President

President Donald R. Eastman III

President's Remarks to the Board

President's Remarks at the Meeting of the Board of Trustees - May 23, 2003

Strategic Planning for Eckerd College: Process, Issues, and Roles

Purpose

The purpose of strategic planning is to strengthen and intensify - not change - our college, our product, and our brand; deepen the quality and effectiveness of what we are trying to do; enrich the Eckerd College experience; and articulate in more effective ways that experience.

Strategic planning is not an exercise in rethinking the premises or primary direction of the college. The experiment - whether we can make a go of an absolutely first-rate liberal arts college in Florida - is still viable.

This strategic planning effort starts, as all great epics do, "in media res," in the middle of things: We've been hard at work on getting our financial, investment, physical, recruiting, and student programming strategies right - at least since I joined the college. The result of that work is that we are able now to engage in strategic planning that is much more focused than strategic planning activities at most colleges and universities. We have a reasonably firm hand on our business and financial operations. We have a highly developed plan for strengthening our admissions work, including staffing, recruitment materials, website upgrade, improved campus tours, renovated administrative offices, and sophisticated computer modeling of our tuition pricing and financial aid activities-all designed to bring in and to retain higher numbers of more applicants and slightly more enrollees who are better students at less bottom-line cost to the college. We have a superior campus master plan that illustrates our ambition and our path for the future. We have a hugely improved student life program in which students are more involved, more challenged and more educated to be young adults than ever before. In my recent work with alumni and parents in Chicago, I heard from four different sets of parents about "Super-Dean" Jim Annarelli and about how much progress their sons and daughters have told them we are making in student life at Eckerd College.

I believe we are now ready for a truly focused strategic planning effort.

The External Environment

These factors in the college's external environment will influence how we shape our internal strategy:

  • Funds available for philanthropy will be tougher to get, both because of the economic climate and because of increased competition from the public sector.
  • State and federal support for higher education is liable to continue to decline.
  • Financial need among college-bound students will continue to grow faster than federal and state funding for financial aid.
  • While tenured faculty will continue to form the core of most colleges and universities, an increasing number of teachers will be employed outside the tenure system.
  • Technology will continue to revise the ways in which we teach, learn, carry out research, and communicate. It will probably not, however, replace people at colleges like Eckerd, but it will change and perhaps enrich the way they work with each other.
  • Florida, in particular, and the rest of the country in general, will continue to grow in its college-going population - but a large percentage of that growth will be among minorities - Hispanic, Black and Asian students who will be looking for something a bit different than white-western-heritage-in-a-dominant-race-global-context.
  • We all remember John Maynard Keyes' observation that the great events in history are often the result of slow changes in demography. Consequently, we do well to remember that in most of the world, fertility rates are dropping so much so that some countries such as Japan and Italy are already closing schools by the thousands. The striking contrast, however, is with the African and Middle Eastern nations, many of which are growing at rates of eight percent per year (which means they will double their populations in nine years) and growing at the same time the gap between rich and poor countries. The political fallout from and disease consequences of that rate of population growth are now all too evident in both the Middle East and Africa.
  • While we do not need any reminders in Pinellas County that our population is aging, nationally our population over 65 will more than double over the next 25 years to 70 million-which is one reason 70% of Americans today now pay more in social security taxes each year than they do in income taxes. These folks, however, are the healthiest, wealthiest old people in history: MIT professor Lester Thurow calls them "woopies" - well off older people: Their median per-capita income is two-thirds above that of the population as a whole.
  • Immigration: The United States now admits nearly a million legal immigrants a year, and maybe 300,000 illegal ones. Nearly 200,000 additional people enter each year on student, work, or tourist visas and then simply stay. We now have nearly 13 million foreign-born Latinos in this country, most from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. (By contrast, there are only two million Asian immigrants living in the United States.)
  • Family demographics include the striking fact that forty percent of American children now live in single-parent households, and sixty percent spend some part of their youth with only one biological parent. Thirty-two percent of American children are now born out of wedlock; among Blacks the percentage is seventy percent, but Whites are rapidly catching up.
  • Seventy-five percent of American families with children have mothers employed full time.
  • Seventy percent of all prison and reform school inmates come from fatherless families, and the rates of imprisonment, juvenile violent crime, child neglect and abuse, alcohol and drug use have quintupled in the last quarter century. Princeton professor of history Lawrence Stone says, "The scale of marital breakdown in the West since 1960 has no historical precedent that I know of . . . there's been nothing like it in the last 2000 years, and probably longer." The impact of these and other social demographics is painfully obvious to many of you and to our financial aid and student life staff, perhaps, in particular.
  • As the students become ever more needy, however, the federal government is trying to decrease its support for financial aid programs, a posture that is increasingly alarming for the nation, in my view, and for colleges like ours in particular.
  • Tallahassee is likewise backing away from public support of both public and private education on a scale that is simply unprecedented. I do not cite these data to alarm or "chicken little" you, but simply to suggest some environmental trends that deserve study as we chart our course.
  • Finally, our prospective students seem to be, in the past three years, less interested in Marine Science and increasingly interested in business, management and the visual arts.

Positioning/Fit

There is no superior liberal arts college in Florida except Eckerd.

There are few first-rate liberal arts colleges in the South. We want to be a Williams or Bowdoin without cold winters and with lots of water for sailing. We want to be global, public spirited, academically tough, and stylish beyond anything the middlebrow Florida publics have to offer in a growing, roughneck state that needs some intellect and polish.

Our internal vision of ourselves as a place that mentors and nurtures as well as teaches and empowers students is solid - though we pay for it sometimes by attracting troubled ones who need more psychological support than faculty can provide - hence the need for additional student affairs staff to carry part of the "mentoring" load.

But our vision of ourselves as innovative, as a pioneer in liberal arts education, can only be sustained by continuing to develop innovative programs and packaging. We have won awards for having one of the best freshman programs - but we probably have not touted or packaged that program in a sufficiently memorable way.

A great deal of success in strategic planning depends on getting the "fit" right, in our case the "fit" between program and market, or between the "Eckerd College experience" and our students and prospective students. We may need to adjust only one side of that equation, but we might need to adjust both sides.

One of the key questions to be addressed by this effort is, "What is or what are the next `famous for' majors at Eckerd?" Another way to ask that question is to look for what combinations of market interest and institutional strength we want to bet our future on. Does our interest in attracting a higher socio-economic demographic in our students suggest any particular disciplines? Probably not poetry, I would wager, but perhaps art, and more likely business or international business; perhaps international diplomacy; but if so, what implications does that have for supporting fields, such as political science and history?

Does that same demographic priority also translate into thinking about adding such sports as lacrosse to our athletic portfolio? Or strengthening our sailing team?

These are all questions of positioning with which our planning and our plan will need to deal.

Roles

In the business world, corporate strategy is developed by management. But in the academic world, faculty (and some staff) are part of management, so strategy must be developed from within first.

All those who have been to college usually think they are experts on colleges, even though they do not necessarily think they are experts on open-heart surgery just because they have a heart.

Nevertheless, it is the role of faculty to propose what should be done and the role of the Board to decide whether it is to be done. Both are involved in the question of how it is to be done.

And the president's job is to try to keep these nuanced distinctions separate and the process moving toward a fruitful conclusion.

Only the trustees have the authority to change the mission, but I do not believe we are facing that issue at this time.

Process

The schedule for this effort is simple: We meet today to launch this effort, and at lunch, trustees will be seated with faculty and staff to begin a discussion of the issues on which planning will focus. A designated recorder at each table will take notes, and we will make them available at the beginning of our plenary session tomorrow morning.

Faculty and staff will then work in their groups and with others over the next six months to develop strategic recommendations for each of the issue areas. The faculty retreat, I am told, will be devoted to this discussion, and interim reports are anticipated at the October and February board meetings.

Strategic recommendations from the planning groups are due December 1.

I will work with an institutional strategic planning advisory group to review those recommendations and to develop a strategic plan to present to the appropriate committees and the full board at the Summer 2004 Board Meeting.

Action

While some folks might be a little wary about the speed of this schedule, I would use in response, and in favor of getting on with it, a story I heard from Vice President for Church Relations Ben Jacobson:

In Philadelphia Presbytery, long noted for its theological and biblical acumen, a candidate for ministry was being grilled by one of the patriarchs. He asked the young man, "What did the Apostle Paul say about the armor of God?" The young man was supposed to give an elaborate description of Paul's admonition in the sixth chapter of Ephesians about girding loins with truth, wearing the breastplate of righteousness . . . and so on. But the candidate for ministry gave a different answer: "Sir, St. Paul said, `Put it on.'"

So let's put it on. Let's work together to develop a plan that we are ready to put our effort and our resources behind right away. We do not need a plan to make us look good. We need a plan that will help us make decisions, including resource priority and allocation decisions, and fund-raising and gift-giving decisions every day.

The point of planning is not the plan-but the actions which the plan outlines and inspires.