Strategic Planning

Every college needs a strategic plan.  Accreditors, donors, and board members require not only the presence of a strategic plan, but even more want to measure the difference it is making in the life and progress of your campus.  Developing the plan is an important first step, but even more critical is implementing your plan in active, measurable ways.  In order to implement, you need both buy-in and ownership from your faculty, staff, and board.

Here are seven key questions to consider as you evaluate your current plan and think about your next one:

  • How thoroughly has your plan been implemented?
  • What kinds of changes did you make in the plan’s goals or initiatives in the last year to reflect current reality?
  • How engaged was your faculty/staff/board community in developing the plan?  In its implementation?
  • If you polled your faculty and staff, how many of them would remember each of your plan’s strategic themes?
  • What metrics did you choose to measure your progress initially?  How have these metrics moved in a positive direction during the life of the plan?  When you achieve these metrics, how will the student experience, your reputation, and your resources be measurably impacted?
  • How long did it take you to develop your current plan?
  • What would you do differently this time as you reflect on your current plan’s development and implementation?

Building a strong and impactful strategic plan involves several key steps:

  • Engagement – faculty, staff, and board must be engaged in building and implementing the plan
  • Efficiency – engagement must strike the right balance between getting input and moving through creation to implementation with urgency
  • Stages – the planning experts at Credo who informed much of my thinking on this subject talk about three distinct planning stages:
    • Strategic thinking – this is what I like to call “the splatter phase” where you gather ideas great and small, practice the good rules of brainstorming, and engage faculty, staff, and board in the splattering.
    • Strategic planning – tons of ideas, many of them strategic, now need winnowing down to the themes, initiatives, metrics, and goals you will follow.  You can’t do everything, and this stage is critical to make sure your plan is focused on the most impactful ideas.
    • Strategic action – moving from planning to implementation is where the real institutional impact is seen and felt.  Solid implementation sets your plan apart and requires both courageous leadership and discipline.
  • Leveling – the strategic plan is at the highest level of planning.  All other plans – enrollment, finance, campus/facilities, marketing, program, and operations – must both reflect the priorities of the strategic plan and “roll up to it.”
  • Priorities – strategic plans which turn into a version of the old Sears Christmas Wish catalog do not live up to the name “strategic.”  Good strategic planning involves choices and a focus on the initiatives which will make the biggest impact on the student experience and institutional health.
  • Focus – a strategic plan which gets beyond three to five organizing themes makes focus challenging
  • Living – these days you don’t hear much about “long range planning.”  Strategic plans need to have structure, but they also need to have the ability – if not expectation – to flex at some point to take advantage of a profound opportunity (someone gives you a transformational gift, your biggest competitor closes, for example) or deal with a major challenge (global pandemic, economic disruption, an institutional image/public relations crisis, for example).


How Does Fuller HES Help You Develop and Implement Your Strategic Plan?

We work with your team to follow the steps outlined above, beginning with senior campus leadership in retreat mode.  Out of this retreat emerge several strategic themes which we now test with both the board and your faculty and staff to gain their insights and buy-in.  We help you form a strategic planning task force which helps refine ideas into plan in preparation for board approval.  Once the plan is approved, the task force shifts its attention to implementation and accountability.

Developing a strategic plan following these steps takes five to nine months depending on schedule and institutional priorities.  The focus then shifts to implementation support for another six to nine months (or beyond).

Did You Know?

Enrollment Research Nuggets

Founder Tim Fuller has conducted research on the cost to recruit a student, staffing, budgets, and the first-year recruitment funnel for more than 30 years.  This research is now conducted under the auspices of NACCAP (  Here are some highlights from the latest Admission Benchmarking Study.

  • The cost to recruit a traditional student at NACCAP colleges has increased by 153% since 1993 and only 52% of this can be attributed to inflation.  Had the cost to recruit a student followed inflation exactly, it would now be only $2,550 instead of $3,577.  Cost increases are driven by increasing competition, labor costs, demographics, and public perceptions of the value of a college education.
  • The smaller the enrollment, the higher the cost to recruit.  The smallest institutions in the study (less than 450 total traditional undergraduates) spend an average of $4,724 to recruit a student while the largest institutions (more than 1,800 total traditional undergraduates) only spend $2,831.
  • On average, a recruitment FTE (full-time admission counselor) produces nearly 63 new students.  This number is less at smaller institutions and greater at larger institutions.  It also does not account for the impact coaches have on recruitment numbers, especially at campuses where more than 50% of the new students are student-athletes recruited primarily by the coaching staff.
  • New transfers made up an average of 16.1% of total new students for fall 2019.
  • Only 54.5% of the participants have established a senior admission counselor position as a next step to which new counselors can aspire.
  • On average, only 68.2% of those who applied to participating institutions completed the application process so that an admission decision was made on their behalf.  This represents one of the biggest opportunities for change for many NACCAP institutions.  Simply put, many are striving to get more applications when a sounder, more efficient strategy might be to improve their completion rate.

For a comprehensive look at the 2019 Admission Benchmarking Study, download the PDF.