Macalester’s Strategic Plan has remained stationary on the President’s website page, forgotten by many students, faculty and staff whom it affects. Thrive: The Future of Macalester is a 33 page document that outlines and directs the priorities of Macalester College: internationalism, diversity, entrepreneurship, academic programs (e.g. concentrations), urban sustainability, vocation and the liberal arts, technology and teaching; culture of strategic thinking, sustainable financial model, critical review and shared governance.
Since Thrive’s inception in 2015, there have been inconsistent and sporadic invocations of its contents. Though much progress has occured over the past three years, whether intentionally or unintentionally in concert with Thrive, the general lack of strategic thinking has left many priorities behind.
One of the priorities that has been implemented and successfully launched was entrepreneurship. In general, entrepreneurship has made significant progress since the inceptions of the strategic plan, where a budget has been set aside in order to support the initiation of programs that many students have benefitted from. There has been student enthusiasm about entrepreneurship; however, as the programs and the initiatives evolved, there is a desire to expand beyond the traditional majors aligned with entrepreneurship to encompass all academic departments, such as humanities and natural sciences.
Where the entrepreneurship priority sought to inspire, the vocation priority sought to enhance coordination between the liberal arts and vocation. There are gaps related to provisions for non-traditional Macalester routes, such as engineering, nursing and medical school. One recent student-led advancement towards this priority was MCSG’s recent creation of a fund to subsidize graduate school entrance exams, such as the MCAT, GRE and LSAT. This has increased graduate school accessibility, especially to those who demonstrate financial need. Another example is the creation of the HUB to help students in STEM receive career advice, support and resources from career advisors trained to assist them.
In addition to the progress of entrepreneurship and vocation, issue-based programs have gained popularity and are well-regarded among the student body as an excellent supplement to ones major. Recently, two concentrations have been approved: food, agriculture, and society and cognitive science. Despite the popularity of concentrations among students, information about the variety of concentrations on campus lacks a cohesive message and visibility on campus. For example, a student who is a STEM major might not be aware of concentrations that are part of the humanities or social sciences. Thus, we need to increase the visibility and access of issue-based programs on campus and to all students.
Despite the fact that many of the strategic priorities are being implemented in some way or another, key areas that are essential for our college’s future progression need attention and improvement. One in particular is the retention of students, faculty and staff of color. Macalester has increased recruiting and hiring faculty and staff of color. However, retaining them is still an issue we need to work on. There are not enough resources in place to help support and welcome the new hires to transition in their new environment, and we, as a college, need to address this issue immediately. We should not only replace and continue to hire faculty and staff of color but also address the issue of why we are unable to retain them.
Another of main concern to students is rising tuition prices and the future accessibility and sustainability of liberal arts colleges. This is not a problem unique to Macalester. However, we need to focus on having a sustainable financial model for the future where we maintain the college affordability especially if we want to target students from diverse backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses.
Developing a community that thinks strategically is a difficult task. So how to engage in this culture of strategic thinking, to push Macalester and its students forward and together? There are multiple steps that could be taken.
Upon the approval of the Strategic Plan, the Board of Trustees had approved an original budget line item for the implementation of strategic priorities. Over the course of three years, that money has now been divided out to only certain priorities, begging the question where is the substance – the power and resources – to back the more underfunded and lagging priorities on campus. If a student or faculty member desires to pursue funding related to bettering the college in a sustainable manner, where is that mechanism to connect any idea to the strategic plan? For example, the extremely popular programmatic concentrations on campus have been identified as a priority in Thrive, yet their budget, already quite low, has not increased since before the creation of two new concentrations.
Additionally, there is a need to address the relationship between the Trustees and students, or the lack thereof. Currently, the relationship between the Board of Trustees and the student body is managed through a limited amount of student representatives whose roles are limited to attendance at committee meetings of the board and ten second interactions with its members. There is no platform in which students may interact with the the Board of Trustees beyond what the administration deems worthy to bring forth to them. This needs to change. Introduce a student-trustee event twice a year when they are on campus. Design their schedule with real student conversation in consideration, not just the token roles played within each meeting. In order to develop a community of strategic thinking among the students, building this bridge between the those who approve strategies and those who drive their success is crucial.
Another important part about developing a community of strategic thinking is developing a general sense of the Macalester community. Upon becoming juniors and seniors, students tend to disengage with the campus community to engage more with the Cities. There are few communal spaces on campus that are set up explicitly not for studying or academics – thus, students look outward to local business and homes which develop exclusivity. This is not an easy fix, and would require a re-configuring of the social spaces on campus. For example, some spaces in Olin Rice and Neill can be reconstructed and opened up for social spaces.
In order for Macalester to Thrive, the sustained integration of student voices is an absolute must. Transparency is key during this process. That is why we need key administrators, faculty, and staff to be transparent with their work and involve students, especially students of color and international students. Many of these priorities affect students directly, so we need to be at the table.