Skip to main content

Strategic Planning for the College's Next Chapter

Dear Students, Faculty, and Staff Members, 

The end of the academic year is an opportune moment to reflect on our past and consider the future of Swarthmore College. How will we work together to create a stronger, sustainable, and inclusive campus that, in the words of the College’s mission statement, “empowers all who share in our community to flourish and contribute to a better world.” 

Like so many institutions of higher learning, we face myriad growing challenges, such as volatile financial conditions; changing student demographics; rapidly evolving technology and its impact on teaching, learning, and research; and widespread critiques of the liberal arts model of higher education. We face these forces as larger societal and global threats grow — the climate crisis; political extremism and assaults on democratic institutions both domestically and internationally; and the continued rise in violence motivated by racism, xenophobia, and intolerance, all of which are taking place in the context of the pandemic that has fundamentally changed our world. 

These challenges are daunting, but within them lies the opportunity to create a more equitable, just, and fair society, and I believe that our community is poised as never before to prepare individuals to help build that society. This moment presents us with opportunities to live into our mission of providing a transformative liberal arts education.

That is why, earlier this semester, we began the work of creating the College’s next strategic plan — the first such initiative in more than a decade. 

Swarthmore Forward: Strategic Planning for the College's Next Chapter

As we plan for the next chapter of Swarthmore’s history, we are bringing members of our community together to think, plan, and recommend specific ways to strengthen the College across three broad areas:

  • The curriculum and our pedagogical practices 
  • The student experience within and beyond the classroom 
  • Preparation for leadership in a multiracial democracy and global society

Working with an Operations Committee, a subset of senior staff, as well as other key committees and campus leaders, I have formed a Strategic Planning Steering Committee and three Working Groups focused on these areas, all of which will create opportunities to engage with the broader community as we assess where we are today and explore bold and innovative ideas for the future.

Working Group 1: The future of the curriculum and pedagogical practices

Members of Working Group 1 are exploring how Swarthmore as an institution can more effectively and creatively foster innovative research, encourage diverse collaborations, and prepare students for careers and life after college. They are addressing issues such as our investments in curricular areas, the alignment of graduation requirements with our mission, the place of interdisciplinary studies, and the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning.

Working Group 2: Connecting the student experience within and beyond the classroom

Members of Working Group 2 will articulate the goals and priorities that inform students’ lives beyond the classroom. They are considering how students’ extracurricular lives and academic work enhance each other and contribute to their holistic educational experiences. Further, they are considering how we might foster a more joyful and intentional student experience that allows students to reflect regularly on their coursework and its relationship to their interests and activities outside the classroom. 

Working Group 3: Leadership in a multiracial democracy and the world

Members of Working Group 3 are exploring how the College will equip students, faculty, staff, and alumni to lead and thrive in light of current and anticipated trends and growing threats to democratic institutions, in the U.S. and across the globe. This group will explore how disruptions in higher education, including changing demographics, growing inequality, heightened polarization, and emerging lessons from the pandemic, shape our understanding of Swarthmore’s contributions to the common good. This group will explore different ideas of leadership, the qualities essential during a period of great disruption and deep divisions, and ways we can remain open to and in conversation with diverse viewpoints within our communities. 

Three broad, overarching institutional priorities — namely: diversity, equity, and inclusion; sustainability; and community cohesion — are integral to the work of the College and will inform our thinking across all three Working Groups. As many of you know, we have existing Committees dedicated to these areas of focus; each is intentionally integrated into the planning process with representation on the Working Groups and the Steering Committee.


This process will be expansive and inclusive. Each of the Working Groups includes faculty, staff, students, and members of the Board of Managers. We will look at models of best practices from across and beyond higher education and consulting with members of various campus constituencies.

The Working Groups have been charged with producing recommendations based on a variety of factors, including analysis of current College practices and policies, engagement with the campus community, analysis of practices and innovations across and beyond the landscape of higher education, as well as other considerations. They will submit those recommendations to the Steering Committee to inform the drafting of the College’s next strategic plan. We expect to present the strategic plan to the Board of Managers for approval in 2023.

Members of the community can read more about the strategic planning initiative on the website and can email questions or comments to

This process presents an excellent opportunity for us to think anew about the ways in which we tell the College’s story — the story of the remarkable work that you, members of the Swarthmore community, engage in each day in service of building a better world. To that end, I’ve charged Vice President for Communications Andy Hirsch to engage with campus partners to refresh and refine how we express the College’s identity to our varied audiences in ways that are consistent, compelling, and authentic to our mission and values. This effort will run parallel to the strategic planning process, positioning us to celebrate and elevate the good and important work that will help define the College’s future. I know Andy looks forward to sharing more about this exciting endeavor. 

I recognize that the work I’ve described here is a significant undertaking that will require the time and energy of the campus community. I am also aware that this comes at a time when we continue to cope with the toll the pandemic has taken on our well-being. I am committed to being mindful of the effort we ask of our community throughout the planning process. But I hope that you will find a renewed energy and excitement in this profoundly important and meaningful work. Every moment we spend on it is an investment in the College’s infrastructure of values — a shared exploration of some of the most significant elements of the Swarthmore experience. I look forward to our journey together to a better, stronger Swarthmore College. 


Val Smith