By JOHN WYATT – NEWS EDITOR
Centre College has continually been one of the leading institutions for learning, not just among Kentucky schools, but liberal arts colleges nationwide. Everything from Centre’s high alumni support rate to a graduation rate of nearly 87 percent – the highest in the state and one of the highest in the nation – is the result of the vision of Centre College officials to continue to make Centre the special place it is today. Centre’s recently “refocused” strategic plan is being developed and implemented to ensure that Centre College and its students continue to be successful and among the nation’s best and brightest.
Research for the newly refocused strategic plan started back in 2006/2007 and looked at the environment in which Centre exists — what’s going on within higher education as a whole — and the environment of Centre itself. Nearly 200 people were involved in the research and creation of this plan, something that is different from several other schools, according to Vice President for College Relations Richard Trollinger. “As a development officer/educational fundraiser, part of what I have found to be particularly attractive about the way we do things at Centre is that our strategic direction and institutional priorities are established through a planning process that involves broad-based participation of the campus community (faculty, staff, and students) as well as alumni, parents, and trustees. There is greater consensus here about the direction in which we want to move and the funding that will be required to get us there,” Trollinger said.
“This is not always the case in higher education,” he continued. “At many institutions, the priorities for which funds are sought reflect little more than the current president’s preferences. While those preferences may be well thought out and very strategic, they are just as likely to be a reflection of the president’s personal interests and biases. In those instances, it is hard to establish a development program that takes a long-view.”
A main issue those involved in the planning are constantly wary of is to not let a plan be set and then forgotten,but instead to have it constantly guide and affect what the college does. “Part of that process is always considering, what’s changed? What’s still relevant and what isn’t?” Pottinger Professor of History and Chief Planning Officer Clarence Wyatt said. “In this cycle in particular what we wanted to do was to build five years out from adoption a serious look at the plan and consider what was still relevant.”
President Roush also shares this sentiment, saying, “Strategic thinking and planning has a rich tradition at Centre — one that goes back well before my arrival in 1998. Since then, the importance of having a strategic vision for the College has only increased. This vision and plan is a result of finding consensus among the institution’s trustees, faculty, staff, and students. The result: Centre has become a place known widely where we discuss what might be ‘best and possible,’ write it down, and, here’s the best part, ‘do it.” ‘The plan, in fact, becomes the way by which the College is led.”
The plan itself contains “four strategic directions” that shape and guide the overall plan for the college. The first, as Wyatt described it, is “lives examine, lives empower,” and is the main “direction” behind the new strategic plan. As Wyatt explained, there’s been a recent spike the past few decades in the number of college applicants, due to the number of children from the baby-boom generation. “Because of this we have a deeper pool to draw from for places like us. Now, however, the ‘echo of the baby boom generation’ is fading out, [and] kids are working their way through college. As a result, the growth in traditional-age college applicants is going to flatten and probably decline, so it’s going to be much more competitive in the world of higher education,” Wyatt said.
According to Wyatt, several colleges are attempting to address this impending trend mixed with the economic strains that come with higher education. Some, Wyatt explained, are seeking more short-term solutions, which Wyatt said can “dilute what they do and what they offer [either through lowering standards of applicants or tacking on graduate progras]. A lot of times they’re just efforts to bring in money, which there’s nothing wrong with. But if it’s distracting you from what you do and offer, it’s a questionable long-term solution.”
Centre is aware of these issues, and is conscious to avoid taking easy, short-term solutions. “The path that we’re choosing is to take what it is that we do that no other setting can do, which is development of the human person, and take it to the next level. The way to think about it is that even though Centre is good at creating a holistic experience, what happens in class happens in class, what happens in Greek life happens in Greek life, etc. The question then becomes how can we take all of those things and make them work more fully together, and to help students be more conscious of the relationship between everything they’re experiencing in the different aspects of their college experience. That they see all of this as a learning experience,” Wyatt said. “While we may not be able to compete with a UK or a University of Phoenix in terms of ‘efficiency,’ where we can compete is the experience we provide.”
Another direction of the strategic plan is “A Place for Opportunity.” The main focus of this goal, according to Wyatt, is to keep Centre a place that people can attend if they want, regardless of economic situation. Another focus of this direction is to reflect America’s growing diversity. “By 2019, America will be a majority minority country, meaning that more than half of the 18-24 year old population will be people of color. How do we respond to those changes to, first, reflect this diversity, and to secondly appeal to these growing demographics?” Wyatt said.
The other two main directions of the strategic plan deal with facilities and how to make Centre a more sustainable campus in the future, and the final direction deals with the fundraising to fund these ambitious goals.
Centre has seen tremendous growth in recent years, and if this newly refocused strategic planning and the enthusiasm college officials have for it is any indication, Centre’s future is only going to get better.