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Feven Getachew
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Strategic planning transitions from ideas to action

By Nicholas Chisholm

The College’s strategic plan is moving out of the abstract into action, beginning this school year.

Beginning in August 2011, committees of faculty, staff and students began to lay the foundation for the future of the College. In April 2012, the Steering Committee and smaller working groups issued a Major Directions Report that distilled a year of planning into six “major directions” that would constitute strategic planning for the College’s future. The Board of Trustees responded with certain modifications over the summer.

Vice President for Strategic Planning Angela Voos was tasked with translating the ideological underpinnings of the report into concrete solutions. Voos is now working to create committees that will focus on implementing specific proposals. The committees will consist of a senior staff lead and a faculty co-lead who together will work within existing structures to implement the plan.

Both the specifics of the committees and formulation of the action plans will be open for comments from the student body at town-hall meetings Sept. 19 at noon and Sept. 27 at 8 p.m. in the JRC.

However, the population most affected by the strategic action plan is not even on campus yet. Over the course of last year, market research group Art and Science observed that to prospective students, Grinnell lacks a unified trademark setting it apart from the dozens of other liberal arts colleges.

The upcoming website redesign will be the most evident change to how prospective students perceive the College.

“There will be a whole new, way cool, web presence. It is a completely different way of experiencing the web and it was developed to serve the community and to serve prospective students,” Voos said. “So it won’t look like a 1990s web site.”

Another focus of the changes will be financial aid and admissions, because financial aid costs are rising in a possibly unstable manner, challenging the College’s value of access for students of different financial backgrounds.

“We can’t do it with the endowment alone,” Voos said. “The endowment just isn’t going to do it. So we are going to need to find different ways to provide access.”
“We don’t want to overspend the College’s resources today at the expense of those students years to come in the future,” said Joe Bagnoli, Vice President for Enrollment and Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.

The Major Directions Report weighed in on the challenges the current financial trajectory poses for financial aid.

“The working group strongly reaffirms Grinnell’s core values of need-blind admission and a commitment to meet the full demonstrated financial need of domestic students,” the report states. “Rising levels of total financial aid spending challenge our ability to admit students without regard to need. We have a range of options for how we continue to meet their need: impose further on our endowment, attract more gift dollars to the College, increase the percentage of students who can contribute tuition toward operational costs or some combination of the three.”

The trustees’ response to this report balances a commitment to provide access to Grinnell’s education with financial considerations. Their response calls for a need to “explore the financial considerations in decisions about the composition of the incoming class, and adjust these considerations in the context of the College’s near- and longer-term budget and programmatic aspirations while maintaining a sustainable commitment to access to higher education.”

Voos emphasized the College’s commitment to the broad value of access for students of different financial backgrounds.

“Grinnell is committed to access,” she said. “It’s not a little commitment. It’s a huge commitment to making this amazing education available for those who might not otherwise be able to. Need-blind is a policy that supports this value of access. We need to make sure we support this value.”

The Major Directions Report also calls for maintaining the College’s current student body size of about 1,600 students. The report says that the working group considered benefits of a smaller student body, such as more selective admissions and a greater ability to maintain diversity. The group also considered the benefits of a larger student body, such as the ability to hire more faculty and expand majors. However, the group decided that maintaining the current size was the best option, since a smaller student body would lead to a loss of revenue, while more students would require construction and a decrease in admissions selectivity.

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