student body?  The financial aid budget and pricing [the cost of tuition] are linked to our ability to deliver the class we want.” 

Wright, the convener of the Ideal Student Body working group, agreed, saying that her group was asking not only “how do we get the students we want?” but also “how do we pay for them?” 

Specifically, Wright’s group wrestled with the issue of how to encourage diversity on campus. 

“We want a diverse group of students, but we also want people to have a good fit,” she said. 

Wender’s group is charged with finding out whether the current financial aid policy is sustainable. 

“We spend a lot of our time focused on how we pick students and how we allocate resources,” he said.  “A Carleton education is useful later in life, but expensive… can we make this education affordable?”  

Since fall term, the 13 strategic planning groups have been meeting regularly to discuss the questions they have been asked to explore, in a variety of formats.  They frequently communicate via Moodle, which also allows them to store and view data about the college’s tuition and financial aid policies. 

“There’s a tremendous amount of data behind what we’re doing,” Wender said, “so we’re using Moodle to give people access to those resources, and we also hold online discussions” via forum posts.

Wright’s group has had a total of ten meetings so far, six during fall term and four during winter. 

“Strategic planning is a little messy,” she said when asked what the process entailed.  “You kind of just dive right in and have conversations.  It’s an iterative process.  You might reach a conclusion but not feel ready to finish yet, so you keep talking.” 
Wright, who has participated in strategic planning at the University of Illinois, where she is a faculty member, is impressed with the way Carleton has organized the process. 

“They created a first layer of assumptions, for instance, that Carleton will remain an undergraduate school. Traditional strategic planning spends too much time on fundamentals that we don’t want to change, but Carleton got fundamentals out of the way first,” she said.

Both groups have met with other institutions on campus to discuss the issues they face.   The Ideal Student Body working group has met with several individuals who might have a unique perspective on the nature and extent of diversity in Carleton’s student body. 

Wender’s group met with the Admissions and Financial Aid Committee, a diverse group of students, staff and faculty that is one of the campus’ many governing committees.  Many of the questions his group is pondering “have already been looked at” by AFAC, he said. 

“What we need to do is find out, ‘Where do we go from here?”  Wender mentioned that AFAC “thinks the current financial aid system is not sustainable,” but offered few details. 

In the future, both conveners say their groups may engage with the larger student body as the Community and Advising and Mentoring working groups have done, but neither is interested in doing so at the moment. 

“We want to know how students perceive the atmosphere on campus,” Wright said, “but because our topic is so large, we needed to have some things worked out for ourselves.” 

Both conveners are optimistic about their ability to finish their appointed task by the scheduled time in spring term. 

“Thinking has really started to gel, and we’re able to put ideas on paper,” Wright said, but her group is far from certain about what those ideas will be when the final draft is released.  Strategic planning is an iterative process, she emphasized, and her group never assumes that the ideas they come up with are complete or perfect. 

“We let them sit for a bit, then come back.”   

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