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Teachers College, Columbia University
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TC Works on Strategic Plan

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TC Works on Strategic Plan

John Stevens

The Teachers College community is being asked to participate in formulating a shared vision for the future of the College and to determine how that vision can be implemented. To streamline the process, Kaludis Consulting, a firm that works with higher education institutions on strategic planning, has been brought in.

John Stevens, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the company and Gwenn Weaver, Senior Associate, have been meeting with members of the community, the senior staff and the Trustees to discuss what can be expected over the next few years.

Strategic Planning on the web, The Strategic Planning Web site (www.tc.edu/strategic-planning), gives members of the TC Community more than a place to learn about the school wide initiative and keep informed about its progress, it also provides an outlet to interact with the process. A message from President Levine, FAQ's and newsletters are flanked by discussion groups open to members of the TC Community to discuss the issues affecting the school.

"Strategic planning started with the Chinese military," Stevens noted. "It was used for centuries and became something that businesses used in a formal way in the last century. Higher education and government started using strategic plans in the mid-1900s."

The process, he said, has shifted from being a centralized process that was limited to a "cadre of people who were highly skilled and trained" to being a more open and participatory process. While the strategic plan itself will emerge into a written document, Stevens noted that the document is simply a frame of reference and that the process of planning must be ongoing.

To develop the plan, Stevens said, there are five phases. TC is currently in the first phase since March 2002. "The first phase is what we call process design," Stevens said. "We interview as many people in the institution one-on-one or in groups so we get an understanding of the culture of the institution." Members of the community are asked to come up with strategic questions that link internal operations with external factors over which the college has little or no control. For example, such a question might be: "What academic programs should TC offer (internal operations) to respond to the changing demographic composition of prospective students (external environment)?" These strategic questions will be organized into categories by a group of stakeholders-which include faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, people from the local community, businesses and other university partners.

To date, several hundred strategic issues have been collected. "Anyone from the campus can look at the list of issues on the Web site to determine if what they think should be there is there," Stevens said. "They can also add an issue to the list." Phase I ends in October with a stakeholders conference and a presentation of the process to the trustees.

As Phase II begins, a steering committee and task forces begin training sessions. The community will be kept up to date and asked for feedback through three open campus meetings. The main thrust of Phase II is for the working groups to receive their charges and develop strategies to answer them. Each group will be asked to begin preparing the document that describes the College's vision in one particular area. By the third open campus meeting, the groups will present a draft of the reports they have prepared for feedback from the community. "The key element to the process," Stevens stressed, "is that it is open, transparent and participatory."

Then Phase III begins in approximately March of 2003, when the steering committee pulls out common themes for the College and determines which are most important, which are less important and how those themes work together. "The end result of that discussion is that we have a very rough first outline about what the strategic agenda for Teachers College should look like," Stevens said. That outline is revised four to five times by the steering committee and the president until they agree that they have come up with the best possible future for TC. Then another open campus meeting is held and more adjustments are made before the agenda is presented to the trustees for their approval. "The trustees are constantly involved in the process all the way along," said Stevens. "So they know how everything is going, and they are not surprised by the document they receive at the end of Phase III."

Phase IV begins May 2003, and ends in September. In this phase, an operational planning team will prepare a document that will outline a plan for implementing the strategic agenda. This operational plan will spell out the steps that will be necessary-including programs, budgets, time-lines, and responsible parties-to implement each part of the strategic plan and to ensure that the plan is carried out. "For each action step, there is a capital budget, an operating budget, revenue source, responsible party, timeline and measurement," Stevens explained.

By September of 2003, Phase V, the implementation phase, should be starting. At this point, TC will begin to take action on its strategic plan. The measurement system that is set up will indicate if each step has been taken and how things are progressing. "When most institutions fail at strategic planning, they fail because they have not tied their vision to the operations of the institution," Stevens said. "Our process is focused on ensuring that the ball doesn't get dropped."previous page