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Strategic Planning Report draws a map for the next several years

Gwen Marra, who graduated in May with a master of education degree from Dordt College, draws on her Dordt College education to teach students in the preschool she runs.

Gwen Marra, who graduated in May with a master of education degree from Dordt College, draws on her Dordt College education to teach students in the preschool she runs.

Strategic plans, five-year plans, campus plans, long range plans. The distinctions sometimes blur to those who aren't directly involved in creating them. But to institutions like Dordt College such plans can be valuable tools.

Dordt College recently completed its latest Strategic Plan. Approved by the board of trustees in April, the plan is the result of a two-year effort by many members of the college community. President Carl Zylstra believes that strategic planning is crucial for the smooth and visionary running of any institution.

"A strategic plan allows you to agree on a direction for the institution and then spend your time implementing it without rethinking that direction every time something new comes up," he says.

Zylstra is quick to add that the beginning of the process went more quickly than it might have since the committee reaffirmed the historic vision and mission of the college rather than re-envisioning it.

"Our aim was to enliven rather than abandon our mission," says Zylstra, who chaired a committee of faculty and staff members assigned to reformulate the current mission statement in a way that articulates for today's students and supporters what Dordt College is.

"A strategic plan helps us focus our energies on what is most important," says Dr. Jasper Lesage, who chaired the Strategic Planning Committee and wrote the report. Beginning with mission and vision statements, the committee examined how the institution could best achieve its goals in today's environment.

Building community happens in many ways: in the classroom, in worship, and in play.

Building community happens in many ways: in the classroom, in worship, and in play.

For Lesage, "focus" is a key word. Important decisions need to be made daily and interesting opportunities arise regularly, but working from a strategic plan helps focus institutional energy and resources on what has been thoughtfully determined to be strategically important.

"To every idea brought forward we asked 'Is this strategically important to our mission?'" says Lesage. The committee then asked: "What are the key things that will affect our ability to offer the kind of education we are committed to in the next five to ten years?"

That does not mean the report sets in stone everything the institution needs to be concerned about for the next ten years, Lesage and Zylstra note. "It's hard to ever see the whole picture, and even if you do there are no easy answers," says Lesage.

He and Zylstra stress that the plan needs to be directive yet flexible. "We can't live as though nothing will change around us for the next ten years," says Lesage. "This is a messy process with lots of people and ideas involved." He points out that the report is a working document that will have to change as needed, but it gives the college something to work from.

The committee was guided by four questions that they believe should continue to be addressed prayerfully and communally:

With these questions in mind the committee narrowed its scope to five broad initiatives members believe will strengthen the institution in the years ahead.

Two things in the report stand out as very significant for Zylstra. The first is the reaffirmation of the foundational principles upon which Dordt College was founded and has operated for fifty years.

"There's a temptation in a process like this to say that starting principles were fine for getting us going but we need to move on from here," he says. "We've said we want to continue to ground our education on our founding principles and make them even more viable."

Second, Zylstra feels that rethinking Dordt College's future as a nationally and internationally recognized institution, with a broader presence across the United States and Canada, is crucial for continued growth and influence.

For example, he says, the commitment to giving leadership in education could not only strength the preparation students receive on campus, but also allow faculty members and the Center for Educational Services to have a more formative role in Christian schools across the continent and around the world, with Christian teachers in public schools, and with homeschool organizations.

Board Chair Rev. Calvin Hoogendoorn says he is grateful that the Plan reiterates the college's commitment to being pervasively Reformed. He believes the process "honored the character of our Reformed identity-that as a reformed community we are always reforming, developing, and growing." He adds, "Whatever challenges we face demographically or whatever issues are thrown our way philosophically, a Reformed community should be willing to step up to the plate and enjoy the opportunity." He also applauds the commitment to expand Dordt's presence in the world.

Zylstra believes Dordt College's strengths will help propel the successful implementation of the Strategic Plan.

"Dordt College is recognized as a college of Reformed principles. We are known as a mission-driven institution. Even if people know little else about us, they know we take our mission very seriously. This distinguishes us from many institutions and gives people a reason to come," he says.

Dordt College also has a strong national/bi-national base. The international enrollment is high in comparison to similar colleges, largely because of the number of Canadian students who continue to enroll.

Moving forward means confronting some challenges and making some changes, as the report notes. The Upper Midwest is a declining demographic area: there are simply fewer students living in this area. Expanding its national and international base will help increase enrollment as well as enrich the institution through diversity.

Although Dordt College boasts high acceptance rates into graduate and professional schools by its students in the natural sciences, the report notes that it is time to upgrade laboratory and science classroom facilities. Funds from the upcoming Jubilee Campaign will be earmarked for this purpose so that these programs can continue to provide the kind of education students entering professions in the sciences need today.

Zylstra is pleased with these and other goals laid out in the Strategic Plan, calling them realistic and bold. "We realize that the need to be recognized beyond our current area means some programming and attitude changes," he says. Lesage agrees, noting that strengthening some programs may mean eliminating some others to better serve students and the work that needs to be done for Christ's kingdom. Strengthening programs means also strengthening and rethinking the general education (GE) program.

"We need a strong GE for our professional programs," says Lesage. "Accrediting agencies are increasingly requiring more general courses to complement what students are learning in their major." He cites accounting, which is moving toward requiring 150 hours of credit in contrast to the 120 hours most institutions require for graduation.

"This is our strength," Lesage says of the general education program. "If we want Christians to enter and make a difference in areas like business, they need a strong GE foundation along with a business curriculum taught from a Christian perspective."

Implementation of the plan now falls to the various offices and departments of the college, overseen by the academic council and the director of planning, Curtis Taylor.

Hoogendoorn notes that for the report to bring significant change, the campus community will need to engage in a self-evaluation process-which he admits can be painful. But changes are often necessary for ongoing development. The board, he says, clearly supports the initiatives.

"This is not a radical remaking of the institution, but there are key things we have to do," says Lesage. "We really worked to seek the Lord's will for Dordt College in 2004." That isn't simply pious talk, he says, and his thirty-five drafts of the report bear this out.

Zylstra agrees. "We cannot rest on our laurels. We need to move ahead in a spirit of humility, yet with confidence."

Mission Statement

As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, the mission of Dordt College is to equip students, alumni, and the broader community to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life. We carry out our academic task by:

The five initiatives

Strengthening our leadership role in K - 16+ education

The Center for Educational Services will provide professional development services and resources to Christian schools and Christian educators worldwide.

Invest in Strategically Important Academic Programs

The general education committee will review its current program and develop a model that makes it more interdisciplinary and more responsive to our changing world. Efforts will be made to strengthen the two largest programs, education and business administration. Science facilities will be upgraded and the natural science component of the GE strengthened. The college will explore developing an interdisciplinary biotechnology program that works with local biotechnology firms. The use of technology will be evaluated and new ways of using technology to enhance learning will be explored.

Cultivate New and Existing Relationships with Key Constituencies.

Dordt College will strengthen its relationship to its historically strong CRC and CSI supporters and expand its presence among new constituencies in other Reformed churches, non-CSI Christian schools, and some evangelical churches and organizations. It will also develop better ties with local community schools.

Develop a Vibrant and Supportive Learning Community

Dordt College will work toward creating an even stronger sense of common task among faculty, staff, and students, nurturing an environment in which Reformed piety is respected, encouraged, and practiced, and diversity is appreciated.

Sustain the Resources of Dordt College

Fundraisers will look for new sources of revenue and admissions counselors will tap new groups of prospective students. Funds will be available to faculty and staff for enhancing and creating new program initiatives and for doing Reformed scholarship.

The college will review the role of services such as the Agriculture Stewardship Center, KDCR, the print shop, and bookstore and review the administrative process. A campus-wide discussion of what it means to be stewardly will be initiated.