From the Goucher Quarterly, Winter 2010

What is Goucher College today, and how should it evolve in the future?

These may seem like easy questions to answer. We are well aware of the great advantages of the small, residential, coeducational liberal arts college, and we trumpet them far and wide to all who will listen (and some who do not, but for whom we have not lost hope). We believe we are providing the best "career education" possible-teaching our remarkable students how to think critically and embark on a lifetime of learning, along the way preparing them for jobs that do not yet even exist.   

Alas, not everyone shares our faith in this particular kind of educational enterprise, or thinks it is necessarily worth the cost. In difficult economic times, Goucher, like other liberal arts colleges, finds itself having to "sell" what it does much more aggressively. Indeed, we have to defend ourselves against persistent critics of American higher education, including some in the political world whose motives may not be the purest. The heightened attention we pay to the validity of our cause is not without reward, however. Quite honestly, this level of introspection can only improve our performance. 

I remember that when I first became president of Goucher in 2001, my friend Morton Owen Schapiro, an economist of higher education who then was president of Williams College and now leads Northwestern University, imparted to me an important bit of wisdom: Not all of these noble liberal arts institutions are sure to survive, he said, and the way for each one to improve its prospects of doing so is to try to become distinctive. In a competitive and sometimes brutal marketplace, a college has to know what it is and how the education it offers is uniquely valuable. 

That mantra has never been far from my thoughts over the past nine-and-a-half years.  For many of us involved in the strategic planning process of 2001-2, it was an explicit or implicit guidepost. And the plan approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2002-committing us to build the Athenaeum and to develop what would become the country's only true study-abroad requirement for undergraduates, among other things-seemed to be a major step in the right direction.

But much has happened since then, and even if the times were not so turbulent, it would be prudent for Goucher to take a fresh, and self-critical, look at its accomplishments and its ambitions. In short, it is time for a new strategic plan. 

Over the summer, a small group comprising board members, faculty, students, and staff met to review the progress the college had made on implementing the 2002 plan. Its conclusions-including lists of what had been accomplished and what remained to be done-were passed along to a new, somewhat larger Strategic Planning Group (SPG) that convened in the fall. 

That new group, led by LaJerne Cornish '83, associate professor of education, and former board chair John M. Bond Jr., is seeking input from all college constituencies on a vision for Goucher's next ten years, with a special focus on issues to be dealt with in the next five.   

Among the many questions being asked are these:

  • How should Goucher's academic program, while hewing to core values and principles, evolve to remain relevant and competitive?
  • What remains to be done, in addition to the study-abroad requirement, to deliver on the promise to create an international environment on campus and train students for global citizenship? How well are we handling the build-up to, and the return from, study abroad?
  • What is the appropriate long-term size and character of the undergraduate student body, as well as the shape of the graduate programs?
  • How can Goucher use the latest developments in distance learning to enhance what it does well now, without distorting the college's fundamental and ongoing mission?
  • Are there ways to improve the undergraduate student experience at Goucher on- and off-campus?
  • What are the next facilities needs, after the renovation of the Julia Rogers building into a state-of-the-art academic center, and how will Goucher pay for them?
  • How can the college fi nd new sources of revenue, while also looking for savings in its day-to-day operations, in order to try to stem the tide of tuition increases?
  • How can we better connect our students with a dedicated alumnae/i body, half of whom graduated in the past 25 years, and enhance the involvement of alumnae and alumni with the college, philanthropically and otherwise?

And so it goes. The overall goal is to produce by the fall of 2011 a plan that convincingly addresses Goucher's intellectual and fi nancial future. Along the way, outside experts in a number of areas will be invited to share their insights with the SPG and help us refl ect on future choices. Early drafts of any tentative conclusions will be broadly shared in the college community for comment. In the meantime, the SPG would welcome input from anyone interested in Goucher's future; the best way to offer ideas and comments would be to e-mail the group at strategicsuggestion@goucher.edu.     

Formulating the "Transcending Boundaries" strategic plan was a critical step in bringing this extraordinary institution, with such a distinguished history, back to national prominence. Now we must create a new blueprint for Goucher's future, one that capitalizes on our inherent strengths as well as our recent achievements. The political, fi nancial, social, and technological changes that await us are considerable, but the possibilities before us-and the talented, dedicated people around us-are truly inspiring.