Strategic Planning: What the Future Holds for CSS

Abigail Blonigen
ablonigen@css.edu

The dreaded question every college student is asked, “Where do you see yourself in ten years?” Luckily, most students won’t have to have the next ten years planned out step by step. The same cannot be said for the College of St. Scholastica as a higher education institution.

“This is a key moment in the life of our college because we’re beginning to work to really collectively envision a plan for our future, at least for the next five to ten years,” said Director of the Board of Trustees Chris Dolan as he opened the Strategic Planning Launch last week.

Dolan articulated the charge from the Board of Trustees to the St. Scholastica community and summarized what strategic planning is all about. He expressed the need for innovation, challenging assumptions, and looking for groundbreaking ways to reach our goals. He also attested to the inclusivity of the mission in by remaining well communicated and transparent. He stated CSS must use sound data, analysis, and research when planning, and look at other colleges as examples.

“We need to not just create a plan that sounds nice and sits on a shelf somewhere. We need to create a strategic plan that we as a community can live and operate and build energy and support around,” said Dolan.

He handed the mic off to President Colette Geary, who explained that this plan has already been in the works since she was elected. During the past year, administration has collected data, created committees, and put the foundation in place to create an ambitious and achievable strategic plan.

Geary focused heavily on the concept of change, how it can be difficult and uncomfortable, but is necessary to go forward.

“While we focus on planning today, change has got its own plan, and sometimes we have to make the best of new scenarios that came along,” she said.

One specific change she focused on was the constant change in students.

“We spend a lot of time thinking about students in the here and now, in the present, but in strategic planning, we must look ahead to what’s on the horizon.”

These changes include changing demographics, socioeconomic realities, technological proficiencies, generational characteristics, religious characteristics, and prior education experience.

“How might we adapt to best meet their needs and interests?” Geary asked. “Understanding who our students are becoming is necessary in planning how best to serve them.”

Geary also expressed some of the challenges the college is facing going forward, one of those being financial challenges.

“When we think about the business model, there are a combination of factors that are very challenging for independent colleges like us, and it starts with being heavily tuition dependent,” said Geary.

She encouraged the community to be open and creative when considering new ways to raise funds as a college, an example being partnerships, both local and international.

However, President Geary does not want St. Scholastica to get so caught up in the market, that we forget our values.

“If all we’re trying to do is compete in a challenging marketplace, we will have lost sight of our noble purpose and enormous potential,” she said.

She acknowledged that these goals will be difficult and take time, but, “The most valuable resource that the college has in creating this exciting vision is all of us,” she said.

The presentation boiled down to five central attributes, or “big ideas”: the distinctive CSS education, the value proposition, access and affordability, partnerships and priorities, and high performance culture.

After the presentation concluded, audience members were encouraged to participate in roundtable discussions on the five big ideas, brainstorming ways to make the dreams of St. Scholastica a reality.