Trustees committee hears update on Penn State Strategic Plan

February 18, 2021

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa -- During its meeting on Feb. 18, the Penn State Board of Trustees Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning received an update on the University’s ongoing strategic planning efforts, which have continued during the COVID-19 pandemic and led to multiple achievements.

Executive Vice President and Provost Nick Jones and Assistant Vice Provost for Planning Daniel Newhart told committee members that unit-level planning, slated for completion next month, has been integral to supporting and advancing the University’s strategic plan through 2025, titled “Our Commitment to Impact.”

The University has nearly 60 budget units comprising all of Penn State’s campuses, academic colleges and various administrative offices. Jones said their cumulative work since January 2020 has forged vital connections and collaborations, and will give the University a strong direction as it heads to 2025.  

Ultimately, Jones said, unit strategic plans are supporting and driving the institutional plan, and the planning process units are going through will make unit contributions more visible to help “tell the Penn State story.”

Jones and Newhart acknowledged that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges for strategic planning at all levels and gave units opportunities to ascertain if their plans would work during the pandemic and beyond. However, a keen focus on resiliency – described as “bouncing forward and thriving through adversity” – was introduced in the revised institutional strategic plan in December 2019. Institutional resiliency, they said, will enable all units to “stay the course” and prepare Penn State to emerge from the pandemic stronger and with a sound plan through 2025.

Jones and Newhart mentioned an abundance of positive stories about how the planning process has brought units together, fostered imagination and excitement, and allowed them to think about pivotal issues and initiatives in their plans. 

They also cited several achievements already realized through units’ strategic planning:

  • Clearer connections across units. The planning process has enabled key stakeholders to connect their unit plans to others’ more efficiently, breaking down barriers that could impede student success or Penn State achieving more.
  • Clearer support for the institutional plan. Support for the strategic plan articulated in unit plans has revealed how the institutional plan is working through unit efforts and what the University is doing in tangible ways to show ongoing commitment to impact.
  • More robust measures of progress. Using a consistent unit planning process has helped units develop measures to assess the success of their plans over time in a way that is clear and coherent, showing how each unit contributes to the implementation of the institutional strategic plan. 
  • Highlighting of great work occurring across Penn State. Using the same strategic plan structure and planning process has allowed key stakeholders to identify areas of synergy Universitywide. As a result, units can support each other in a more informed manner and seek opportunities to bolster their efforts by leaning on the resources of other units, activating Penn State’s unique structure. 

Clear support for the strategic plan’s six foundations was important in unit plan development:

  • Enabling Access to Education; 
  • Engaging Our Students; 
  • Advancing Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity; 
  • Enhancing Global Engagement; 
  • Driving Economic Development; and 
  • Ensuring a Sustainable Future.

Units were asked to show in their plans how activities would support the strategic plan’s five thematic priorities

  • Transforming Education
  • Enhancing Health
  • Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources
  • Advancing the Arts and Humanities
  • Empowering Through Digital Innovation.

It was noted that the strategic plan’s three supporting elements – Organizational Processes; Infrastructure and Support; and Constituent Outreach and Engagement – are prerequisites that must be in place to effectively pursue opportunities that support the thematic priorities. In the revised plan, they have been combined and contribute to the central concept of organizational excellence.

Jones and Newhart shared unit plan data with the committee revealing broad support for and alignment with the Penn State strategic plan across foundations, thematic priorities and supporting elements.

Looking ahead, the two emphasized the importance of supporting the implementation of the final strategic plans of units, using data to measure progress, and reflecting on planning efforts as a learning tool, which will shape future directions at Penn State.

Last Updated February 18, 2021