Every five years, Baruch renews its institutional strategic plan: the 2013-18 plan positioned the College as a global leader in public urban education; the 2018-23 plan forged a comprehensive and ambitious blueprint to further that aim. This spring, we will continue that tradition and launch an institutional strategic planning process for 2023-28.
In the first segment of this two-part blog, I will outline the 18-month process that is designed to chart our future by fully engaging our community and stakeholders as well as our partners and supporters. In Part I, I will outline the context of where we are as an institution, what have we done to stabilize our position in a turbulent and rapidly changing time, and then focus our view on the horizon to define the overarching themes and framing concepts as we embark on a journey into the future. In Part II, I will outline the engagement-centered planning process we will adopt as well as the major milestones we intend to achieve in the coming year.
Where We Are As an Institution
Since my arrival at Baruch in July 2020, the College has experienced a great deal of turmoil. The pandemic induced not only severe public health crises but budgetary stress for the city, state, and the CUNY system, adding to a persistent structural deficit at Baruch. The switch to online instruction reopened the narrowing performance gap among our students. Many in our community had experienced profound losses and hardships.
Remarkably, the endurance of our people has prevailed. Staff have persevered, juggling jobs with new demands and dimensions with ever-increasing complexity, while managing a constantly shifting work environment. Faculty have pivoted to different modalities of teaching and continue to discover new ways to engage students and carry out superior research and scholarship.
The unique combination of excellence and value in a Baruch education shines brightly in a gloomy climate for higher education. At a time when most colleges and universities struggle with dwindling enrollments—an overall 6.5% decline in undergraduate enrollment nationwide since the start of the pandemic—Baruch experienced an overall enrollment surge of 10.7% from 2020 to 2022; similar patterns are only found in a few selective institutions (source: Inside Higher Education).
Stabilizing Our Position in a Turbulent Time
Positive enrollment trends aside, we have worked diligently to stabilize our position in the turmoil created by the pandemic. To help focus our efforts, we identified six priority areas in our College Focused Goals, which build on the College’s Strategic Plan: 2018–23 and integrate recommendations articulated by the Task Force for the Future, given the new realities of our world. I will give you a full report at the year’s end, but here is a glimpse of how we prioritized our objectives and resources.
We started our efforts by committing to a framework for a diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment so our students, regardless of their background, can thrive. Baruch has been and will continue to be the source of the highest-quality and most-diverse talents in New York City and beyond. By taking a multifaceted approach, we worked to build community college pathways for minority students and strengthened outreach programs with high schools, while diversifying our faculty and staff ranks to reflect the population we serve.
There is no such thing as a “typical” student at Baruch. A student who is first in their family to attend college has overlapping but distinctly different needs than a transfer student from a community college, a student from a new immigrant family, or a student who holds either a part-time or full-time job to support their family. To truly meet our students where they are and tailor the way we serve them, we set out to build a fully integrated model for student success—manifested as a physical and digital one-stop shop, where students experience seamless and integrated support from academic advising to financial aid, life coaching, as well as career services and development, so their distinctive needs and aspirations can be met.
At our core, we are a people organization, and in order for the institution to thrive, our people must be empowered to exercise their creativity and to flex their intellectual muscle. To ensure Baruch promotes academic excellence and institutional learning, we created seed funding and initiatives with the idea that academic excellence is achieved by world-class scholar-teachers who leverage and collaborate with one another, and that the knowledge creation, appropriation, and dissemination process should be integral and mutually reinforcing. To leverage our capacity as a learning institution, we explored various forms of staff support and professional development so we can continually learn how to learn together and how to nurture new ways of thinking and doing. If successful, these efforts will expand and elevate our capacity to create the outcomes to which our community members aspire.
The pandemic forced us into instructional settings that—most would agree—are less than ideal pedagogically and difficult to sustain over the long term. Remote learning did, however, open our minds to new possibilities, allowing us to migrate to a mixture of in-person, hybrid, and HyFlex courses. A college-wide Hybrid Online Advisory Council recently made its recommendations, which include the creation of a comprehensive college support infrastructure—Digital Learning Hub—while envisioning the future of instruction in seven different modalities, such as HyFlex and HyField. HyFlex provides the option for courses to be offered in two concurrent modalities (in-person and online), while HyField—a Baruch invention—is designed for courses that provide students with significant experiential, field-based learning opportunities.
Earlier I wrote of the need to create tangible ways to grow financial resources to support and sustain what we do, as well as establish clear and transparent practices to translate financial outcomes to the institution’s mission as we set long-term transformational goals. We are embarking on the creation of an incentive-based budget model—based on the principles that resources should follow activities and units should be rewarded and empowered to collaborate and respond to demands—which, in turn, creates and aligns incentives to “make the resource pie bigger.” To be successful, it will require not only budgetary but also cultural adaptations—moving from a “scarcity mindset” to a “can-do mindset.”
Our ability to make an impact depends on our capacity to influence and to partner with others. This is why we also prioritized expanding Baruch’s visibility and philanthropy while strengthening and building external partnerships. We are doing so by conducting systematic market research to better understand the needs and expectations of our stakeholders, while implementing a focused strategy to enhance corporate, alumni, and community relations through outreach, engagement, and partnership. For example, the Baruch Corporate Network and other Alumni Engagement activities have flourished even during the pandemic—with more than 70 events taking place or planned for this academic year alone.
Looking Beyond the Horizon
I understand that many of us are still reeling from the pandemic and will no doubt feel its remnants for years to come. However, now that we have stabilized our position in the midst of the greatest social-economic turbulence experienced in our generation, it is time to look beyond the horizon. Later this spring, we will kick off our institutional process to create the Baruch College Strategic Plan 2023-28.
While the planning process itself will require a great deal of community input and engagement, I want us to start thinking about overarching themes and the framing concepts for our institutional future. In my earlier blogs, I suggested that the “master script for our play” should be built on what truly differentiates us, and it is important for each of us to find our own reason for the journey.
In my own thinking, these two basic ideas offer the overarching theme and framing concepts for our strategic planning process. If the audacious idea behind Baruch’s success is making excellence accessible to all, what can we do to cultivate, expand, and elevate quality in the pursuit of excellence? How do we stay true to our mission of serving not the privileged few but the “privileged many”? How do we transpose our institutional purpose and aspiration to our own journey—how do we find our role in the master script? By intentional and multifaceted engagement with our community, our stakeholders, and our partners and supporters, we will learn to do this together in an inclusive, collaborative, transparent, and honest but respectful way.
Last year I suggested that strategic planning is a form of institutional learning. Specifically, it is the act of collective thinking and sharing aspirations that lead to buy-in, action, and sustained change. Consistent attention to where we are going as an institution ensures that the collaboration process remains energized and at the forefront of who we are and who we can be. Individual participation is the crux of this process; true change can only be accomplished with broad support and commitment. As we move forward, it is essential that each of us personalize our roles—whether as a member of the Baruch community, as a stakeholder, as an alumnus/alumna, friend, partner, or supporter—and figure out the part we could play in impacting Baruch’s institutional future.
Sharing Your Thoughts
I want to hear from you, perhaps starting with any thoughts you might have about Baruch. What do you think are Baruch’s strengths, assets, accomplishments that differentiate us: as a place to pursue higher education (students/alumni), to work and pursue professional goals (faculty and staff), to support, to partner, or to pursue a mission (supporters, donors, public officials)? What is your idea of an aspirational future for Baruch? What do you perceive as the challenges that we can and should address together? What priorities should we focus our attention on and address?
Please send your comments specific to the strategic planning process here.