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Refreshing Our Strategic Plan
Sustaining the Promise: 2021-2026

During the 2020-2021 academic year, managing and operating the college through the pandemic occupied a significant amount of leadership and staff time and energy.  However, the disruption caused by the pandemic also provided new impetus to that essential work of planning for the College’s future, albeit with a very different set of assumptions.

During the spring of 2021, the President’s Office announced another round of community involvement in a strategic plan revision/refresh process that included both information sharing and comment and feedback opportunities. All sessions were held using Google Meets and were recorded and available for viewing after the live session. In addition to the interactions during the Google Meets session, community members were invited to submit questions, comments, suggestions, etc. using a Google form designed for this purpose.

The results of that process and other related planning activities inform what follows.

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Strategic Plan Elements

Introduction

Approved by the Board of Trustees in the fall of 2014, Sustaining the Promise: Toward Saint Joseph’s College’s Second Hundred Years (hereafter Sustaining the Promise 2014)  was designed as an evergreen strategic plan with a  rolling ten year “aspirational” window and a rolling five year detailed planning and operating window.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, the administration asked the All-College Committees to undertake a review of the plan. That review was presented to the Board along with some recommendations for revisions to various elements of Sustaining the Promise at its February meeting, literally days before the College closed the residence halls and shifted to remote instruction in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The 19-20 review chronicled the significant progress that had been made of a number of the plan’s objectives; it also identified those areas where progress was less significant or non-existent. Chief among these was enrollment in both the campus and online programs. The demographic challenges that higher education and Saint Joseph’s were facing pre-pandemic, along with the new enrollment challenges presented by the pandemic, continue to be the single largest issue for the College.

Indeed, among the recommendations that were presented to the Board in the spring of 2020 were two that would have reset the strategic enrollment targets for campus and online students at lower levels. The Board was not ready to accept those recommendations and requested that the administration present plans to grow enrollment in both areas.

The Board did, however, affirm the evergreen nature of the 2014 plan and its basic directionality.

During the 2020-2021 academic year, managing and operating the college through the pandemic occupied a significant amount of leadership and staff time and energy. However, the disruption caused by the pandemic also provided new impetus to that essential work of planning for the College’s future, albeit with a very different set of assumptions.

During the spring of 2021, the President’s Office announced another round of community involvement in a strategic plan revision/refresh process that included both information sharing and comment and feedback opportunities. All sessions were held using Google Meets and were recorded and available for viewing after the live session.  In addition to the interactions during the Google Meets session, community members were invited to submit questions, comments, suggestions, etc. using a Google form designed for this purpose.

The results of that process and other related planning activities inform what follows.

A good deal of progress was made under the first version of Sustaining the Promise 2014 and its Strategic Initiatives.  Significant accomplishments by initiative include:

Stewarding Our Enrollment

–Creation of “one-stop” student success center (ACE) with responsibility for academic advising, persistence, and career development

Strengthening the Faculty and Staff Community

–Adoption of shared governance model through All-College Committee System;
–Analysis and quantification of competitiveness of total compensation program
–Onboarding enhancements with buddy program and community day
–Implementation of RISE performance reviews for staff

Enhancing and Diversifying Our Revenue Streams

–Increased grant activity in a number of areas
–Completed campaign for the Center of Nursing Innovation
–Stone Barn and other event/conference activity

Building a Sustainable 21st Century Educational Program

–New student learning outcomes approved
–New 120 credit degree approved
–Introduction non-degree short courses/certificates (MindEdge)
–Approval of Leadership for Sustainable Communities major

Stewarding Our Campus Environment

–Creation of Baggot Street, Student Engagement Space, Learning Commons
–Renovation of Science Labs
–Turf Field, Stone Barn Renovation, Campus Paths, Lakefront
–Climate Action Plan
–Hyflex technology installed in all classrooms

 Stewarding Our Legacy

–Adoption of Civic Action Plan
–Center for Faith and Spirituality
–Center for Sustainable Communities
–Mission Development Programming
–New Brand developed

Institutionalizing Our Commitment to Excellence

–Development of KPIs, College Fact Book
–Data Integration Planning

In general, these accomplishments share a couple of characteristics: (1) they were new or additive; and  (2) they each had a small core of “champions” who pushed them forward.

Conversely, we have been less successful at making progress in those areas that required work on the relatively stable elements of the College’s operations and that would have required wide-spread engagement from many stakeholders.

Chief among the areas where our progress was insufficient was enrollment. While persistence and graduation rates for our campus based students increased through Fall 19 (the last pre-pandemic semester), we were unable to enroll adequate numbers of new and transfer students to increase the size of the campus based program. And increased competition in an increasingly crowded marketplace resulted in smaller, not larger, populations in our online programs.

The daily busy-ness of the College was often cited as a reason that kept community members from having the time to engage more fully in strategic activity.  And while time was a significant element that kept us from making more strategic progress, other resource constraints (including those attributable to the demands of the pandemic over the past 15 months) contributed to this situation as well.

For the College to make significant strategic progress across a broader range of activities, community members need to have the time and resources to devote to this work.

Analysis, Narrative, and Timeline

The SWOT Analysis developed as part of the strategic plan refresh process attempts to assess Saint Joseph’s College’s current capacities and readiness for transformation with an eye to both the internal and external environment.

Strengths
Strong sense of community – living our values
Values based mission – Gen Z seeking purpose
Committed employees – retention and loyalty
Diversified operating revenue (3+ stream of $1 MM or more)
Physical campus – differentiator, beauty, sense of place
Reputation (certain majors and athletics)
Has acted to address problems/diversity
Embracing faith and spiritually – defined comprehensively
Multiple accreditations
Strong student support services (Academic Center for Excellence; Health & Wellness Center; Counseling Center, Advising
Gen Z’s desire propensity to be “radically inclusive” corresponds to SJC’s concept of “radical hospitality”

Weakness
Relatively small size – below critical sustainable size / pricing power
Under-resourced – comp/maintenance, prof development
Austerity mindset (vs. transformational thinking)
Low perceived value of product by customers (limited market power)
Insular and intransigent view of quality and innovation
Poor track record of execution
Operates in silos vs. institutional thinking
Locally diminished reputation of nursing program
Relationship between academic programs and job market

Opportunities
Dislocation and change in higher education – chaos = opportunity
Continued demand for education (in different forms)
Small size – flexible / relatively small market share required for prosperity
Focus and build on strengths
Federal legislation (e.g. free 2 year college) – if we can differentiate
Liberal arts orientation
Catholic identity – progressive vision (Mercy)
Continued demand for nursing professionals
Develop a culture of spiritual exploration in response to Gen Z’s desire for truth is its personal and communal form

Threats
Sector shift – markets, demographics, expectations & competition
Potentially catastrophic impact of economic shocks (and ripples)
Inability to change enough in short time frame
Mistaking “table stakes” for innovation in a changing market
Federal legislation (e.g. free 2 year college) – if SJC remains a commodity
Liberal arts identity
Catholic identity – traditional (perception of baggage; Gen Z’s resistance to monolithic structures/institutions )
Failure to focus / risk of scattered efforts proving ineffective
Gen Z’s pragmatism as it relates to higher education and job market

The strategic narrative for Sustaining the Promise 2014 attempted to describe the college that would be the result of the successful pursuit of the plan at the end of the ten year aspirational window. It imagined an achieved state of being that implicitly relied on a fairly stable external environment that would allow for evolutionary development.

Our lived experience of the past 6 years, and especially during the pandemic, reveals how naive the belief in a fairly stable environment actually was. This recent period of disruption, which will continue for an indefinite period of time, requires a different kind of strategic narrative that emphasizes transformation rather than evolution.

The Strategic Narrative crafted for this refreshed strategic plan describes at a high level the processes and activities that will lead to a transformed, relevant and sustainable Saint Joseph’s.

Sustaining the Promise 2014 could imagine a 5-year detailed planning window and a 10-year aspirational window because it was grounded in a stable environment that would support evolutionary growth.

Recognizing that the dramatically changed environment for higher education challenges our capacity to plan and execute with that expansive timeline, Sustaining the Promise: 2021-2026 will have a rolling, three-year detailed planning and operating window and a rolling, five-year aspirational window.

The next formal review of the entire plan and its continuing value to the College will take place during FY2026.

Strategic Goals

The six “strategic goals” that follow articulate particular outcomes that align with the institution as described in the refreshed strategic narrative.  The first goal is foundational; the other five goals can only be achieved in the context of a financially strong and sustainable institution.  Three of the Goals retain their original formulation, although some of the explanatory statements have been revised.  Two other goals have been edited to reflect new understandings of or commitments by the College. Finally, one goal has been significantly revised to reflect the dynamic of transformation instead of the original plan’s evolutionary orientation.

Financial stability is an essential element in the College’s long-term sustainability. Financial stability allows us to look toward the future with confidence and creativity, knowing that we are positioned to respond in any given budget cycle to an increasingly volatile higher education marketplace in an uncertain economy.  The College’s core financial functions, from planning and budgeting to tracking and reporting reflect the discipline necessary to inspire confidence both within and beyond the College community. On an annual basis, revenue from our core activities not only covers our core expenses, but is able to fund opportunities keyed to strategic progress. Non-core annual revenue is another source of strategic progress funding as well as being a source of capital funding. We have adopted a strategic financial performance system that builds on both the NECHE financial viability rating and Moody’s Bond Rating scales.

Because of the special ways that the Saint Joseph’s College community understands and talks about learning and because we provide intentional/purposeful structures for learning of all kinds, Saint Joseph’s College is widely recognized not only for the context of our educational programs, but also for the ways these programs are conceptualized, designed, and delivered. Our degree programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels, our continuing and professional education programs, our life-long learning opportunities, our co-curricular and experience-based learning options are all framed by our Catholic identity, commitment to educating the whole person, and Mercy traditions. As a result, individual learners of all ages and those who want to learn more about our special kind of learning community see Saint Joseph’s as a “learning destination” whether they visit our virtual environment or our lakeside campus.

Learning can happen anywhere and in any context, but colleges are places where people come together to learn about the world in all its richness and to learn from one another. The quality of that learning is enhanced by the diversity of perspectives and life experiences we bring to our encounters with both the world and with each other. This understanding encourages us to recognize but not over-value the traditional distinctions of expert and novice, teacher and student, supervisor and supervisee. The landscape of Saint Joseph’s diverse learning community can be mapped in terms of age and experience, gender, economic factors, religion, geography, and ethnic and racial considerations. Saint Joseph’s College is a place where all learners are and feel welcome and where all voices are heard in our community’s conversations.

The transformative potential of education has long been recognized, and Saint Joseph’s will continue to seek to transform the lives of all learners and members of our community. But in order for us to be positioned well to accomplish this, the institution itself must be committed to transformation. As part of this commitment, we recognize that more than a century of functioning in ways that would be widely recognized as “common” in higher education has not adequately prepared us for the next one hundred years. An openness to serious reflection about the assumptions that shape our sense of what is “normal,” both in our lives as individuals and in the life of the institution will allow us to realize the promise of liberal education, that the world we “are born into is not natural or inevitable” (Menand, The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War”). At every level, our learning practices are grounded in self-awareness and self-reflection. We become more effective learners (and teachers) as we become more aware of the multiple ways that we learn and better able to articulate what the goals and outcomes of our learning are. At Saint Joseph’s, we are committed to ongoing improvement that is measurable, that is strategic, and that benefits us both as individuals and as members of the Saint Joseph’s College and other communities. We are pleased to share what we learn, and what we learn about how we learn and improve, with others.

While Saint Joseph’s College is blessed with a wonderful history and a singular setting,  the members of the College community are our most valuable asset. Our recognition of this reality and our deep appreciation for what each one of us contributes to the college’s learning community and to our engagement with students is reflected in our governance and decision-making  systems, our personnel policies, our opportunities for personal and professional growth, and our compensation and reward and recognition plans. Saint Joseph’s faculty and staff are more than simply “motivated.” They are “engaged” in the important work that makes Saint Joseph’s a strong institution today and an even stronger one tomorrow and are proud of their membership in the College community.

The current climate of questioning and change in higher education is a source of worry for many institutions as decade’s old practices and attitudes are called into question. At Saint Joseph’s College, we see in this a wonderful opportunity to take a leadership role in the essential work of reimagining what higher education will look like in the future. Our heritage of balancing our core values and commitments with innovation and entrepreneurial activity, allow us to be thought and practice leaders in such areas as educational program design and delivery, learner-centered education, and contextualized learning (learning that looks for and at the essential connection between product and process). Framing these and other core issues in terms of Saint Joseph’s Catholic identity, our commitment to liberal education (education of the whole person), and our Sisters of Mercy heritage and tradition, will allow us to differentiate a Saint Joseph’s learning experience from others.

Initiatives

The seven “strategic initiatives” that follow are designed to position or reposition Saint Joseph’s College so that we are better able to achieve our six Strategic Goals. These initiatives have more than one objective and consist of complex sets of tasks involving people from a variety of offices, units or constituencies at the College.

The adoption and implementation of the Trustees’ Framework for a High Performance Culture during the 2021-2022 year will create the context for the further articulation of Objectives, Tactics, and Targets (SMART goals) for each of the Initiatives at the division, unit, and office level.

Our students (current, past, and future) are part of the living endowment of Saint Joseph’s College. A healthy, thriving community of students is essential for the well-being of the college. What we invest in our students will pay significant intellectual, cultural, spiritual, and economic dividends both today and well into the future. Fully aware of the intrinsic value of each of our students, we also realize their importance for the effective day-to-day functioning of the college in all of its aspects. For this reason we are committed to the success of an even greater percentage of those who choose to study with us at any level.

Under this strategic initiative, we will establish ambitious and achievable goals for retention and completion and explore and develop ambitious and sustainable models for student support and success that are built on an understanding of where our students are coming from and where they are going. Every office, unit, and department at the College and all individuals recognize the important roles that they have in helping students to succeed.

Objectives

1.1 Develop student access, persistence, and success programs for campus and online programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels that pay particular attention to the needs of students from underrepresented populations.

1.2 Develop enrollment metrics for diversity including but not limited to Individual and group/social differences, including knowledge; life experience; age; ethnicity; gender identity; country of origin; race; religion; sexual orientation; socio­-economic status; and education  in our campus and online student populations.

1.3 Consistently enroll at least 1000 full-time students in the Sebago Lake undergraduate program.

1.4 Consistently achieve at least 6600 course enrollments annually in online undergraduate and graduate programs.

1.5 Develop systems and processes that allow us to stay connected to our alumni body.

Our faculty and staff are also part of the College’s living endowment. Our staffing models, structures, policies, and practices should reflect the understanding that they are also investments in the college’s present and future.

Under this strategic initiative, we will develop and implement a series of sustainable activities and processes that will strengthen our understanding of how each of us contributes to the College’s success, how the College recognizes and rewards our contributions, and the ways in which the College is committed to our continuing growth and development both as individuals and as members of the the value of an increasingly diverse College community.

Objectives

2.1 The College workforce is characterized by (1) the right number of people (2) doing important work for which they are qualified and trained, and (3) who are committed to our students’ success, (4) the success of their unit, and (5) the success of the College.

2.2 The College will have a competitive, merit-based compensation and benefits program.

2.3 The  College will identify and develop additional financial resources to recruit, support, and retain a more diverse staff, and faculty community including the establishment of an Office of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion with a director reporting to the president.

2.4 The College’s governance system recognizes and gives voice to all of the appropriate constituencies and supports and advances the College’s JEDI commitments.

An organization of any kind needs increasing revenue to support its continuing health. For the College to be healthy, we need to balance the need for increased revenue with the awareness that our current level of dependence on student revenue is not sustainable.

Under this strategic initiative, the College will work to increase revenue from other existing sources (philanthropy, grants, and auxiliary income) and develop additional revenue streams through creative and entrepreneurial activities.  And because we cannot move toward a future we have not planned for, we will develop a revenue model with clear and ambitious, yet achievable targets for each segment of the revenue stream.

Objectives

3.1 Net tuition revenue for all student categories increases annually; revenue from students in degree programs provides 85% of annual operating revenue.

3.2  Revenue from non-degree educational programming provides 5% of the College’s annual operating revenue.

3.3 The Institutional Advancement/Development function provides 5% of the College’s annual operating revenue.

3.4 The College Events and Conference Office generates 5% of the College’s annual operating revenue.

The natural beauty of Saint Joseph’s College is undeniable, and we are aware of our stewardship responsibilities in relation to it. But we are also aware of a related set of responsibilities in relation to our built environment. In order to maximize the effect of the Saint Joseph’s experience, we need to have campus facilities that are aligned with our core values and that are an intentional contributor to the continuing growth and development of all members of the College community.

Under this strategic initiative, we will undertake a series of planning and development (or redevelopment) projects that will result in a 21st Century campus to support our 21st Century educational endeavor.

Objectives

4.1 The College’s Facilities Plan that aligns with the Strategic Plan and its goals and that emphasizes “sustainability” and transformation.

4.2 The College (defined as both physical and digital space) is attractive and easy-to-navigate for visitors and community members.

4.3 The College has appropriate spaces (physical and digital) that are intentionally designed to support our diverse, multi-generational learning community across a wide range of activities.

Saint Joseph’s College’s educational program needs to be as intentional and focused as every other aspect of our enterprise. All of our courses of study, at every level, need to reflect the College’s identity as Catholic and committed to educating the whole person in the Mercy tradition. But our educational program is not simply a matter of what we are studying; it is also a matter of how we are teaching and how we are learning. The “how” of our educational program also needs to reflect the core elements of our identity.

Under this strategic initiative, we will rebuild our undergraduate program and establish a framework for sustainable program growth at all degree levels on campus and online and in both the credit and other-than-credit spheres.

Objectives

5.1 The College’s educational program has a coherent identity and focus that grows out of elements of our institutional identity.

5.2 The College offers a competitive and compelling undergraduate experience that embraces diversity, promotes justice, and emphasizes community for students at our Sebago Lake campus.

5.3 The College offers a range of online undergraduate programs that advances diversity and promotes justice for students at all stages in their degree pursuit.

5.4 The College offers multi-, inter-, and post-disciplinary masters degree programs focusing on emerging challenges and issues in the contemporary world in addition to professional programs.

5.5 The College offers a range of post-secondary level educational programs in other-than-for-credit format.

Saint Joseph’s College is no longer a “best kept secret.” While the profile of the College has increased over the past six years, we still have considerable work to do in this area. We need to continue to celebrate who we have been, who we are, and our aspirations for the future, and we need to invite others to join us in that celebration.

Under this strategic initiative, we will undertake a series of activities and projects that will strengthen the College’s identity both internally and externally. This will require us to engage in sustained conversation that will give voice to those attributes, qualities, and characteristics that make Saint Joseph’s the special place it is and that will become part of the “story” we will share with the world.

Objectives

6.1 Saint Joseph’s College is recognized by key stakeholders in its role as Maine’s only Catholic college.

6.2 Saint Joseph’s is recognized by key stakeholders as a Mercy college.

6.3 Saint Joseph’s is recognized by key stakeholders as a “learning destination.”

6.4 The College has an integrated communications strategy using multiple platforms to reach a wide audience.

6.5 The College communicates that we are an intentional community dedicated to improving health and vitality in the region.

Community is at the core of Saint Joseph’s College identity and has been since the Sisters established the College in 1912 in Portland. For much of our history, a strong community seemed inevitable given the College’s heritage and the people it attracted. We now know that community is not something that is natural or inevitable, that it needs to be worked at in serious and intentional ways. Institutionalizing our commitment to community through explicitly naming it as important and building it into our College operations, governance structures, and budgets will serve to remind us of that fact as well as providing us with the motivation and resources to sustain and enhance that most important aspect of Saint Joseph’s College.

Objectives

7.1 Saint Joseph’s will be one community of diverse learners who participate in our shared life on campus and online.

7.2 The College community gathers regularly to celebrate our accomplishments and reaffirm our common purposes.

7.3 The College has a regular system and process for sharing the results of our activity with both internal and external stakeholders as part of our commitment to accountability and transparency.

7.4 The College contributes to the health and strength of our communities–economically, socially, environmentally, educationally, and politically.

7.5 The College will be an active presence in local community groups.

Closing

The initial set of KPIs that were included in Sustaining the Promise 2014 were developed alongside but largely independently of the strategic objectives and targets.

For this version of the plan, KPIs will be developed at the unit and division level as part of the implementation of the Framework for a High Performance Culture during quarters 1 and 2 of FY22.

The comparison group developed for Sustaining the Promise 2014 grew out of the understanding that, at the institutional level, we needed to compare our KPIs with schools of similar size (including budget) and program focus. The initial comparison group included a 75%/25% mix of peers and aspirants, using standard higher education conventions.

One of the challenges of this approach is that, as is the case with many small schools, Saint Joseph’s is unique enough that finding a helpful comparison group is difficult.

For Sustaining the Promise: 2021-2026 we will develop a new institutional comparison group that is keyed to our KPIs in addition to other relevant factors.  This new comparison group will be approved by the Board at its meeting in February 2022.

Like the development of the KPIs and the Comparison Group, the Financial Model needs to be grounded in the work of the first round of implementation of the Framework for a High Performance Culture.

A three-year model will be developed and presented to the Board for approval at the February 2022 meeting.

At its Annual Meeting (June 24-25, 2021), the Board of Trustees endorsed this document and the revisions it contains as part of Sustaining the Promise: 2021-2026 that will guide the College’s strategic progress over the next five years.