From the Desk of the Vice President for Student Life
June 1, 2012
As many parents are aware, St. Olaf has been engaged in an ongoing strategic planning process for the past two years. The Board of Regents approved a plan last year, and in the ensuing months President Anderson and college leaders have articulated a set of goals that we intend to measure ourselves against for the next five years.
Strategic plans, metrics, and assessment strategies are not the kind of thing that excites most students (except for stats majors), but they are likely of interest to parents and others who want to know whether we are doing our very best to create an excellent learning environment.
Although the success of the plan depends on a campus-wide effort, those of us in Student Life have been tasked with focusing our work in a few specific areas. To give you a glimpse into one of those areas, I offer the following excerpt from the current working document of the plan:
Advance retention and graduation rates and promote healthy community life
- Achieve a consistent first-to-second-year retention rate above 95 percent
- Achieve a consistent four-year graduation rate above 85 percent and six-year rate above 90 percent
- Maintain a network of care encompassing health, wellness, and psychological support for students so that St. Olaf rates above national norms on the National Collegiate Health Assessment
To put this in perspective, we currently are retaining first-year students at a rate that is consistent with the goal. Comparatively, this is a point of success for us, as it generally tells us that we are recruiting the right students, caring for them appropriately, and providing an academic experience that is consistent with what they expected.
For the second point, candidly, we are very average, and have not realized the same success that we see in the first year. In the coming months, we intend to find out why and then work to rectify the problem. Is it finances? Perceived value compared to cost? Is it something we can control, like improved academic advising, or something we can't, like getting enough playing time on a varsity athletic team?
The third question is one that is more difficult, as it addresses some of the most complex problems of the human experience. It is unlikely that we will reduce the incidence of depression or anxiety in students, but we intend to find ways to lessen the impacts on the academic and social experience while they are in our community. Additionally, we might be able to get them to wear bicycle helmets more often, get increased sleep, and engage in high-risk behaviors like binge drinking less often.
These points of the strategic plan may not be the most important ones overall, but they are important enough that we have put them out there as a mark and a challenge to improve ourselves against. The rest of the college is doing the same, developing strategies to improve the diversity of our community; enhance job prospects after graduation; create opportunities for high-impact learning experiences; increase the engagement of alumni and friends; and a multitude of other tasks vital to the life of St. Olaf.
To understand the breadth of this plan, I encourage you to review it and share your thoughts. The current draft of the plan is available online.
Again, I'm not sure something like this "stirs the blood" of everyone, but St. Olaf strives to be a smart organization, and smart organizations do things like this continually. We will give it our level best effort.
To quote the great American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham,
"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood … Make big plans; aim high in hope and work."
Time will tell if we have succeeded, but we are willing to put it out there and be measured against it. Your thoughts and encouragement are most welcome.
Vice President for Student Life
St. Olaf College