Over the past three years, we’ve seen several universities, schools and foundations make the mistake of pausing their multi-year planning projects because of the pandemic – yet a time that multi-year thinking, and preparing for the “next future” was needed most. Yet leaders of other organizations understood that discipline around strategic planning was more vital than ever, and through virtual and in-person planning activities – which clearly required substantial extra effort for administrators, faculty and staff and stakeholders – they stayed the course with momentum to ensure focus and create clear outcomes.

Their approach was in sync with business analysts, who, during the pandemic, produced data showing that companies that use a long-term planning approach consistently outperform their industry peers. Common characteristics included linking current moves to future outcomes, retooling strategies and futures readiness through scenario planning.

Our clients – leaders of universities, independent schools, institutionally-related foundations and advancement organizations – recognize that adapting smart business thinking to their educational mission is ever more vital. We’re pleased to share several of these projects – along with their strategic plans and websites that describe their goals, objectives, process and progress. While features of their projects are custom to their own needs, what they share is a commitment to a multi-year implementation strategy with dashboards, KPIs and other measures that both track progress and enable their teams to reforecast their plans as conditions change:

University of New Mexico – UNM 2040: Opportunity Defined 

Memphis University School – Legacy Forward 2026

St. John’s School of Houston

And, as the University of Tennessee, Martin (UTM) illustrates – continuing to refresh the plan and adjust to new circumstances is essential to long-term success and viability:

UTM, which created its first five-year strategic plan, Prepare for Takeoff, in 2018, was well-positioned to build on this momentum, take into account the pandemic impacts and refresh this plan in spring 2022. Prepare for Takeoff 2.0 continues that focus for the next five years to ensure the university fulfills its mission, keeps its promise and remains viable, As the refreshed plan explains in the introduction: “Since the creation of the ‘Prepare for Takeoff’ in 2018, we have developed and implemented a strategic enrollment plan and experienced the disruptions from more than two years of Covid-19. Through the refresh process, the UT Martin community celebrated what we’ve accomplished since 2018 and explored new opportunities to pursue over the next three years.”

As colleges and universities seek to become more relevant to all their constituencies and engage them in lifelong relationships, the traditional “career center” is undergoing a major redesign. Key drivers of this organizational shift are the evolving needs and expectations of the “student consumer,” the dynamic realities of the job market and the demand by business for “skills-ready” employees. Several institutions have differentiated themselves by adapting their strategies and positioning themselves for leadership in this competitive space. Like most everything else in higher education today, the solutions are being developed one institution at a time. This report is a snapshot of the general trends coupled with specific examples of different approaches.

The Context for Change

In its 2022 “Jobs Landscape” report in 2019, the World Economic Forum (WEF), an international non-profit foundation for public-private cooperation, offered a provocative assessment of the future linked to four significant trends:

  1. Increasing need for lifelong learning in a non-linear world
  2. Evolving needs and expectations of the “student consumer”
    • “Younger generations entering higher education have a completely different point of departure than previous As digital natives, they have always had technology integrated into most aspects of their lives.”
    • “One-size-fits-all education will soon be a thing of the past and individual learning paths will arguably be less defined by traditional educational structures.”
  3. Emerging technologies and business models
    • “Fast-growing innovators in educational technologies and education industry outsiders are already challenging the status quo by structurally undermining the long-established business models of higher These new actors use technology and data to introduce new, alternative approaches that better deliver on the evolving expectations of learners…inexpensive, personalized, AI-driven…”
  4. Toward a “skills over degrees” model – “While the degree still rules, by and large, we are slowly moving towards a reality with more focus on acquiring skills not degrees…Research shows that education level is only weakly correlated with job performance and, in fact, more and more companies [Google, Apple, Ernst & Young UK, IBM] are actively shifting focus away from degrees to new ways of measuring employability as a consequence of the changing nature of work.”1

Read more >