Carleton delivers a liberal arts education that changes lives, opens doors for its students, and provides rich fulfillment and meaning to its graduates. It exists to make the world a better place. We are engaged in a strategic planning process to protect, build, and enhance this lofty and important purpose.
Our process is designed to be inclusive, so 139 faculty, staff, students, parents, trustees, alumni, and friends are participating in 13 working groups—each charged with answering an important question about Carleton’s future. Many of these groups have sought additional community input through surveys, town hall meetings, and focus groups. Since no one has a monopoly on good answers, this broad involvement will strengthen the final plan.
Groups eventually will distill their thinking into a limited set of recommendations. Inevitably, we face hard choices about priorities and expenses. So groups will have to identify realistic funding sources for any recommended new commitments.
Several examples of working group conversations currently underway include:
The College’s size and its economy. Discussions have determined that it would be impossible to sustain Carleton’s current level of quality and breadth of educational opportunities with smaller enrollments, but there is skepticism of any large increase in our enrollment. So our College is unlikely to change dramatically in size, and we should not count on revenues from extra students to balance our books or enhance quality. The working group on the economy has endorsed modest expectations for endowment earnings in light of current stock market/investment uncertainties. This group is now examining how Carleton can best control its expenses—which are primarily salaries and benefits, student financial aid, and operating costs such as utilities.
Carleton’s ideal student body and sustainable tuition and financial aid policies. The socioeconomic diversity of our student body (which overlaps with, but is not the same as, other important aspects of diversity such as race and ethnicity) continues to be a key priority. Like many of our peer colleges, Carleton’s aim is to stretch its financial aid dollars as far as possible by admitting as large a proportion of our students as we can without reference to their ability to pay and meeting their full demonstrated need. Our current financial aid policy, crafted in the early 1990s, has led us over time to focus more on the mechanics of this process rather than on the results or the outcomes—that is, the desired characteristics of the classes we are able to recruit, enroll, and graduate.
Since this practice has constrained our potential to enroll our ideal class, the working group will likely suggest a new approach. But in designing it, they will remain true to the values that animate our financial aid program: drawing students from all income levels; making Carleton as affordable and accessible as possible; enabling all Carls to partake in the full range of available academic and extracurricular opportunities; keeping faith with enrolled students whose financial circumstances change; and avoiding saddling our graduates with unrealistic levels of debt. We intend to live up to our values in an economically sustainable way that ensures the College’s academic excellence.
Career/life preparation and student advising. Every Carleton student should think about how to use his or her education to build a fulfilling and productive life post-graduation. Accordingly, groups focused on these issues are thinking purposefully about the four-year arc of a student’s Carleton career. It’s likely they will recommend that students—in partnership with faculty advisers, alumni mentors, and professional staff—take responsibility for exploring different career and life paths during their undergraduate years. We’ll encourage our students to keep “trying on hats” until they find one that looks right and feels good. Off-campus study programs, internships, campus jobs, and research opportunities can help advance this process of self-discovery.
I’m confident that our strategic plan, which will be vetted broadly in the coming months, will position us to chart in exciting ways Carleton’s continued success for the coming decade.
Read more about the 13 working groups and the planning process at go.carleton.edu/strategic.