Defining Direction with a Document

The unrolling of MSU’s Strategic Plan has pushed groups on campus into motion to fulfill the plan’s recommendations. All this hustle and bustle to realize the vision of the MSU’s future raises the question:

What exactly is the plan behind a Strategic Plan?

Strategic plans exist in a strange realm somewhere between an institutional mandate and the sticky note that a student posts on his bathroom mirror outlining his life goals. Unlike that sticky note, a strategic plan seeks to motivate an entire community. Unlike an institutional mandate, the success of a strategic plan is contingent upon voluntary participation.

As a guiding document, a strategic plan creates a mission, goals and metrics to measure success. Hopefully, these objectives have been identified as universal areas of need for the community. When this is true, strategic plans streamline support for organizations to work separately toward similar destinations. When plans have not fully addressed the needs of a community, they can stifle the diversity of perspectives in any organization, particularly a campus.

Next, a strategic plan ought to create room for organizations to implement programs that meet the metrics and goals outlined in the plan. Strategic plans are designed to spark action and, in fact, demand dynamic participation. Community members can use the plan to leverage support for their own initiatives that meet these goals, or act directly to meet the needs of a certain metric.

This works when individuals are aware of the goals of the strategic plan, and are supported as they work to address the problems. If no effort is made to create a community-wide sense of ownership to meet the goals, a strategic plan becomes a stagnant document. When those already “in the know” are the only individuals to implement the goals of a plan, these goals are no longer applicable to the entire community. A successful strategic plan should motivate and provide the tools for everyone to act, given that everyone falls under the scope of the strategic plan.

Does MSU’s Strategic Plan meet these requirements? The answer is yes, and no, and maybe. On the plus side, our administration has done an exceptional job at gathering, evaluating and consolidating the various goals of the entire campus over the past year. There is also good reason to believe they will continue to keep the doors open for further input as new objectives and goals arise.

In its interaction with various community members to spark action, our plan has varying levels of effectiveness. Many faculty and staff members are well aware of their newfound responsibilities to tie their own directives to the goals outlined in the plan. However, students may not be so aware. Due to the fact that very few will still be here by the target year for many of the goals (2019), students may be a little less empowered.

This is troubling, as many of the goals outlined in the plan deal directly with student outcomes as well as student choices. The plan uses metrics such as increased student involvement in clubs and higher numbers of students graduating with interdisciplinary degrees to measure our university’s success. Yet these metrics are nothing more than institutional sticky-notes if they are not supported from the ground up, beginning with students.

Developing ways to incorporate and empower students to take ownership over these goals is perhaps the most vital — and challenging — component of a university-wide strategic plan.

For students, finding ways to meaningfully participate in this conversation is an excellent opportunity to take advantage of your own experiences, complaints and triumphs from your time at MSU. You are the true experts about what it takes to be a student at MSU, and are responsible for passing on that knowledge.