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The Carletonian

Strategic Plan for Next 10 Years Starts Now

< one year ago, a group of almost 150 students, staff, and faculty met with President Poskanzer to begin the long process of planning for Carleton’s next ten years.  The Strategic Planning committee established their basic assumptions and goals at this meeting, then split itself into 13 working groups, each considering a separate aspect of Carleton’s future. 

Over the late spring and summer, these groups undertook the task of unifying their results into a single document.  On September 25, 2012, Poskanzer summarized their first draft before a packed audience in the Chapel.

It had taken the committee “Eighteen months of thoughtful deliberation,critical reflection, and hard choices” to reach this point in the process, and their work was not yet completed.  The final stage of the process involved opening the committee’s results to commentary from the community at large. 

Briefly, Poskanzer summarized the six overarching goals outlined in the draft: improve Carleton’s ability to prepare students for life after graduation, improve the curriculum and integrate it with other aspects of the college experience, increase socioeconomic diversity among the students and staff, ensure that Carleton College can sustain itself financially and grow its endowment, invest in facilities that will contribute to the school’s mission, and collaborate with other institutions. 

He then called upon different members of the committee to discuss each of these goals in depth.  English professor Tim Raylor explained the rationale behind this goal.  “Helping students find careers after Carleton has not, historically, been our greatest strength,” he told the audience. 

“We’ve equipped our graduates with an immensely valuable set of skills, but we’ve not necessarily helped them leave Carleton with a realistic sense of the opportunities to which their aptitudes and interests might lead them.” 

In a liberal arts college, he said, there was “a sense that we should not be pushing particular career paths on our students”, but that “there is some distance between being overactive and being inert.”  Biology professor Debby Walser-Kuntz elaborated, saying that the current advising system limits advising to “short term” planning – studentscan get advice on which classes to take next term, but not on which career to pursue after graduating.  

In particular, she said, students reported dissatisfaction with the advising they received during their freshman and sophomore years.  Kuntz and Raylor suggested the solution was to integrate the advising systems that are already in place, such as faculty advisors and the career center, to support a more holistic approach to advising.  

They also called for alumni and parents to play a greater role in the advising process.  The role of first- and second-year advisors should be expanded and clarified, they said, to help students understand the value of a liberal-arts education.  

Professor of Religion Louis Newman took the podium to briefly explain the commission’s recommendations for the curriculum.  Although Carleton has a strong and well-deserved academic reputation, Newman explained that “we’re missing some opportunities to integrate different aspects of a Carleton education.”  As one example, he cited the off-campus studies which are popular among Carleton students, saying that students could get more out of these studies if they were encouraged to “prepare intellectually” before their trip and integrate what they learned into their studies at Carleton when they return.

He also planned to expand student research, especially in social sciences and the humanities, saying that “every Carleton student who wishes to engage in significant research should have the opportunity to do so.”  

The issues of socioeconomic diversity and Carleton’s financial situation are closely intertwined, and Poskanzer returned to the podium to explain this part of the committee’s draft.  “Our most pressing student body gap, this time, is the socioeconomic diversity of our students.”  

To remedy this gap, he stressed that “a Carleton education must remain, and be perceived as, financially accessible.”   For this reason, he said, Carleton’s budget needs could not be met by increasing the college’s tuition or other fees.  

Although Carleton has had some success at raising money through summer programs for high school students and teachers, most of the money for new programs will need to be reallocated from current programs.  Most of the money will need to come from “productivity gains across the college – that is, doing what we do now, or even more, with fewer people on the payroll.”  

This announcement caused some worry among students and faculty that the strategic plan would make it more difficult for professors to gain tenure, but Poskanzer reassured the audience that the college would continue to make decisions on tenure based on “the intellectual needs of the college” rather than productivity.  Poskanzer, Shuffleton, and Dean of the College Beverly Nagel all reiterated the need for Carleton to increase its endowment-to-student ratio, arguing that the endowment  guarenteed Carleton’s long-term fiscal health.  

Poskanzer briefly outlined the last two sections of the committee’s draft.  The committee’s plan for Carleton’s physical plant calls for the college to construct interdisciplinary classrooms and research spaces, as well as to demolish the old music and drama complex and construct a new building that could better meet the needs of the college’s music department.

Poskanzer also recommended that Carleton collaborate more closely with St. Olaf College, suggesting that a collaboration between these two schools could become a model for academic collaboration elsewhere.  

Although the plan outlined in the chapel represented eighteen months of work, Poskanzer stressed that it was still in the draft stage, and that one final step remained: to open the strategic plan up to commentary from the community at large.  To that end, Carleton College has posted the entire strategic plan on its website, at the address, along with an online submission form that allows students, faculty, and staff to comment on it.  

In addition, Poskanzer plans to address the strategic plan at several meetings on campus throughout the coming months.  “We intend to give the entire Carleton community an opportunity to read and react to the plan before it is finalized,” Poskanzer said.  

“The net result of all of our efforts will be a more focused, more successful, self-sustaining, and more justly celebrated Carleton,” Poskanzer said at the conclusion of his speech.  “I’m very excited about this strategic plan and the priorities it sets.  It is a powerful document that will guide us as the real work of actually implementing and achieving our goals proceeds.”

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