Six Key Alignments for Successful Higher Ed Strategic Planning

Bob Sevier

Bob Sevier

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To be successful, strategic plans need to be aligned along six dimensions.

  1. Vision
  2. Institutional needs
  3. Marketplace needs
  4. Campus culture
  5. Existing and anticipated resource base (time, talent, dollars)
  6. Other existing, operational plans


At its most basic, the purpose of a strategic plan is to achieve your institutional vision. Vision drives the planning process, and whether or not your vision is advanced is the primary determinant of the plan’s success.

Institutional needs

Notice that I used the word “needs” and not “wants.” In the planning hierarchy needs always come before wants. Your body needs food, water, and oxygen even though it may want Dove® chocolates and a trip to Maui. You may want your institution to be nationally known, but you need to update your science building.

Marketplace needs

In particular, this means prospective students (and influencers) and donors. This alignment will help assure the flow of resources to the institution. Plans that do not align with the marketplace are likely to lead to further isolation, loss of support, and marginalization.

Campus culture

This culture is both stated (vision and core values) and unstated (this is the way we do things around here). We have all witnessed the power of campus culture. We know, too, that it is very difficult to change culture in a substantial way. A crisis helps, but in most cases when the crisis abates the old culture returns. Plans that are not aligned with campus culture will never gain internal traction and will have little opportunity to enact meaningful, lasting change.

Existing and anticipated resource base (time, talent, dollars)

Plans that are not aligned with the available resources will struggle at the implementation stage because dollars will be scarce, contested, and challenged. There is little that is more frustrating than writing a plan that you cannot support. I do understand and value hope, but sometimes there is a very fine line between being hopeful and being delusional.

Other existing, operational plans

Finally, the strategic plan needs to align with existing operational plans. Strategic plans that do not dovetail with existing operational plans will exhibit a lack of internal coordination and likely not achieve the synergy they need to be successful.

Final thought

As you write your plans, factor in the alignments outlined above. Failure to do so will lead to a plan that is unlikely to achieve the momentum it needs.

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