Imagine, Macalester: updates on the strategic plan


Photo by Rory Donaghy ’24.

Audrey Lester, Staff Writer

The climate of post-secondary education is ever-changing. Academia is constantly grappling with cultural shifts, new technologies and its elitist history. Macalester’s new strategic plan, Imagine, Macalester, aims to be responsive to the dynamic landscape of academia. 

As higher education grows more competitive, colleges and universities are growing increasingly competitive for students as much as students are competing for admission. To set themselves apart from the rest, most institutions are growing more prestigious and, therefore, exclusive. However, the Imagine, Macalester plan largely pushes back against this academic trend of exclusivity and instead asserts a bold theme: increasing access. 

This does not necessarily pertain to the most obvious measure of an institution’s accessibility: admission rates. The plan focuses on increasing access to Macalester for marginalized groups, the Twin Cities and alumni, among others. By incorporating the diverse perspectives that surround and exist within Macalester’s campus into Macalester’s community, Imagine, Macalester hopes to build upon the pillars of a Mac education: internationalism and a meaningful education. 

“The meaning-making, the handling of multiple perspectives — those are gonna be skills that never disappear,” Vice Provost and Associate Dean of the Faculty Paul Overvoorde said.

Solidifying Macalester as a progressive and diverse institution has always meant increasing marginalized groups’ access to a Macalester education. Both Overvoorde and Vice President for Admissions and Financial Aid Jeff Allen view Macalester’s previous work in including oppressed groups on campus, such as fostering partnerships with The Posse Foundation and Questbridge, as foundational to what Imagine, Macalester wants to accomplish. 

What Imagine, Macalester envisions for groups historically excluded from higher education is far more student and faculty-centered than standard. Often, the inclusion of marginalized students and faculty is framed solely in terms of what they can do for a college; having a more diverse faculty and student body is regarded as a means for a more global campus.  Imagine, Macalester hopes to improve what Macalester as an institution can do for its members from marginalized groups. 

According to the strategic plan, under the initiative to promote student and employee well-being and belonging, the plan seeks to “amplify programs, policies, and resources that support the effective recruitment, retention, and success of marginalized students, faculty, and staff.”

The  plan aims to create a community fosters comfort and belonging, acknowledging the Indigenous land that Macalester inhabits, identifying what oppressive structures still exist in Macalester, emphasizing the recruitment of marginalized students from the Twin Cities area and providing equal opportunities within the Macalester community. 

Allen noted that accessibility for marginalized groups is intimately tied to fundraising efforts for Macalester’s need-based program.

As much as Macalester highlights a global lens, a key part of Imagine, Macalester is increasing student access to Macalester’s local surroundings. Situated in the Twin Cities, Macalester is uniquely positioned to provide a liberal arts education as well as urban learning and employment opportunities. Although this is heavily advertised to potential applicants, many enrolled Macalester students are not as involved in the Twin Cities as they would like to be. 

Through potentially creating new offsite campus locations, fostering new partnerships with Twin Cities organizations and possibly restructuring the academic calendar to allow more time for extracurricular involvement in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Imagine, Macalester seeks to unbound Macalester students from the notorious “Mac bubble” by physically and ideologically expanding the campus. 

Overvoorde adds that Macalester does not want to be parasitic to its community partners; Twin Cities organizations are not simply a spot for Macalester students to pad their resume with internships and employment experiences, but also organizations that the Macalester community should aim to to build reciprocal relationships with. 

“It’s not about being able to send students and they can go, have the experience and come back and the partner is left [with] nothing,” Overvoorde said.

In addition to increasing access to Macalester for groups historically excluded from the college, Imagine, Macalester also aims to increase access for a group already in Macalester’s community: alumni. Although the college might not have football games with tens of thousands of alumni attending, many alumni have an appreciation for their forensics team, an internship that they did or a sports team that they were a part of. Alumni also attend in large numbers the “Big Questions Events” that Macalester holds for alumni. Although they have had little access to it in the past, it is salient that Macalester alumni want to continue participation in the Macalester experience. 

“There’s an inflection point that happens for many alumni within a year or two of getting out that they realize just what the opportunities were that were given to them while they’re here,” Overvoorde said.

One of the strategic plan implementation working groups, the Immersing Alumni in the Intellectual Life of the College group, is dedicated to increasing access to Macalester knowledge and intellect for alumni who want to continue their relationship with Macalester. Imagine, Macalester wants to create these relationships not just to create an alumni network to donate money, but to allow alumni to continue to exercise their minds the way that they did during college. MacDirect, the current database for students to get in contact with alumni in their fields/locations of interest, and for alumni to update the school and each other, was re-launched in February 2021 and is updated daily.

Despite the work done so far and the goals that Imagine, Macalester describes, the concrete and tangible actions needed to accomplish this plan have yet to be prescribed. Much of this is due to the fact that the process of creating this strategic plan was open and incorporated more community input, meaning that the approved strategic plan represents the broad idea of what the community wants from Macalester. 

Overvoorde and Allen acknowledged that Imagine, Macalester is in its pre-implementation phase. Three new working groups (Creating a Student-ready Campus, Fostering Employee Well-being and Immersing Alumni in the Intellectual Life of the College) have been created to mold Imagine, Macalester into a more ready-to-implement form. 

The process of turning Imagine, Macalester into something actionable will be lengthy. Fulfilling the strategic plan’s themes of global mindedness, local involvement and increasing accessibility for all will not happen overnight. 

“The kind of transformational change that [Imagine Macalester] is after is a change that will take several years to implement,” Allen said. 

Compounded with the fact that students are only here for four years and this will be an eight year-long process, it is possible to lose momentum. What Imagine, Macalester suggests is transformational, but it appears rooted in concepts that the Macalester community is familiar with. Accessibility, progressiveness, community and diversity are themes that Macalester broadcasts as integral to the college and its principles. In several ways, Imagine, Macalester is simply an extension of the hard work that has been happening on Macalester’s campus for years. 

“Strategic plan implementation didn’t just begin on October ninth of 2022,” Allen said.