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What is it?

What Does It Mean to Plan Strategically?

Academicians regularly engage in planning.  We plan what courses to offer, what will be taught in those courses, and who will teach them.  We engage in this type of planning regularly, on a term-by-term or a year-by-year basis.  This operational, or short-term, planning stands in sharp contrast to true strategic planning which is used to chart the more long-term direction and goals for an organization (Barry, 1998).  The process of planning strategically involves taking a structured approach to anticipating the future (Paris, 2003) of one’s university, college/school, or department.  This future orientation is emphasized in the definition of strategic planning put forth by Tucker (1993).  He defined planning as “the process of making decisions in the present concerning which strategies and actions are to be taken in the future in order that certain goals or outcomes may be realized by a specific date” (p. 8).   Strategic planning also involves an economic element.  Choices must be made about which goals to pursue utilizing a limited supply of resources in order to “maximize benefits to stakeholders” including students, employers of those students, and society (Paris, 2003, p. 1).   As Eaton and Giles-Gee (1996) have noted, the “use of resources to maximize effectiveness is the crux of serious planning at every level within an institution” (pp. 33-34). 

Strategic planning has, historically, been linked to military traditions (Konsky, 1999) but was introduced into the private business sector in the 1960s and into the public sector (including universities) within the subsequent two decades (Chance & Williams, 2009).  Since that time, strategic planning has become increasingly valuable for organizational decision-making and resource allocation in both sectors due to the rapid changes in society in general and higher education in particular (Konsky, 1999).  Several trends within the academy and its environment have intensified the need for strategic planning, including declining resources and increased calls for accountability.  The growing demand for accountability has been sparked largely by the rising cost of education (Chance & Williams, 2009) and the drop, compared to other countries, in U.S. degree attainment (Malik & Lees, 2009).  From students and their families to state legislators to the U.S. Department of Education, stakeholders are demanding that colleges and universities demonstrate their effectiveness in providing a quality education that is worth the price.  By planning strategically, institutions can demonstrate that not only are they achieving their missions and goals (that is, their effectiveness) but also are doing so efficiently.