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This document was provided to the campus community on Nov. 12, 2020 via email.

DePauw Strategic Planning Process: Vision Renewal and Reimagination 

Moving from Phase I to Phase II

I: Overview

DePauw University is engaging in a highly collaborative planning process toward a clear and concise vision for the renewal and reimagination of DePauw as a twenty-first century liberal arts university. More specific overall planning goals include:

  • Assessing our strengths, challenges, and opportunities to better position ourselves as a top liberal arts college distinctive from our peers.
  • Creating a compelling academic and student life value proposition, in an increasingly competitive higher education market, to attract prospective students and to grow the yield from our pool of applicants.
  • Coalescing our investment of resources on a programmatically and financially sustainable institutional model, including what we need to do differently in order to reinvest in priorities toward achieving our strategic vision.

Our goals rest on our core values, Gold Within brand promise, and transcendent priorities that, when taken collectively, guide our process.

  • Core values: trust, integrity, respect, collaboration, student focus, curiosity, diversity, inclusion and commitment to excellence.
  • Gold Within brand promise is DePauw’s educational value proposition--our commitment to our students and graduates that DePauw's top tier liberal arts and sciences education fuses curricular and co-curricular experiences that prepare every student for personal and professional success. The pillars of that promise include gold standard academics, extraordinarily successful alumni, a culture that launches leaders, and a powerful network of support. The pillars and promise may adapt and evolve based on strategic planning outcomes. 
  • Transcendent priorities that ensure DePauw offers: an unparalleled student experience that, in the spirit of the best liberal arts tradition, intentionally integrates students’ academic and cocurricular learning; a campus culture in which every student, regardless of identity, background or financial circumstances, thrives at DePauw and has full opportunity to participate in all aspects of a DePauw education; strong partnerships with the city of Greencastle to ensure continuing progress towards our collective vision for a best-in-class residential college community; a focus on the financial health of our institution today and for the future, including the growth of our endowment; and a resolute commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion made explicit to those whom we invite to join our community. We are not afraid to publicly state these are aspirational values – that part of cultivating a learning environment is to figure out together what it means to study, work and live in a diverse, equitable and inclusive community.

The framing for this process has been informed by Dr. Mary Marcy’s book, “The Small College Imperative; Models for Sustainable and Futures” and her shorter article “Beyond Mere Survival: Transforming Independent Colleges and Universities.” As we have begun the planning process, our community conversations reinforced our traditional liberal arts model and supported further exploration of the elements of the distinctive, integrated and expansion models described in Marcy’s book to enhance our curriculum, student experience and market position.

Contemporary Models of Innovation in Higher Education (Marcy 2020)

  • Traditional Model: Undergraduate, residential, liberal-arts based curriculum
  • Distinctive Program Model: Establish common student experiences that are both curricular and cocurricular to enhance quality, recruitment, and retention; maintain core liberal arts.
  • Integrated Model: Maintain liberal arts core and residential experience; professional programs and graduate programs added to strengthen student recruitment and expand the market.
  • Expansion Model: May or may not retain liberal arts commitment; focus on high demand programs, unusually in professional or graduate programs.
  • Distributed Model: Extensive enrollment in branch campuses and online programs to capture additional students; modest or nonexistent liberal arts core and residential campus.

II: Structure of the Process

DePauw’s strategic planning is organized as a three-part system (a Strategic Planning Steering Committee, Community Conversations and Thematic Working Groups) to enable us to engage the entire community throughout the process. President White chairs the Strategic Planning Steering (SPSC) Committee made up of the six elected faculty members of DePauw’s Strategic Planning Committee (SPC), the Chairs of the Staff Advisory and Administrative Councils, and six Cabinet Members. Steering committee members, along with other appointed faculty and staff, will serve as chairs or co-chairs of the Thematic Working Groups.

An interim strategic planning report, based on the work of the Thematic Working Groups, will be discussed by the Board of Trustees at their winter retreat scheduled for the first week in February with a final strategic plan submitted to the Board in June 2021.

Throughout the process community input will be solicited.

Phase One: Vision Renewal and Reimagination

In Phase One we sought broad community input focused on the following questions: 

  • How can we stay true to the Liberal Arts tradition and evolve to attract and meet the needs of the newest generation of students?
  • As compared to other colleges and universities, what do you see as DePauw’s current strengths and challenges?
  • What outside of the box ideas should be considered/what is your boldest idea for reimaging of DePauw?

Collectively over 500 faculty, staff, students and alumni participated in a community conversation and/or submitted written feedback. The SPSC reviewed all of the data from those conversations, along with the written feedback, and identified common themes around which Thematic Working Groups will be organized for Phase II of the process. SPSC also added additional Thematic Working Groups based on critical issues for the sustainability of DePauw identified by the SPSC, Board of Trustees and the University Cabinet.

Overall, respondents believed a liberal arts education, combined with the range of leadership and involvement experiences DePauw offers, plays an important role in the success of our graduates. A common perspective emerging from the feedback received was DePauw should hold true to its past traditions and develop curricular and student experience options that align with academic, career preparation and involvement interests of today’s students. Participants strongly emphasized that every student, regardless of background and identity, should feel a sense of belonging and community on campus and see themselves as a part of our incredible alumni network. Strong sentiment was expressed by many that while continuing to recruit students from across the country and the world, we must also remain focused on attracting students from Indiana and our traditional midwest markets. Additionally, while much of the feedback received focused on current and future students, there were also many comments about enhancing the overall sense of a DePauw community among our faculty, staff and alumni and extending our definition of community to include our relationships with the city of Greencastle. Among all participants there was both pride in our university and, given recent enrollment and financial challenges, concern for the future of DePauw.

Phase Two: Thematic Working Groups


The establishment of Thematic Working Groups provides an opportunity to investigate more deeply ideas that emerged in Phase I. Each Thematic Working Groups has a specific charge in the form of key questions to answer. As part of their charge,Thematic Working Groups will review relevant data, including benchmarking information from other colleges and universities and relevant organizations, and connect with stakeholders. Groups are asked to consider both incremental ideas and big ideas; to evaluate what currently exists at DePauw and what can be improved upon, done differently or not at all; identify efficiencies not yet realized or things that we can imagine doing that could require new investments. Thematic Working Groups should bring forward ideas and recommendations that address one or more of the following:

  • Raise Revenue/Reduce Spending (examines both opportunities to raise revenue and explores the question of what might be cut as a means of reducing spending).
  • Drive Enrollment
  • Enhance Student Belonging/Retention
  • Focus on Distinctiveness (“only at DePauw” and “every student” experiences)
  • Innovation
  • Raise DePauw’s Institutional Profile (locally and regionally/nationally/internationally)
  • Strengthen the DePauw Community Internally and Externally (faculty and staff; alumni; relationships with Greencastle)
  • Respond to Market Interests (Student/Parent/Employer/Emerging Fields of Study)

For context, groups will consider the environmental data related to changing student demographics and academic interests; how best to prepare students to be personally and professionally successful in a diverse and rapidly changing world, as well as other factors-- including shifts in the perceived value of higher education and how DePauw fits within a competitive landscape.

Groups are encouraged to explore a range of ideas and organizational models toward our overall strategic planning goals.

Thematic Working Groups and Charges

We will begin with ten Thematic Working Groups organized around three central concepts:

  • Developing students who thrive intellectually, civically, socially, and professionally
  • Strengthening community amongst students; between students, faculty, staff and alumni; and with our local and regional communities.
  • Moving from institutional survival to institutional sustainability

Some groups will begin their work imminently; others (e.g., marketing; development, facilities, long-term financial planning etc.), whose focus will be influenced by recommendations from the earliest thematic groups, will be established once the first groups make progress in their work.

Concept 1: Toward educational experiences and a campus environment where all students develop the confidence to thrive intellectually, civically, socially, and professionally.

Feedback from many in Phase I underscored the importance of an educational experience grounded in the liberal arts and connected to career and other outcomes in positioning DePauw graduates for post-graduate success. We believe our aspirations in this regard should be focused on creating an environment at DePauw where all students develop the confidence to thrive intellectually, civically, socially and professionally. Achieving these aspirations rests on our ability to more intentionally connect our liberal arts curriculum to strong career outcomes and to further integrate the curricular and cocurricular experiences. Thus we have created two Thematic Working Groups in support of Concept I as described in greater detail below

Thematic Working Group A: The Liberal Arts and Career Connections

Charge: The charge of Thematic Working Group A is to make recommendations regarding the ways in which DePauw, while maintaining a liberal arts focus, can be more intentional about its connections to very strong career outcomes and for the enhancement of current, or development of new, academic programs to enhance our distinctiveness and market position as a liberal arts college with a career focus. Some examples of areas the group should consider should include: General education (including competencies) that prepares for careers and life-long learning;, new and/or revised academic majors, minors, and programs; Pathways; and DePauw’s response to new market interests by students, parents, employers or emerging fields of study. As part of its work the group should work with existing faculty committees (e.g., the Curriculum Committee, General Education Subcommittee, Course and Calendar Oversight Committee); consider market demand data; connect with employers; and benchmark other institutions and organizations.

Guiding Questions

  1. Can we adjust our curriculum to better connect student academic work to strong career preparation and outcomes while maintaining a core focus on preparing students to be life-long learners? What process can we use to identify new curricular areas to invest in?
  2. How does our current academic structure (departments, majors, schools) enhance or impede our ability to adjust to changes in students’ needs and interests. Does it make sense for each major to build a “career component” into their major requirements? Are there ways, other than our current framework of majors for students, to study a topic/subject in depth? 
  3. What is the role of the School of Music and what could it be? Should we consider new undergraduate schools (e.g. business or science)? Are there ways for us to more formally collaborate or share interests with other institutions?
  4. Should the academic calendar be reconsidered/reimagined, and if so, in what way, to be more attuned to issues of student stress? Are there opportunities to introduce a summer session and/or online coursework? 

Thematic Working Group B: Experiential Learning and High Impact Educational Practices 

Charge: The charge of Thematic Working Group B is to make recommendations on how the connections between the curricular and cocurricular experiences as a central feature of a DePauw education might be enhanced. There is much research that suggests these connections increase student engagement, retention, success and positive post graduate outcomes Gallup-Purdue Index Report (2014). Marcy also suggests this connection is critical to colleges pursuing the Distinctive Model. Some examples of areas the group should consider should include: Global studies; local community engagement; undergraduate research; urban (e.g., Indianapolis) and rural experiences; extended studies (Winter Term, May Term, Summer); career-related courses and internships; and an emphasis on civic engagement (including service, giving back, and empathy). In addition, the group should review the High Impact Educational Practices (Examples from AAUP) as part of their assessment and consider other student success research as well as benchmarking colleges and university models. As part of its work the group should confer with existing faculty curriculum/other committees and various departments; consider market demand data; connect with employers; benchmark other institutions and organizations.

Guiding Questions

  1. What co-curricular experiences at DePauw currently--or ones that could be further developed--increase student engagement, retention, success and would benefit our students as they prepare for life after DePauw?
    1. Are there some we should emphasize and/or require for all students and others we should not?
    2. How do we make these impactful experiences available to everyone?
    3. Much of the feedback received identified leadership as a central feature of a DePauw experience--is there a particular emphasis on leadership that could be a distinctive aspect of DePauw?
    4. What roles could alumni play? Should every student be assigned an alumni advisor as an incoming student? They could stick with this person for four years or change if needed based on the strength of the match. This could help both students and alums feel connected.
    5. How might a more intentional focus on connecting curricular and cocurricular experience contribute to DePauw’s distinctiveness?
  2. To what extent should we extend some aspect of the DePauw experience to other cities, particularly for our students? For example, should we relax the final year residency requirement and allow senior students to live in Indianapolis or other target cities for a focused internship or other set of experiences to more intentionally link education and careers?
  3. Should we double down on the Centers (including possibly new Centers)?
    1. How do we define what constitutes a Center?
    2. Should we invest in them to the point where every student could be connected to a Center?
    3. Could the majors and Pathways be aligned with the Centers?
    4. Should we eliminate the Centers as they currently exist to form different organizational structures or entities to better focus on experiential learning and high impact educational practices?

Concept 2: Toward a More Connected Community

The concept of community also surfaced from Phase I feedback. In particular, we heard the belief that historically one of DePauw’s strengths has been a strong sense of community on campus. It is important to note from the feedback received in Phase I, the idea of DePauw as a community was often defined differently dependent upon: the years/era someone attended/was affiliated with DePauw; the groups with which an individual is affiliated (e.g., Greeks; Fellows/Honors Programs; athletics; various student organizations); one’s identity, ideology and/or relationship to DePauw (e.g. current student, alumni, staff, faculty, staff). There were concerns from some that a strong sense of community among students, faculty, staff and alumni has been lost. A number of different reasons surfaced regarding why some constituents are experiencing a sense of loss of community or why DePauw is perceived as a fractured community including: budget restructuring, mistrust of the administration; changing student demographics; perceived loss of focus on traditional DePauw experiences such as Greek Life; too much or too little emphasis on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion.

The SPSC believes that DePauw should be a place where there is room for many DePauw communities AND no member of our community should feel disassociated from the DePauw community because of their identity or ideology. If DePauw becomes a community where every member feels a sense of mattering and belonging this will strengthen how DePauw feels to prospective and current students as research confirms the importance of mattering and belonging to student retention and success (O’Keeffe, P., 2013).

 The DePauw community includes those who teach and support our students--our faculty and staff are critical to delivering on our educational promises--and our alumni, with whom we hope to stay connected and who should feel pride in their alma mater years after graduation. The concepts of belonging and mattering are also important to our ability to recruit and retain the very best faculty and staff, and engaging our diverse alumni from across generations. Additionally, DePauw is part of the greater communities of Greencastle and our region--our human resources, community investments and service, and preparation of students for the workforce contribute to the economic and civic vitality of these communities. 

Thus we have created Four Thematic Working Groups in Support of Concept II toward a more connected campus community where members of our community feel a sense of belonging--i.e. mattering to and connecting with one another--and the university is more formally connected to the City of Greencastle and to our region. We also focus on DePauw community wellness and well-being as part of Concept II.

Thematic Working Group C: Student Belonging and Community

Charge: The charge of this working is to explore and recommend ideas and strategies for ensuring that every student feels connected through affinity groups, spaces, and experiences. The group should consider: the residential experience, including Greek Life and other residential options; special programs such as Honor and Fellows, etc. and leadership initiatives and opportunities; athletics; departments; School of Music; student organizations; and first-year seminars and/or other curricular experiences. As part of its work the group should consult with various departments and programs, student and alumni groups and benchmark other institutions and organizations.

Guiding questions to consider:

  1. Toward achieving equitable retention at DePauw across different populations of students, what experience or set of experiences should DePauw enhance, develop or change so that every student, regardless of background or identity feels a sense of belonging and community at DePauw?
    1. How could residential experiences, including Greek Life and academic and cocurricular experiences, contribute further to facilitate and support student belonging at DePauw?
    2. Are there new and/or different models for student belonging we should consider?
    3. Should we consider a One DePauw experience that all students are a part of/participate in as a way of strengthening community?
    4. Should we require students to join at least one recognized affinity group?
  2. What, if any, spaces would need to be developed or reimagined for strengthening student connections and community on campus?

Thematic Working Group D: Student Wellness

Charge: The charge of this working group is to identify innovative practices that empower academic and student life departments to consider new ways of promoting and supporting student wellness and well-being as an intentional aspect of a DePauw education. Some examples of areas the group should consider should include: mental health, prevention and health promotion, student support programs; and Spiritual Life. As part of its work the group should consult with related departments and programs, students, and benchmark other institutions and organizations. 

Guiding Questions to Consider:

  1. What experience or programs should DePauw develop or enhance to better support student well-being?
    1. What are ways to better connect academic and cocurricular programs and experiences in support of student wellness and well-being?
    2. What innovative programs could we explore to better support student wellness and well-being including health promotion and disease prevention. 

Thematic Working Group E: Faculty and Staff Belonging, Community and Wellness

Charge: The charge of this working group is to offer ideas and recommendations related to strengthening DePauw’s ability to recruit and retain the very best faculty and staff, which also includes faculty and staff feeling they are valued members of the DePauw community. Some examples of areas the group should consider should include: employee recruitment and retention; development; support, mental health, and wellness; morale on campus. As part of its work the group should consult with human resources and related faculty committees and other related departments and programs, and benchmark other institutions and organizations. 

Guiding Questions to Consider:

  1. What strategies and programs should we pursue to attract, support, and retain the most talented and diverse faculty and staff?
  2. How do we lift overall morale on campus and create a true sense of belonging for each and every employee?
  3. What are ideas for strengthening a sense of a faculty/staff community?

Thematic Working Group F: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Charge: The charge of this working group is to consider ideas and recommendations related to our teaching, scholarship, student experiences, alumni engagement and community connections toward a resolute commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion at DePauw. This working group will focus on the ongoing efforts of DePauw DEI groups whose ideas and recommendations will be included as part of the Phase II strategic planning process.

Guiding Questions to Consider: 

  1. What are our diversity, equity, inclusion priorities?
  2. What strategies should we pursue to support our diverse community?
  3. How do we engage the entire community (multiple points of entry) in building equity in our community? 

Thematic Working Group G: Community Connections

Charge: The charge of this working group is to consider ideas and recommendations for enhancing DePauw’s relationships and connections with, and presence in, Greencastle and our regional communities (e.g, cities such as Indianapolis, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati) where members of our students and alumni live, work and from where we recruit students. Some examples of topics the group should consider include: The DePauw/Greencastle town/ gown relationship; community collaborations; opportunities/incentives for faculty and staff to live in Greencastle; opportunities for college community initiatives/collaborations. As part of its work the group should involve Greencastle and regional community members and alumni; benchmark and explore other college/university campus and community partnerships. 

Guiding Questions to Consider:

  1. What additional initiatives might we consider, in partnership with Greencastle, for our city to be an even better community in which to live, work and recreate for DePauw faculty, staff, students and local residents?
  2. What additional opportunities can DePauw provide to Greencastle residents (e.g., summer programs; community educational opportunities, etc.) in support of strengthening DePauw and Greencastle connections?
  3. What incentives/opportunities/investments can be explored so more DePauw faculty and staff might wish to live in Greencastle?
  4. In what other local communities should DePauw increase its presence and are there any particular mutually-beneficial ways we can partner with/invest in other areas of our region?
  5. In what ways can we better utilize our vast alumni network to increase connections between faculty, staff, students and alumni toward this greater sense of a Greencastle community? 

Concept 3: Moving from Survival to Sustainability

In her book, Mary Marcy devotes an entire Chapter (Chapter 2) on what institutions should be focused upon to move from institutional survival to institutional sustainability, including “using short-term tactics of fiscal austerity, all while building a compelling long-term vision of academic quality and fiscal equilibrium.”

The areas listed in this section are the infrastructure for the operational business of the institution and will provide necessary support for the ideas and recommendations emerging from the Thematic Working Groups toward moving us from survival to sustainability.

  • Enrollment Management (including who and how we recruit students)
  • Tuition and Financial Aid
  • Marketing and Communications
  • Facilities (new and deferred maintenance on current facilities)
  • Technology
  • Development/Fundraising
  • Fiscal Management (short-term and long term financial planning)
  • People, Platforms and Process (Who does the work and how do we support those endeavors?)

We will focus on the majority of these areas in Phase III of our strategic plan. However, three of these areas will begin their work now. 

Thematic Working Group H: Tuition Policy

Charge: The cost of tuition, fees, room and board at DePauw (and other colleges and universities) has continued to steadily increase making the sticker price and actual cost of attendance a deterrent for prospective students. Many current students, even with financial aid and scholarships, struggle to pay for tuition, fees and other expenses. Concerns about the high costs of college and amount of student debt is eliciting calls for colleges to lower their costs. Many private universities like DePauw have a high tuition/high student aid model that is increasingly unsustainable. The focus of this working group is to review research regarding tuition pricing and tuition resetting, including those of benchmark institutions in our cohort and aspirational schools, and make recommendations regarding DePauw's tuition policy going forward. 

Guiding Questions to Consider

  1. What are the challenges and opportunities for admission, financial aid, and institutional reputation with respect to tuition resetting?
  2. What can we learn from other institutions?

Thematic Working Group I: Deferred Maintenance

Charge: Our campus is one of our most important resources. While we have beautiful grounds and many new beautiful facilities, we also have many areas on our campus that need attention. We also need a long-term sustainable plan to address our current deferred maintenance and to keep all areas of our campus up to a high standard of care.

Guiding Questions to Consider:

  1. What is our overall deferred maintenance?
  2. How should we prioritize improvements?
  3. How do we build long-term facilities maintenance into our financial plans for any new buildings? 

Thematic Working Group J: Short-Term Financial Austerity Tactics

Charge: Our strategic planning process is designed to provide a framework for achieving long-term financial health for DePauw. As we work toward bigger solutions for our financial challenges, we must also consider shorter-term (here and now) opportunities to reduce spending. The focus of this working group is to identify opportunities for DePauw to address short-term financial stabilization that could include extending measures we have already enacted (e.g., restrictions on hiring and travel; freezing salaries; reducing retirement matches; reducing operating budgets) reexamining previously considered recommendations (salary reductions; furloughs, eliminating positions), as well as other ideas, including operational efficiency measures. 

Guiding Questions to Consider:

  1. What short-term financial austerity tactics are available to DePauw to achieve financial stability?
  2. What creative solutions are available to recover or reduce expenditures?