Strategic Planning for Monmouth College

Jan. 27, 2021

Dear Monmouth College Community,

We are pleased to announce that the College is commencing a new cycle of strategic planning, one that will involve all members of the Monmouth College community — faculty and staff, current students, trustees, alumni, and members of the area community.

To be sure, this planning process will be a demanding one, but we will work through it together, purposefully and expeditiously, completing it on a schedule so that the College emerges in a strong position to meet its challenges. To be clear, as the process identifies good ideas that can help us to advance our objectives, we will not wait to act upon them.

As we all know, the environment within which Monmouth College and all of us exist has changed radically over the last 12 months:

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed our nation, especially the American higher education landscape:
    • Economic downturn has greatly increased the burdens of families, most of which were already struggling to send their children to college.
    • These increased financial challenges, plus disruption of high school and college teaching and learning, have had a significant negative impact on student recruitment and retention.
    • Colleges and universities have lost student revenue and seen expenses increase, forcing budget and personnel reductions across the spectrum of American higher education — large, small, public, private, wealthy and less so — not seen in generations, if ever.
  • As it has at institutions across the country, COVID has exacerbated a decrease in Monmouth’s enrollment that has contributed to budget shortfalls that require long-term solutions.
  • Competition from the region’s community colleges is increasing, especially in the form of initiatives for Carl Sandburg College which allow students from Warren County and Galesburg schools to attend Carl Sandburg College for free for three years or 64 credit hours.
  • Beginning in the fall of 2026, the number of U.S. high school graduates will shrink substantially — even more dramatically in the Midwest — which will significantly reduce the number of traditional college-age students available for Monmouth to recruit.

In immediate response to these challenges, Monmouth, like many other institutions, has undergone substantial reductions in expenses, including reductions in faculty and staff, and additional reductions will take place. We all regret the pain and disruption that these reductions have caused and will cause.

But we cannot cut our way to long-term stability, much less greatness.

To shape and ensure the College’s destiny, the Monmouth community can and must respond with a creativity, focus, and resolve equal to the depth of these challenges. But for the College to achieve long-term stability and strength, that experience must even more clearly understand and even more fully serve the needs and ambitions of students.

Every aspect of our educational program — curricular and co-curricular — must be a part of this student-centric effort. Monmouth must become a more attractive investment for students and their families and achieve a stronger position in a rapidly changing and highly competitive environment. We must design, describe, and present that experience so that prospective students, those who will employ them, and the communities they will serve understand with absolute clarity the value and relevance of this experience.

As the College’s mission statement proudly asserts, “As a residential liberal arts college, we empower students to realize their full potential, live meaningful lives, pursue successful careers, and shape their communities and the world through service and leadership.”

The planning process that we formally announce here is the instrument for this work. We must, with similar speed and determination, identify those elements in the external environment that present the greatest threats and opportunities to our mission and goals. We must also identify those internal strengths and weaknesses that serve or stand in the way of achieving our mission and goals. We must strengthen the College to become a “Fortress Monmouth,” one that is better able to turn back the challenges that confront us so that we will succeed in the new landscape and remain a place of high opportunity and high achievement.

One of the first steps in the planning process is a series of stakeholder conversations. Because the Trustees understand the importance of this work, we have received a donation to hire an expert in stakeholder engagement to help facilitate these discussions. A list of potential stakeholders and moderators to participate directly in the conversations is being developed in consultation with the Faculty Senate, the Senior Staff, the Board of Trustees, the Alumni Board, student government, and the Parent and Family Council.

More information will be provided later, but this is how this part of the process will work:

  • We will designate seven separate teams made up of a mix of seven stakeholders, as follows: a Trustee, a faculty member, a staff member, a student, two alumni (an alum who graduated in the 20th century and one who graduated between 2000-10), and a member from the Monmouth-Warren County community.
  • One moderator per team, who will also be responsible for reporting the team’s comments and conclusions.
  • Every two weeks, the teams will be given one of seven questions and will convene under this schedule to consider a reply.
  • The first question will be shared with teams in late February.
  • Every team’s answers to the questions will be posted on the College website. We encourage everyone to stay up to date on teams’ progress and contribute their thoughts by regularly checking the website.
  • Work will wrap up by June with a final report on the conversations completed over the summer.

We understand what a difficult period this is — the pressures, the fatigue, the anxiety. But the only way forward through our present difficulties is to seize control of the College’s destiny through this process of thought and action. This work will be best achieved through the collaboration of open hearts and open minds.

This is an extraordinary time, at Monmouth College and throughout American higher education. In this great sorting-out period for colleges and universities, this is the moment for Monmouth to serve students more creatively and effectively, and by doing so to emerge stronger for the generations to come.

We look forward to this process and we appreciate everyone’s participation in it.

— Mark Kopinski, Chair, Board of Trustees
— Clarence R. Wyatt, President

Additional Resources …

A case study of Metropolitan State (Minnesota) University: