The strategic planning process is reaching the late innings. While there is still much to be determined, what is clear are major themes the campus has embraced in thinking through the next five years, which will culminate with North Central College's 150th Anniversary in 2011-2012. The College's mission, to prepare students to be informed, involved, principled and productive citizens and leaders over a lifetime, is reflected in a desire to better articulate, document, and reinforce the distinctive elements of North Central's identity and approach to education. Among the words and phrases that keep coming up are leadership, ethics, values and service, global awareness, and engagement.
Let me turn to engagement, a word that has taken on great significance in the academy in recent years. When addressing prospective students making a choice about what school to attend, I refer to North Central College as a "full service institution." What I mean by this--in contrast to Internet degrees and storefront academic programs--is that education at this college is not just about courses and tests. It encompasses one-on-one instruction with faculty members in and out of the classroom, athletic and extracurricular activities, service projects and experiences off-campus and around the world. We believe, I add, that many of the most important learning experiences of your college years will result from these interactions and experiences, as generations of alumni who went on Model UN trips, took advantage of Richter grants for undergraduate study, or were actively involved in WONC, theatre, or athletic teams would attest.
The Strategic Plan study group working on engagement and service has identified three kinds of active learning experience at the College:
- intellectual engagement or the active involvement that takes place when students are challenged to become critical thinkers, take intellectual risks, apply analytic understanding to practical problems or new situations;
- institutional engagement or the active involvement with faculty and staff outside of the classroom and participation in a variety of extra-curricular, co-curricular or informal social groups on campus; and
- community engagement or the active involvement in internships, community service projects, or volunteer opportunities that confront the human condition beyond the confines of the College.
The study group suggests that, utilizing the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), the College should benchmark its success with sister institutions such as Drake University and Valparaiso University in the Associated New American Colleges (ANAC), and the entire group of colleges and universities in our Carnegie class (i.e., comprehensive institutions). THe good news is that in 2006, for "level of academic challenge," "active and collaborative learning," "student-faculty interaction" and "enriching educational experiences," North Central College ranked above our ANAC and Carnegie peers for both freshmen and seniors. The less good news is that when we compare ourselves to the top 10 percent of peer institutions, particularly for seniors, we fall far short. Couple this with data from on-campus surveys we administer every year, and it is evident that we still have significant work to do to realize our potential as a full-service institution in which students are actively engaged in their learning in and out of the classroom.
This is what strategic planning is all about. Setting goals--like being in the top 10 percent among peer institutions in student engagement as measured by NSSE surveys--and then implementing strategies to achieve them.
Harold R. Wilde
North Central Now, March 2007