Carleton: The Next Decade

Carleton’s strategic plan lays out a clear, achievable, and measurable path for the College’s future.


This past October the Board of Trustees approved a strategic plan designed to ensure that Carleton’s reputation as one of the country’s best liberal arts colleges is enhanced in years to come.

Carleton’s Future: A Strategic Plan for the College 2012 is the outcome of 20 months of work by more than 150 people from all segments of the campus community. Fourteen working groups examined assumptions, researched questions to be answered, evaluated priorities, and identified six key steps the College must take to secure Carleton’s future success.

Even so, the College’s founding principle remains: “We’re absolutely convinced that Carleton’s core premise, a residential liberal arts experience, is fundamental and we’re not moving away from that,” says Carleton President Steven Poskanzer.

The working groups’ findings show the College is healthy—with robust student demand, a growing endowment, low debt, a strong bond rating, and, of course, exceptional students, faculty and staff members, and loyal and generous alumni. Nevertheless, complacency is not an option in the current era of constrained resources and increased scrutiny of the value of higher education in general—and of liberal arts colleges in particular.

A walk-through of the strategic plan looks like this:

  • A college with the same size student body as in the past.
  • Aggressive recruiting in regions where the population of 18- to 22- year-olds is growing: the West Coast (particularly the Pacific Northwest); southeastern United States (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia); and internationally.
  • A continued commitment to racial and ethnic diversity and a new commitment to filling the identified gap of socioeconomic diversity.
  • More funds for endowed scholarships. Tuition no longer can be increased aggressively. (Last year’s 3 percent raise was the lowest increase in 14 years).

What may change most, from a student’s perspective? “Career and life planning will shift from being an optional service for students who request it, to being an integral part of academic advising and a Carleton distinctive,” Poskanzer says. Career mentoring and advising will be linked to the arc of a student’s career, using a new cohort of liberal arts advisers, mainly faculty members, but also staff members.

President Poskanzer and representatives from the working groups shared a draft plan in September with members of the Carleton community, many assembled in Skinner Memorial Chapel (and several hundred others around the world watching via a live web feed). In the month that followed, administrators solicited comments from students, faculty and staff members, and alumni via the strategic planning website ( and at separate meetings of the faculty, student body, and staff. The Board of Trustees’ Executive Committee, College Council, and Parents’ Advisory Council also provided feedback. A revised plan was posted on the strategic planning website in October prior to board approval.

“The planning process has been conducted in a manner consistent with Carleton’s culture—inclusive, transparent, and open,” says Pozkanzer. The same level of transparency will be observed in implementing the plan, he says. “We need to be able to prove, to a cynical world, the value of a Carleton education.”

Now that the strategic plan has been adopted, the steering committee is determining creative and effective ways to implement it, using suggestions for metrics contained in the
plan’s appendix.

Carleton’s Future arises from shared values and reflects shared aspirations. As such, “the plan captures the best thinking of the College community,” Poskanzer says. “Because these future directions embody a powerful consensus, this is truly our plan.” 


Prepare students more robustly for fulfilling postgraduation lives and careers

“We have equipped our graduates with an immensely valuable set of skills, but we’ve not necessarily helped them leave Carleton with a realistic sense of the opportunities to which their aptitudes and interests might lead them. There has been a sense that we should not be pushing particular career paths upon our students, but there’s some distance between being over-active and being inert.”
—Tim Raylor, English professor and member of the Career Preparation Working Group

DSC00247.jpgCareer and life planning (including what constitutes an excellent life and what a liberal arts education might mean for students’ lives after college) will be at the center of students’ Carleton experience and linked to their developmental arc over their college careers. Advisers will go beyond merely recommending what courses to take to helping first- and second-year students understand the relevance of their coursework and extracurricular activities.

Students will participate in a range of career and life-planning programs, including internships, fellowships, job shadowing, and experiential learning. The College will increase academic offerings beyond campus—off-campus study, civic engagement, service learning—as well as opportunities for practical career preparation, such as campus jobs and workshops in life and career skills.

Carleton staff members will continue to assist students with life and career planning for at least two years after they graduate—tapping alumni and parent expertise, improving student and alumni databases, and creating and managing large networks of alumni and parent volunteers. 


Enhance our curriculum to improve liberal arts teaching and learning

“We must be attentive to the way technology can enhance learning, make more efficient use of faculty time, and connect us with colleagues and students at other institutions. . . .  At the same time, interpersonal connections between great teachers and great students will always be at the heart of a Carleton education.”
—Louis Newman, religion professor, director of the Perlman Center for Learning and Teaching, and convener of the Curriculum Working Group

In recent years, Carleton has strengthened its graduation requirements and added new programs and majors, in areas such as environmental studies and Arabic. The College’s academic profile has been enriched by curricular initiatives that emphasize interdisciplinary science, academic civic engagement, and other areas. In the coming decade, Carleton will shift its emphasis from developing new programs to refining the quality and effectiveness of existing academic offerings.

One goal is to experiment with online learning models in an effort to enhance the residential liberal arts experience. Carleton has established a Future Learning Technologies Group, which will monitor other liberal arts colleges’ online offerings and identify, evaluate, and recommend a direction for Carleton’s efforts in this area. This may require significant investments in information technology infrastructure. 


Strengthen the socioeconomic diversity of our student body

“Carleton has articulated a philosophy that asserts the interconnection between excellence and diversity. We must focus on the real and perceived financial accessibility of Carleton, as it profoundly affects our ability to attract, enroll, and retain the most talented and intellectually curious students of all backgrounds.”
— Dana Wright ’95, convener of the Ideal Student Body Working Group

Carleton’s most pressing student body gap at this time is in the middle-income brackets. A Carleton education must be perceived as, and remain, financially accessible to students from all income levels.

The current market will not sustain large annual increases in the comprehensive fee. Admissions and financial aid practices should balance the need to be competitive with the need to live within our means. Tuition should be set so that over the intermediate term, Carleton will be neither a price leader nor a price discounter.

Loans are, and will continue to be, an important component of the financial aid package. Carleton will continue to evaluate the impact of loans on students and explore ways to minimize their debt. If the College is to improve its socioeconomic diversity, it must raise more money for scholarships and devote more of its budget to need-based financial aid. This will also increase Carleton’s endowment-per-student ratio, a key determinant of long-term fiscal health. 


Maintain a self-sustaining economy with a growing endowment per student

“We need to make some significant changes if we are going to find the money to offer more financial aid, take on deferred maintenance, and keep salaries competitive. . . . Some of this money will need to come from alternative sources of revenue, such as the summer programs we offer for high school students and teachers. 

“We should only sparingly approve new initiatives and dial back or even end our commitments in other areas, adopting a ‘start-one, stop-one’ policy.”
—George Shuffelton, English professor and convener of the Sustainable Economy Working Group

Without a sustainable institutional economy that supports a solid fiscal and personnel base, Carleton will not be able to provide its current and future students with an exceptional education.

The Size of the College Working Group determined that Carleton’s size should not change significantly. This constrains the College’s ability to grow its traditional revenue stream through additional tuition. In the near future, Carleton must address the need for more financial aid, previously deferred maintenance of campus buildings, and competitive faculty salaries.

The bulk of Carleton’s budget is spent on compensation, so savings will chiefly need to come from increased productivity and reallocation of existing resources, rather than accretion.

In the long term, strengthening Carleton’s endowment is the most powerful way to continue to achieve its academic aspirations, and can be achieved through superior investments, attracting significant gifts to the College, and continuing a highly disciplined approach toward the endowment draw. 


Make focused investments in facilities that directly advance our mission

“Both high-tech solutions and low-tech answers will give students and faculty members the opportunity to use digital information, collaborate in the classroom, and adapt spaces for changing needs. An investment in the College’s facilities creates optimal spaces for teaching, learning, research, and work within and across disciplines.”
—Patrick Ganey, convener of the Physical Plant Working Group

networks_Y7G5561.jpgProgrammatic needs will drive future investments in the physical plant. Carleton will develop a facilities master plan to determine the best use of space. In addition to addressing the considerable backlog of deferred maintenance projects, the three most pressing facilities priorities are: 1) classrooms that seat 30 to 50 students and allow for multiple teaching approaches and use of technology, 2) interdisciplinary teaching and research space and associated equipment for science education, and 3) new classroom and rehearsal spaces, practice rooms, and a smaller recital hall to meet current and future music teaching and performance needs. Under this plan, the outdated Music and Drama Center will be demolished.

Other priorities include restoring Scoville, building more townhomes, locating [or centralizing] all academic support services in Gould Library, expanding research and teaching space in Special Collections and Archives, and reconfiguring spaces within Sayles-Hill Campus Center.


Embrace collaborative opportunities with other institutions to enhance our academic programs and save costs

“In looking at the areas in which Carleton already collaborates with St. Olaf and other institutions, we recognized that successful collaboration permits Carleton to use its existing resources more flexibly, and thereby achieve better results without increasing spending. Additional effective collaboration will increase our ability to do more with our existing resources.”
—David Smith ’88, convener of the Rethinking Administrative and Faculty Functions Working Group 

Carleton has much to gain from collaborating with other institutions, such as sharing resources or connecting the College to top professional and graduate schools, and eventually creating a consortium that would become a national model.

Collaborations with St. Olaf are particularly compelling, because of its proximity and the established relationship between our libraries. Carleton and St. Olaf recently received a joint planning grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to explore links in areas such as shared online teaching technology, faculty development programs, collaborative curricula, and shared positions that would allow for expanded and improved programs.

To increase Carleton’s visibility and revenue, the College will also pursue partnerships with colleges, universities, and other research institutions—the Mayo Clinic, for example—that are similarly interested in undergraduate teaching and learning. 

Four Secondary Initiatives

  1. Monitor and respond to our competitive landscape. This includes exploring online learning models, raising Carleton’s profile with prospective students, recruiting more students from West Coast and southeastern states, students of color, and international students.
  2. Raise Carleton’s visibility among key constituencies via local, national, and social media outlets; creatively use the College’s convening power; develop an elevator speech that captures the gist of Carleton’s quality and distinction.
  3. Explore student interest in developing an honor code to govern students’ academic and social rights and responsibilities. The code would reflect Carleton’s core values and ensure an open and inclusive environment where students can best grow and develop.
  4. Be more efficient, flexible, and creative in how we structure the learning environment, through use of technology, time (different length courses, mix of one-on-one and group advising), and campus space.  

“I am excited about this strategic plan and the objectives it sets,” says Poskanzer. “This 10-year plan will require focus and resources to strengthen and build upon our strong foundation. The College will rely on all our community members—faculty and  staff members, students, alumni, trustees, parents, friends—to support this endeavor as we move the College forward in bold ways that will directly and measurably enhance the quality of a Carleton education.”

Web Extra: Learn more about the strategic plan and process.

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