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Wide Discussions of Draft Strategic Plan

By Jeffrey Lott

The process of setting strategic directions for the College has continued this fall in classic Swarthmore fashion—with lots of thought, questions, and discussion. Beginning with a review by the Board of Managers of a draft plan at its September meeting and continuing with a series of conversations both on and off campus in October and November, the process is aimed at producing a final document to be considered by the Board in December. If the plan is approved, the College will then develop an overall prioritization and implementation plan for its recommendations.

“The Board had a vigorous discussion of the plan and was enthusiastic about the initiatives proposed,” said Board Chair Barbara Mather ’65 of the Managers’ September meeting. “Board members felt strongly that it was important to preserve access to the College and the intense interaction with the faculty that is one of the hallmarks of a Swarthmore education—and to encourage more cross-disciplinary experimentation in the curriculum. There was also appropriate concern about the need to be careful and deliberate as we implement recommendations, given the current financial climate.”

A robust strategic planning website has encouraged engagement in the process from both near and far. A summary of the current draft of Strategic Directions for Swarthmore College is now on the Web, inviting further comment from alumni and others.

Beginning with a set of core values that emerged consistently through the planning process, the draft addresses Swarthmore’s strengths and the challenges it faces. The core values, derived from the College’s Quaker heritage, are identified as respect for the individual, decision-making by consensus, simple living, social responsibility and justice, generous giving, and peaceful settlement of disputes.

The draft plan describes the College’s key institutional commitments as “academic rigor and creativity; our desire to support access and opportunity for all students, regardless of their financial circumstances; our commitment to a diverse and vibrant community of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and parents; [and] our belief that we have a responsibility to improve the world.”

Strategic Directions lists several serious challenges to the Swarthmore model and the liberal arts: “rapidly expanding knowledge and changes in teaching and learning, often driven by technological advances; demographic trends that are changing the profile of the traditional college-age population; changing attitudes about higher education, including concerns about the practical value and cost of a liberal arts education; [and] unstable financial conditions in the domestic and global economy, resulting in, among other things, increasing need for financial aid.” These challenges “underscore the need for critical inquiry, creative thinking, and ethically and socially responsible leadership,” the plan says.

The summary also provides a set of principles and opportunities in five distinct but interdependent areas of College life and concludes with a section expressing the importance of lifelong alumni relationships with the College. Each of the five principles is followed by a short list of recommendations. The full plan, from which the summary is drawn, contains more detail on these recommendations; it is also available at the strategic planning website.

The draft plan states that Swarthmore’s community “is strengthened considerably by enduring engagement with our alumni.” It proposes to create greater opportunities for alumni to connect meaningfully with students and proposes a Lives in the Liberal Arts Fellows Program that will demonstrate to students how alumni have put their liberal-arts education into practice.

In addition, it envisions more opportunities for alumni to provide “expertise and leadership in areas such as admissions, career services, development, and other areas that benefit greatly from alumni support.”

The Board of Managers is expected to evaluate a final draft during its December meeting. If the plan is approved, next steps will include setting priorities and writing implementation plans that will include a campus facilities master plan, a financial plan, and a diversity and inclusivity plan. It is anticipated that a capital campaign will follow.

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