When 13 college teams attended the Achieving the Dream (ATD) Kickoff Institute this summer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, many were introduced to the Institutional Capacity Assessment Tool (ICAT). It’s a comprehensive framework that ATD built based on seven essential capacities for colleges to create the student-focused culture that promotes student success.
One of these essential capacities is “strategy and planning” — alignment with the institutional goal of student success, translating a desired future into defined goals and objectives, and executing the actions to achieve them.
Two of the incoming institutions joining the ATD Network this year were quite familiar with this important area of institutional development: Piedmont Virginia Community College is currently in the middle of developing its next strategic plan, and Queensborough Community College (New York) is two years into its 2021–26 strategic plan.
Leaders from both colleges spoke to ATD about the strategic planning process, the benefits of undertaking this work as part of a network, and how they hope a partnership with ATD will propel the work forward.
Fulfilling a promise to the community
Piedmont Virginia Community College (PVCC) joined the ATD Network when the college was undergoing a confluence of transformations: The college had just wrapped up its 2018–2022 strategic plan period, had recently welcomed Dr. Jean Runyon as its sixth president, and was celebrating the 50-year anniversary of its founding. President Runyon said this period of transition made PVCC “uniquely positioned” to take on whole-college transformation with ATD.
“It was evident that PVCC colleagues deeply care about our students and their success,” Dr. Runyon said. “Participation in the Network will ensure that we fulfill our promise as the ‘community’s’ college.’”
Over the last year, as part of the strategic planning process, PVCC’s leaders have been conducting data discovery, brainstorms, and other activities — on top of their everyday roles. When four administrators attended DREAM 2023 in Chicago to learn more about the Network, they were initially concerned about their capacity to take on another initiative.
“We first saw it as a ‘bolt on’ to what we were already doing and were skeptical about implementing, let alone sustaining, the work,” explained Dr. Leonda Williams-Keniston, dean of humanities, fine arts, and social sciences. But after meeting with the president and assistant vice president of strategy, planning and support at College of Lake County, the PVCC team came to view it as “a framework by which we could integrate much of the work we were already engaged in,” Dr. Williams-Keniston said.
College leaders are eager to connect the three-year Foundations of Transformation engagement with PVCC’s evolving 2023 strategic plan. Dr. Runyon said the collective learning of the ATD Network will be an asset for PVCC as the college expands its own evidence-based, student-centered strategies. College leaders also shared their strategic vision for how the institutional culture will evolve: Dr. Williams-Keniston envisioned an “increase in the democratization of leadership, where more employees are engaged in data-informed decision-making.”
Brittany Resmann, associate vice president of institutional research, planning, and institutional effectiveness, also believed that empowering staff and faculty with data-informed tools will be key to student success. “A huge component and benefit of partnering with ATD will be continuing our work to enhance our data capacity and making data available and accessible,” Resmann said. “I would want our culture to be described as empowering as we take on this work.”
“It is easy to forge a path forward when students are at the center … We will continue to invest in ourselves and in our students as we embark on this next phase of our student success journey.”
– Dr. Jean Runyon, president of Piedmont Virginia Community College
Making equity everyone’s job
Queensborough Community College (QCC) is now two years into its 2021–2025 strategic plan — the first one in the institution’s history. When asked about the strategic benefit of joining the ATD Network at this time, QCC President Christine Mangino said having an outside perspective will help college leadership assess their progress and consider new ideas. “Having those two coaches, even just during [the initial] Kickoff meeting, was eye-opening for many of us.”
Dr. Kerri-Ann Smith, faculty fellow for diversity, equity, and inclusivity, saw an opportunity to gain outside perspective not just from ATD coaches but from the broader ATD Network. Citing her experience as an educator, she mentioned “group work” as a setting for students to learn from each other. “And being a part of this network gives us a chance to do some group work. We’ll see what’s working elsewhere, see what we’re doing well, see where we have some gaps, and share ideas on how to fill those gaps,” Dr. Smith said.
QCC’s five-year plan focuses explicitly on equity, stating that “equity makes success possible for everyone.” The college joined the ATD Network as part of the Accelerating Equitable Outcomes (AEO) initiative, a cohort of ten institutions working to equitably increase success for students of color. President Mangino said the decision to join the initiative was a “no-brainer” because of how the racial equity goals aligned with QCC’s strategic vision. “It was really speaking to who we are as an institution.”
The leadership team is focused on keeping equity front and center as the college implements its strategic vision. Dr. Smith stressed the importance of making equity “everyone’s job” across the institution, not just one-off engagements or boutique trainings.
QCC leaders will be working alongside teams from nine other institutions for the next three years, sharing strategies that arise from successes as well as challenges. For Dr. Brian Mitra, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, collaboration with the AEO cohort is an opportunity to develop strong solutions from common goals and shared insights.
“It helps us think through some of the issues, to say that this is not unique to Queensborough; these things are happening nationwide,” Dr. Mitra said. “And while we have unique situations, it’s the common language we’re all speaking that’s important.”
A part of equity work that resonated strongly with QCC leaders was the language of belonging — the sense of being accepted, connected, respected, and valued at an institution. When asked how they want the college’s culture to be described, President Mangino, Dr. Mitra, and Dr. Smith all agreed that QCC should be a place where everybody truly believes they belong.
“To make an institutional systemic difference, we need all hands on deck.”
– Dr. Christine Mangino, president of Queensborough Community College
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