Demystifying strategic planning in higher education
Hill, Makeba Morgan
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Times have changed since the 1980s when strategy and strategic planning emerged in higher education as a method of projecting future goals in response to a changing environment. The use of strategic planning and the impact of strategic leadership have not been evaluated to determine if they have actually created or hindered success, or have created conditions for failure, for that matter. The literature leaves room for further evaluation of actual success of strategic planning from formulation through implementation and evaluation, with an emphasis on the role of the leader or leaders in cascading strategy throughout the organization. To address the need for further examining the acceptance and effectiveness of strategic planning in specific college and university settings, this qualitative, exploratory case study describes a recent strategic planning process at Emory University, an urban, selective, private, research university in the southern United States. The purpose of this study is to explore variations in stakeholder perspectives of strategic planning in order to understand how planning is perceived, determine to what extent perceptions are consistent across stakeholder groups, and ascertain the extent to which social constructivism influences what stakeholders believe to be true. Over the course of this study, three notable themes emerged which help to explain the challenges of strategic planning in higher education. The themes that emerged are (a) academia and the threat of corporatization, (b) jargon and the misunderstanding of planning, and (c) communication and the power of cascading. There are some overlaps in these themes, but in essence, they capture the major challenge, which is overcoming preconceived notions related to what a strategic plan is; how it should or could be used to meet multiple needs, even in academia; and the value of alignment within an organization.