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Moving Forward: 2012 & Beyond

Moving Forward: 2012 & Beyond

Anthony G. Collins, President of Clarkson University

31 August 2012

For the last eight years, Clarkson’s development has followed the Evolution to Excellence document first issued in 2004 and subsequently amended.  We are all aware the world has changed significantly since 2004, and while the original premises of Evolution to Excellence remain sound, it is an appropriate time to update our collective thinking in terms of Clarkson’s role in the world of higher education and indeed its place nationally and internationally.

The foundational elements of Evolution to Excellence were to develop the academic core of Clarkson, to establish and maintain financial strength and to engage our alumni.  Now, Clarkson’s Evolution to Excellence includes the whole spectrum of University activities: the entire Clarkson experience from prospective students, to the full range of on-campus experiences in and out of the classrooms and laboratories to the ongoing connections as alumni.  In addition, Evolution to Excellence encompasses financial stability, connections with our employees, and connections to corporate partners and to the region.

As Clarkson enters the second decade of the 21st century, our strategic thinking needs to consider:

  1. The intentional development of leaders.  To date Clarkson has a remarkable history of our alumni rising to positions of influence — we should consider supplementing the Clarkson experience with more opportunities and challenges to develop leadership potential to reinforce and strengthen this attribute of Clarkson.
  2. The integration of the student experience.  Just as teaching and research are closely linked at Clarkson, the distinct nature of our close-knit residential campus and contemporary higher education issues call upon both faculty and staff to create a seamless educational experience that embodies developing the whole person.  Intentional, thoughtful and stimulating student engagement provides the foundation for lifetime loyalty from University alumni.
  3. Additional degree programs as appropriate to our mission and goals.  Our degree offerings should reflect a full complement of degrees that are central to our mission.  We should offer the degrees our prospective students seek, with the quality of faculty and scholarship that will make them choose Clarkson.  We need also to serve our region and our degree offerings in health sciences deserve special attention from this perspective.
  4. Expanded research efforts and reaffirmation of our commitment to specific research focus areas.  Attainment and maintenance of a world-class research profile demands that we apply our resources, faculty and facilities, in a manner that converges our collective efforts to contribute to the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge in specific areas of national and global need.
  5. International higher education options.  Quality, not quantity, should govern all of our relationships.  Deeper relationships with our existing partners to encompass research and faculty exchanges should be pursued as well as evaluation of new partner institutions.
  6. Distance/distributed learning opportunities that expand our educational reach.  The internet has reduced the geographic impediment Clarkson has felt under some circumstances in the past around the delivery of a Clarkson education.  We now need to avail ourselves of the most appropriate educational delivery modes for the mutual benefit of Clarkson and our partners in education.
  7. Containing the cost of education by incorporating new and/or expanded revenue streams. The rising cost of education cannot be ignored.  To be competitive we need to be as efficient as possible in the delivery of a Clarkson education and we need to develop alternative revenue streams.

Within these strategic issues to explore and develop actionable outcomes, we should also continue to align our thinking to consider: 

  • Clarkson’s commitment to sustainability in everything we do.  We value our natural environment and the social well-being of our students, employees and broader Northern New York community. It should remain central to our thinking to integrate sustainability principles and practices into all of our operations, academic and student life related activities.
  • Systematically delivering on our brand promise.  The increasingly competitive nature of higher education dictates that we all recognize the value of reputation and visibility.  We need to not only strive for excellence in all we do, but we need to be comfortable in communicating this excellence to the world at large.  Our target audience includes prospective students through alumni as well as regional relationships.
  • Further academic and/or research partners.  Clarkson has a track record in research collaboration with industry and placing its graduates in technology companies around the globe or giving them the skills to start their own enterprises.  Partnering with the Beacon Institute for Rivers and Estuaries has underscored the opportunities available to Clarkson to expand geographically and intellectually.  Further opportunities exist and deserve careful evaluation.
  • Updates to the campus master plan and the infrastructure that support our educational mission. Over the last nine years, we have made significant investments in our campus facilities, enterprise solutions and the infrastructure that support our core mission.  As new priorities unfold, we need to pay parallel attention to the facilities, services and support programs that buoy the success of new initiatives.

As we consider these and other opportunities, I am asking that Senior Vice President and Provost Chuck Thorpe and Vice President Kelly Chezum co-chair a strategic planning exercise to incorporate these elements into a strategic plan for the next five years. The co-chairs will work with the campus to identify university-wide forums for strategic issues, and focus groups and leaders of these focus groups who will collectively form the strategic planning working committee.  The focus groups will center on the seven enumerated considerations listed above, with room for consolidation or expansion of the list during the planning process.

The Board of Trustees deliberated through the summer and members have provided their input via a SWOT analysis identifying from their perspective specific strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.  At the same time, our alumni have been surveyed and we have gathered input from their perspective. As we develop the strategic plan, it will need to include metrics by which we can measure progress, including external benchmarks to understand our progress in the world of higher education.

Our objective is to rapidly identify the working groups and to establish a timeline for the planning process so that our strategies influence budgeting and hiring for FY ’14.