Strategic Priorities Discussed at Feedback Forums

Kate Grumbles, Staff Reporter

This past week, the Strategic Planning Committee released an update on the planning process over the past months and hosted three feedback sessions with the greater Whitman community.

The document emailed to the Whitman community last week was a series of reports from four out of the five working groups that are part of the Strategic Planning process, providing updates on their progress toward the major goals set out in the original Strategic Priorities document.

The Strategic Priorities document was finalized in August 2017, after a process of deliberation between students, faculty and staff starting in 2016 after the arrival of President Murray. The committee hoped to “develop bold aspirations for Whitman’s future, while building on the college’s historic strengths.” The group identified five critical priorities to improve Whitman College over the next five years, “Increasing Access and Affordability,” “Enhancing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion,” “Innovating the Curriculum,” “Connecting to Life After Whitman,” and “Celebrating our Location.” Working groups were established for each priority with varied subcommittees within.

The updated report released this past week offers some clarification as to what the working groups have been discussing and considering in the past months, and what steps these groups are considering in pursuit of the five priorities.

One significant proposed change comes in the area of Access and Affordability, the long term goal of which is to “fully meet demonstrated need for all Whitman students.” This means that any student who gets accepted to Whitman would be offered enough financial aid money to entirely cover their need, eliminating the current “gap” between student need and financial aid packages.

At the feedback session on April 3, Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey addressed this issue.

“Roughly half the students that are eligible for need based aid have some gaps, or we’re not meeting 100 percent of the need and we’d like to be able to increase the financial aid budget to meet that,” Harvey said.

In the updated report, Harvey and the rest of the Access working group emphasize that a more accessible Whitman can be achieved through changes like fully meeting demonstrated need. One possible solution offered on the document is to “continue to increase Whitman’s tuition incrementally in an effort to get gross tuition closer to our peers and use the additional revenue to support financial aid.”

Another aspect of the Strategic Planning Process discussed at the meeting was Whitman’s connection to Walla Walla. This theme is addressed in the “Celebrating our Location” working group that focuses on strengthening this connection through various solutions discussed in the report. Rachna Sinnott, Director of Grants and Foundation Relations and a member of this working group, emphasized the need for more crossover between the Walla Walla community and Whitman.

“I think in general there are a lot of resources on campus that the community doesn’t know about,” Sinnott said. “I think there’s a kind of a hesitancy to come onto campus on the part of a lot of community members. One of the things we really have to do is make it less [intimidating] for community members to come either to a lecture or a film or a play [on campus].”

The solutions that the group has been considering include connecting first-year students to a host family in Walla Walla, host more events enticing to the greater community and hosting a “Walla Walla Day” to showcase resources at Whitman available to Walla Wallans.

The discussions held at the feedback sessions this past week will help inform any revisions of the updated document made during the next two weeks, but members of the Planning Committee don’t anticipate any major changes during that time.

Melissa Clearfield, Chair of the Innovating the Curriculum working group, spoke about the status of the document at the feedback session on Tuesday. “No one has stood up and objected to anything in [the updated Working group reports] besides some language issues, so I would not anticipate dramatically different documents.”

The next steps for the Strategic Planning process are to submit a draft document of the Working Groups Implementation to the Board of Trustees for feedback, initiating another round of feedback. This process will culminate in a June retreat with Trustees to determine tactics to develop the five original priorities.