Carleton’s Future: A Strategic Plan for the College 2012

TO:  The Carleton Community
FROM:  Steven G. Poskanzer, President
DATE:  November 14, 2012
SUBJECT: Carleton’s Future: A Strategic Plan for the College 2012

I’m delighted to share with you the outcome of 20 months of thoughtful deliberation, considered reflection, and difficult choices by the Carleton community:  a bold and comprehensive strategic plan for our College’s next decade.

The document, Carleton’s Future: A Strategic Plan for the College 2012, lays out the critical next steps we will take to secure Carleton’s continued distinction. We intend to preserve and enhance our academic excellence so that Carleton remains one of the very best liberal arts colleges in the world.  Our plan sets a clear, achievable, measurable, and powerful path for Carleton’s future.

We believe that the core premise upon which Carleton rests—the life-changing value of a residential, personalized liberal arts education—remains compelling. Our optimism is buttressed by the fact that Carleton is in fact delivering the top-quality liberal arts education we promise to our students. This is evident from strong student demand, outstanding student quality, exceptional faculty and staff—and, of course, by loyal and generous alumni who recognize how their Carleton education and experience changed their lives for the better.

However, despite these very considerable causes for pride and confidence, we must not be complacent. This is an especially fluid moment in American (indeed, global) higher education, with online learning experiments blossoming, declining public support for and confidence in colleges and universities, intense pressure on tuition, and deepening questions about affordability and access—and ultimately about the meaning and value of a college degree.

Our strategic planning effort—the broadest and most inclusive in College history—has led us to examine and focus in particular on Carleton’s distinctive features and culture; the impact a Carleton education has on students and their lives in the broader world; and how we can become even better at the things that matter most to us. Our responsibility is to bolster Carleton’s current competitive position to assure the College’s continued success. We should aggressively seize the compelling opportunities that lie before us.

Critical Next Steps to Secure Carleton’s Continued Distinction

We have settled upon a limited set of initiatives which, taken together, are a concrete and focused plan for Carleton’s future. This plan has six core ideas, which are described in detail in the document:

  1. Prepare Students More Robustly for Fulfilling Post-Graduation Lives and Careers
  2. Enhance our Curriculum to Improve Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning
  3. Strengthen the Socio-economic Diversity of our Student Body
  4. Maintain a Self-Sustaining Economy with a Growing Endowment per Student
  5. Make Focused Investments in Facilities that Directly Advance our Mission
  6. Embrace Collaborative Opportunities with Other Institutions to Enhance Our Academic Programs and Save Costs

As we devote time and resources to these initiatives, we shall also seek to raise Carleton’s profile—in ways that are genuine and consistent with our values and culture—with key audiences: prospective students and those who influence them; potential donors; current and prospective employers of our graduates; and opinion leaders.

There are a number of reasons why I am particularly optimistic that Carleton is poised to achieve these bold goals. First, the already-strong levels of personal engagement and support given to students by faculty and staff mean that helping our graduates to begin fulfilling careers and lives is a natural outgrowth of Carleton’s dedication to superb teaching and mentoring. Second, Carleton has long sustained and nurtured a self-perpetuating cycle of academic excellence. Our great professors attract great students, who have an extraordinary experience here; the opportunity to work with and mentor such intellectually curious and earnest undergraduates in turn serves as a magnet that attracts a next generation of great professors, thus reinforcing the high caliber of a Carleton education. Third, our commitment to the liberal arts—an “integrative” model of learning—means that we can directly tie our curriculum to our co-curriculum and link campus-based research, off-campus studies, internships, and community-based learning and scholarship to “regular” classroom learning. Fourth, our record of being “frugally creative” raises my confidence that we have the discernment and discipline needed to invest energy and resources into areas where they are most needed. And fifth, geography and history have given Carleton a rare gift in terms of opportunities to collaborate with St. Olaf and other important institutions in the area.

It is energizing to craft bold plans. But it is even more gratifying to bring those plans to fruition. With consensus on our mission and goals, we now turn together to that task. In ten years we will be able to say that we have enhanced the life-changing value of a Carleton education and degree. We will have kept faith with students and their families better than ever before by the powerful and effective ways we help our graduates launch themselves into the broader world. And we will have bound those graduates more tightly to their alma mater. In a decade, we will have made this an even more successful, self-sustaining, and justly-celebrated Carleton—in short, a better and more distinctive College that is true to its best history and able to seize and shape its best future.

I am thankful for all of the hard work and careful and creative thought by hundreds of community members—faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, parents, friends—that has gone into this plan. The Working Groups made hard choices and set priorities—something that is difficult for colleges to do.

Above all, I am very excited about this strategic plan and the objectives it sets. Our plan will move Carleton forward in bold ways that will directly and measurably enhance the quality of the education the College delivers. I look forward to joining with and working alongside you as we make our dreams for Carleton come true.