Academic Planning In Higher Education Environmental Sciences

Essay add: 19-06-2017, 18:53   /   Views: 17

Discussions in the higher education arena do not only surround planning, but also include planning to plan, and using results to inform decisions. While strategic planning is often at the forefront of these dialogues, academic planning usually lies at the core and impacts other planning efforts.

Planning for academic programming is complex and impacts budgeting and resource allocations as well as other related plans such as the strategic plan, information technology plan, library plan, and master facilities plan. While planning does occur within higher education institutions, it is not common for all these plans to be integrated in their planning, execution, and assessment. This paper will provide a methodological review of planning models, common elements of planning, and an overview of issues and trends that impact planning.

Academic Planning in Higher Education

Planning has become a common thread in higher education discussions, but how planning is accomplished and to what extent it is used may be questions not yet fully vetted by some institutions. Discussions do not only surround planning, but also include planning to plan, and using results to inform decisions. Greater emphasis on planning has become commonplace due to increased calls for accountability by alumni, governing boards, accreditation bodies, and the federal government.

Strategic planning is often at the forefront of these dialogues, but academic planning usually lies at the core and impacts other planning efforts. In general, academic planning provides a framework that is used to guide academic decisions and the allocation of resources. Planning for academic programming impacts budgeting and resource allocations and other related plans such as the strategic plan, information technology plan, library plan, and master facilities plan; however, it is not common for all these plans to be integrated in their planning, execution, or assessment.

The literature presents common elements of planning to include: planning models, modes for implementation, and assessment. This paper will provide a methodological review of planning models, common elements of planning, and an overview of issues and trends that impact planning. Planning has been explored throughout the literature in different ways based on types of planning, the type of institution, and external influences that may not be foreseen when planning. These factors continue to influence how planning is conducted and carried out in higher education.


Institutions approach academic planning in different ways based on the culture and makeup of the institution. Research articles share various models that have been implemented by different institutions; however, each institution must choose models and processes that will work well within their unique environment. A few of the models researched include:

Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning Model (CCSPM)

Decision Support System (DSS) based off of the TRADES model

Integrated Planning

The Curriculum -Centered Strategic Planning Model (CCSPM) focused specifically on planning for instructional programming based on the environment. The CCSPM model proposed by Dolence (2004) focuses on five interlocking activities. These activities include a curriculum framework, key performance indicators, an environment scan or SWOT analysis, ongoing self-study, and the development of action plans and processes. The CCSPM uses the academic plan as the basis to drive other planning activities. The TRADES model used by Stanford University outlines academic planning by school or college; however it uses the budgeting plan to express academic initiatives and directions. The decision support system (DSS) uses the TRADES model as a foundation, but explores how the planner uses information to adapt decision-making based on competing goals. The DSS model proposed by Franz, Lee, and Van Horn (1981) incorporates a "quantitative model for academic resource planning….to overcome utilization problems" (278). While the DSS enables a decision-maker to quantify the priorities and tradeoffs, it fails to explore interrelationships within the environment that may be necessary to successfully implement an academic plan.

Academic planning has many references throughout the literature, but most of the literature supports an integrated approach to planning. Early work on academic planning produced by McEwen and Synakowski (1954) discussed linking enrollment planning and academic planning. While rudimentary, it eludes to an integrated approach to planning. In a Framework for Academic Planning (1976), Fuller recognized the need for a continuous and open planning process. His work noted the need for ongoing dialogue, assessing institutional values and goals, the need collect data, and clearly expressing institutional objectives. In 1978, the definition of academic planning expanded so that included information from academic program review, budgetary planning, and academic administration (Jones). Work in the 1980's focused on maturing the process for integrating planning and rational decision-making. At this time, some institutions began to assess their plans by comparing current performance with past performance; this led to increasing dialogue about the connection between budgeting and planning (McClenney and Chaffee, 1985). The University of Dayton (2010) provides an example of how planning evolved to include timelines, goals, a schedule of activities that link to budgeting, planning, and resource allocation. It also links to assessment and forecasting ongoing needs to maintain programmatic quality. Hinton suggests in her work on strategic planning that all planning should focus on the mission of the institution.

At this time in history, work by the Society for College and University Planning (SCUP) and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) are focusing their efforts to further evolve the understanding and use of integrated planning. They utilize a cyclical diagram of planning which is similar to the continuous process discussed by Fuller in 1976. Temple University, Drexel University, and the University of Virginia provide examples of academic plans that provide integration among different plans, clear goals and objectives, the collection and use of data to inform decisions.


The academic plan provides a framework for institutional decision making regarding new and existing programs, faculty, and resource allocation. While an institution may utilize a similar framework, their process for implanting their plans will be unique based on resources, scope, and culture. Academic plans need to include goals, clear measures for data collection and assessment, and the use of data to inform decision making. Furthermore, academic planning needs to take place in an open, collaborative environment where institutional goals are expressed in different plans to support fulfillment of the institutional mission.

While planning models and processes may vary based on the culture of an institution, there are common elements that seem to pervade each approach. These elements include the establishment of goals and objectives, alignment with the strategic initiatives, an environmental scan, participation from various groups, embedded assessment, and built in flexibility. As the educational and economic climates continue to change, flexibility or adaptability will become the norm. The ability to adapt will need to pervade planning, implementation, and ongoing assessment of internal and external factors.

Trends and Issues

Throughout history, various external factors have influenced the focus and direction of higher education. Presidential commissions of 1947, 1956, 1960, 1980, and 2006 have usually focused on the shortcomings of our educational system at all levels. A Nation at Risk (1983) and the Spelling's Commission's report: A Test of Leadership (2006) both rallied calls for greater accountability in education. In concert with these commissions, the political arena supported additional requirements for quality and accountability through the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 1965. The current reauthorization is slated to expire at the end of 2013, so increasing expectations will be looming for increased quality in education and attainment of educational goals that positively impact society.

While perusing articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, several external factors surfaced that have challenged the implementation of academic plans. Brazil put all academic plans and projects on hold in 1989 due to an election. Mexican academicians were challenged to create common criteria, but discussed the challenges of doing so based on funding issues and long-term planning needs. State and federal funding has also impacted academic plans and other planning in Pennsylvania and other states. In addition to these external forces, sometimes internal controversy will cause implementation issues as was seen in 1999 at Cal State. The Cal State Cornerstones project did not gain the buy-in of professors and led to implementation issues. As we talked about in class, this academic plan lacked strong leadership and participation by the faculty. The trustees approved the plan, but the faculty did not agree therefore bringing to light different concerns across the institution.


Institutions have made strides in linking academic planning to budgeting and other types of planning, but many areas for improvement remain. Accreditation bodies and federal regulation will continue to push for increased planning that links with resource allocation and assessment. Based on readings from the Characteristics of Excellence by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, planning should occur across all departments and assessments should inform institutional decisions; I feel that many institutions do not link all of their planning and certainly do not embed cross-departmental assessments. It is likely that Middle States will embed assessment into all standards thereby requiring embedded assessments in the academic plan. While academic planning is different based on the type of institution, Britner (2012) discusses increased public engagement in academic planning and its assessment metrics as it relates to a public, research university. Increasing public engagement in all sectors may become more prevalent to answer the calls of educational accountability. I feel that many institutions need to look at creating an academic plan that dove tails the strategic plan, budgeting plans, master facilities plan, technology plan, enrollment plan, and student services plan. When looking at the growth of an institution or a change in direction, the academic plan needs to be poised to address the initiatives, but internal departments need to also be prepared to support new academic programs, new levels of education, new types of students, or new locations or delivery methods. Key assessments will need to be identified to address progress or fulfillment toward the goals.

One area that remains problematic is that often times the implementation of an academic plan or other plan is linked to individual. If that person would leave, the academic plan's implementation or overall success may be hampered. Individuals across an institution need to own the planning, implementation, and assessment of the academic plan or other plans. Another factor that needs to be fully recognized is the necessity for established plans to change. External forces such as increasing competition, declining traditional aged enrollments, reduced funding from grants and other sources, and new technologies or industries will cause professionals in the higher education arena to keep close tabs on the academic plan and amend other plans as needed. The plan can no longer sit on the shelf, but must be an active document that demonstrates progress or needed change. Internal and external forces will continue to drive improvement and change to the overall planning processes that take place, but also increased communication about planning efforts.

In summary, research has shown that academic planning has been linked throughout history to budgeting or enrollment, but these links have increased in both scope and depth. Continued interest in holding higher education accountable for student outcomes will not only drive greater focus on academic planning, but also the infusion of assessment to demonstrate progress or fulfillment of student learning outcomes. The literature does provide evidence that research has been conducted about the need for integrated planning which ties to the institution's mission as well as the allocation of resources. However, searches for academic plans on various college websites, in addition to my own professional experience, lead me to believe that higher education needs to continue to work on developing better integration in its planning efforts.

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