Strategic Planning: Harnessing Enthusiasm to Measure Student Affairs’ Impact

Dusty Porter, Vice President for Student Affairs, Tulane University

December 6, 2017

About a year or so ago, I wrote a blog post for NASPA about the process of strategic planning in student affairs. This post was reflective of the lived experience of a year-long strategic planning process for the Division of Student Affairs at Tulane, and attempted to identify three or so “lessons learned” that might be helpful for other VPSAs moving their Division through that process. If you would like to see the original blog, you can find it here.

The Tulane Division of Student Affairs created a strategic plan that we anticipated would serve the Division and the University for a three-year period. One of the benefits of the plan was the opportunity to ask departments and units within the Division to identify tangible outcomes related to each of the five strategic directions outlined in the plan. (A copy of the final plan can be found here). By asking departments to identify outcomes, we could more easily track where the Division was investing its energy and value-proposition for Tulane, and also be able to assess and measure these outcomes in tangible ways.

What we did not anticipate was that Departments would become so excited about the process that staff would initially go overboard in their optimism about outcomes. In the first year of the strategic plan, 13 departments identified more than 400 outcomes, creating a list that, while exciting, proved to be too cumbersome to share or easily drill-down for easy measurement. We mostly ended up trying to track completion of that many outcomes, similar to a chart tracking completion of a sales or fundraising goal for an organization.

For the second year of the strategic plan, we pivoted and asked departments to choose only 5-10 outcomes with a focus on measurement and assessment. We took the opportunity to bring in the Associate Provost for Institutional Research and provide a refresher course on assessment, allowing needed visibility for that office for the Division of Student Affairs. We now believe we have a list of outcomes for this year that is both easily communicated and associated with a set of measurements that can be utilized in the future annual reporting process.

Speaking of annual reports, the strategic plan has allowed us to completely rethink how we produce and share our division’s annual report. For the first time in the history of Tulane, the Division of Student Affairs has produced an “Impact Report” to share with faculty, staff, students, parents, trustees, and other stakeholders in our work. The Impact Report lifts content from the strategic plan and has a page dedicated to key metrics – exactly the kinds of metrics the outcomes for the second year of the strategic plan will continue to provide. For your information, you can find an electronic copy of the Impact Report here.

As always, we would welcome helping any division that is considering strategic planning, annual reporting, or other types of similar deliverables. Best of luck in your own endeavors in these types of processes!

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