“We must think boldly and move bold thinking into action”

on May 22 | in President's Essay | by

President Pareena Lawrence explains why Hollins’ newly launched strategic planning process is crucial to the university’s future success.

By President Pareena G. Lawrence

Photo of President Pareena LawrenceAs many of you know, higher education is at a crossroads. From changing demographics and the rise in outcomes-related expectations related to economic, geographic, and technological challenges, institutions of higher learning must now accept and embrace a sense of urgency.

Hollins’ 176-year history attests to our resiliency and ability to adapt creatively to new realities. Our students, faculty, staff, alumnae, and trustees possess the talent and resources to take our university successfully into the future.

With those strengths as our foundation, we are launching a new strategic planning process to guide us over the next five years. Strategic planning is one of those buzz terms we hear a lot from businesses and organizations today, but simply put, it addresses one fundamental question: Where do we want to go? At Hollins, we can’t just meander through our journey and hope what we are doing enables us to adjust to an ever-changing landscape. Planning involves vision, mission, out-of-the-box thinking, and ultimately, execution.

I must admit: I love strategic planning. There is nothing more exciting to me than the prospect of working with my colleagues as a team to chart the direction of our university and prioritize initiatives that will help us thrive in the years to come. Throughout my academic career, I’ve heard the naysayers loud and clear: “Strategic planning is a colossal waste of time.” “Plans just sit on the president’s shelf and gather dust.” “Plans are obsolete as soon as they are written.” “There is no evidence that planning actually works.”

The reality? Not planning rarely works. Thinking strategically, understanding the environment in which we operate, setting long-term goals, and aligning around clear priorities are critical in meeting current and future challenges. We must think boldly and move bold thinking into action.

At Hollins, our strategic planning process will be focused on three overarching goals:

  • Building enrollment
  • Improving our retention and graduation rates
  • Enhancing our overall student experience

Each of these goals directly connects with our value proposition that a Hollins education is worth the investment of time and resources.

In addition, we have identified four themes that will guide us through our strategic planning process:

  1. Learning Across Boundaries
    We must focus on integrating teaching and learning across our curricular and cocurricular experiences in order to leverage fully our residential liberal arts setting and balance both student programs and academic initiatives.
  2. Vibrant Campus and Curriculum
    We must develop a campus culture that is visibly engaged and innovative academically. This requires the campus itself to have spaces and places for cooperation, engagement, and innovation.
  3. Responsive and Collaborative Culture
    We must foster an inspired and concerted workplace environment that focuses on building capacity to be forward-thinking in meeting the needs of contemporary and future students. This is supported through improved efficiency and interdisciplinary decision-making. It’s also bolstered by investments in resources to promote professional development of all employees and to make data-informed decisions.
  4. Focused Identity
    We must develop a strong marketing and branding strategy. We must collectively share the stories and moments that make Hollins special.

Of course, the active participation of the entire Hollins community is essential to the success of our strategic planning. We officially launched the process at the winter meeting of our Board of Trustees on February 22. Three weeks later, we held an institution-wide Community Day on campus that brought faculty and staff together to discuss relevant issues and gather meaningful input. In April I was pleased to share an alumnae/i survey with you to solicit your creativity, innovation, and support.

To help lead this process, a Planning Steering Committee with representatives from the president’s cabinet, faculty leadership, staff, our Board of Trustees, and student government has been established. For each of the four themes we have identified, we have built planning theme teams that will conduct campus-wide outreach to develop initiatives under each theme.

I look forward to sharing regular updates as we develop further details around the planning process. The coming months will be a busy and exciting time as we think about our collective future and identify the path(s) to help us meet tomorrow’s challenges and opportunities.

I look forward to your contributions to the future of this place we love.




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