Fairfield University’s strategic plan is undergoing a makeover in order to adjust to the rapidly changing higher education market.

A strategic plan defines an institution’s goals and the methods to achieve them. In his 2004 inaugural address, President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., called for a strategic plan that emphasized three goals: to integrate the core curriculum, to bridge the gap between lessons inside and outside the classroom and to improve the graduate program.

Strategic plans are usually rewritten every ten years, and then adjusted in smaller portions annually. However, according to Executive Vice President Kevin Lawlor ’79, in the next five to six years the higher education landscape will face “volatile” changes like new technology and unpredictable economy. A strategic plan refresher can help Fairfield combat competition from similar universities and innovate the learning experience for students, he said.

The process is scheduled to begin Jan. 13, 2014. Lawlor estimated a 15-month time frame for the full development of another strategic plan, with its goals aimed to be achieved by 2020 – hence the hashtag “Fairfield2020” that adorns posters around campus.

Lawlor will oversee the strategic planning process. A steering committee – possibly consisting of a five administrators, five deans, six faculty members, two students and two alumni – will lead six to eight teams.

The teams, with members specializing in a range of disciplines, examine the university’s business model, the pedagogy of online courses and in-classroom courses, the personal and educational benefits students receive from Fairfield, etc., and recommend improvements to these areas.

Once reports are made, reviewed and agreed upon by all players, and once resources are properly allocated, Fairfield will implement the new strategic plan in the spring of 2015.

Like other schools, Fairfield has faced declining revenue and endowments, while “the price [of school] is getting too high,” Lawlor said. With the revamped strategic plan, he and von Arx want to ensure that students are getting what their families are paying for the school – and more.

By focusing on the school’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats, Fairfield is “honing our value proposition,” Lawlor said.

Fr. von Arx provided as an example of one of Fairfield’s strengths the success of the nursing school. He also said the 2004 strategic plan has already made Fairfield a reputable four-year undergraduate university, but he recognizes the rising potential of the graduate programs.

Vice President for Student Affairs Thomas Pellegrino ’90 said Fairfield has made strides in helping students transition from school to the workplace. One example can be seen in “Classroom to Career,” a College of Arts and Science initiative helping guide students on a path to their career choice.

But Pellegrino said, “We intend to do even better.”

In addition to having the year 2020 in Fairfield’s “line of sight,” Lawlor said they should think beyond that point. “We want to look ahead 75 years and still be in good shape.”

Because the actions resulting from the strategic plan will affect the whole Fairfield community, Lawlor and von Arx hope to hear from not only administration and faculty, but also students, staff and alumni.

“Father von Arx and Kevin Lawlor are extremely adamant about including students, faculty, staff and alumni in the decision making process because they have shaped the Fairfield experience up until this point and will continue to contribute to the future of the institution,” stated Alex Long ’14, FUSA president.

“Having seen the plan and projected timeline,” he added, “Fairfield is going to see some major changes that will have a significant impact on the student experience for the better.”

Faculty members are also prepared to assist in the strategic plan refresher. In the spring of 2013, the Academic Council, an executive arm of the General Faculty that examines and decides on academic concerns, called for a five-year and a 10-year strategic plan for Fairfield.

After seeing a presentation of the strategic plan refresh in December, a subcommittee – Professors Sooyeon Nikki Lee-Wingate, John Thiel, Robert Epstein, Irene Mulvey, Dean Lynn Babington and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Paul Fitzgerald, S.J. – responded to Lawlor and von Arx on Wednesday, Dec. 18.

The council stressed the need for more faculty representation on the steering committee; they proposed a committee of four administrators – two of whom being academic deans – seven faculty members, one student and one alumnus or alumna.

The subcommittee stated, “What is most important to the faculty as we undertake this process is that all divisions of the University – athletics, advancement, student affairs, marketing and communication, finance, human resources, etc., be subjected to outcome-based metrics to assess their organization and functioning.”

Fr. von Arx responded that the Academic Council and other faculty members have been and will continue to be heard. “The strategic plan will touch all corners of the University and it’s important that all constituencies feel represented and participate.”

More comprehensive discussions will take place next semester, but Lawlor said, “We’re off to a great start.”

 

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