Taking a Long View

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We are two weeks into the first semester of the traditional school year (six weeks into the non-traditional). All students should be registered, and the first good reports are in for managing the university. By good I mean complete or useful. The first reports are a mix of good and not-so-good news. Enrollment could have been higher, which means the budget will be tight again, but when hasn’t it been? On the other hand expenses are close to projections, and that is positive. Our faculty and staff have taken seriously the need to spend wisely, focusing on those things that directly affect student learning.

Now is the time when we determine how effective we will be. Unfortunately we won’t know the results for a while, maybe a couple of years. This is the time when, after all of the gatherings, discussions and problem-solving of the first few weeks, we must assess how much time to spend on the work of the semester and year, and how much to spend on the years to come.

The future will be built on what we do now: the programs we create, the support we develop for students, the positions we choose to fill and how we plan finances and enrollment, to name just a few of the areas we must cover. Our mission and purpose do not change—we pursue excellence in Christian higher education—but we do plan for change in how we pursue that mission and purpose.

We have a new strategic plan. We continue to see ongoing change in higher education, including in our region, from Merced to Bakersfield. Many institutions have been trying to find their way through the changes. And each time they respond, we have a new reality to build on, or to address, sometimes both. The strategic plan will guide us, and we will modify it as we confront future changes and needs. Now is the time to pursue the plan we have set out for ourselves.

If we do not begin to shape this institution according to the strategic directions we have set, we will not achieve progress. Each week and month we take to address only the needs of the day keep us in the same place, while our world moves on. So what are some of the long-term elements that we have been pursuing in the last few days:

  • staffing one of the regional campuses for growth;
  • a new branding/marketing study to help us understand and address the needs and desires of our potential students, and the institutions that we serve, such as the church;
  • data we will gather on student achievement and satisfaction;
  • programs that will meet the needs of our region, and our priorities for development;
  • different kinds of academic support for different populations of students;
  • the next steps in our diversity agenda;
  • financial and enrollment modeling to set firm goals, and determine how much we will need to invest and where;
  • planning for better health care and retirement plans for employees;
  • addressing the social and theological issues handed to us;
  • and becoming a particular and distinctive university that yet appeals to a wide variety of churchly traditions—how we will embody a “gracious Christianity.”

To get this list, I simply made a mental journey through my calendar for the last week. I’m not leading many of these efforts. Others are with energy and commitment. I was pleased to see that much of my time was invested in the future. We can plan how we will spend our time, but those plans don’t always work out. I will have to keep checking on my use of the few hours I have as the pressures, needs and problems of the semester develop. It is good to take stock regularly. I am blessed with capable colleagues who keep things running today, so that I can look toward tomorrow.

Jesus knew the need to “count the costs” in any endeavor, so much so that he could rely on his listeners to understand what it meant. They had done it themselves. Living by faith means we trust that God is with us as we plan, not that we step out blindly with hopes and dreams. I just wish there were not so many costs to count.