A More Focused Strategic Plan: Program Portfolio Positioning for the Future

July 7, 2017

This spring, the retiring President of a Community College chose Gray to help review the College’s program portfolio as part of his final strategic plan.  The College served 4,500 credit and non-credit students in rural Massachusetts.  It had declining enrollment, reduced funding, and a very broad portfolio of academic programs.  “If you put all of these challenges together,” explained the President, “rather than trying to fight amongst ourselves, I thought engaging with Gray would be a good idea.  I will tell you, I was never, and am not a fan of consultants.  But there are times, and this was one of them, when you really need an independent review for a number of reasons.” 

“Gray helped us focus and also highlighted a number of areas where we have the opportunity to grow.”

A Community College President serving 4,500 students

An Objective Perspective Led to Increased Collaboration

As we embarked on the strategy process explained the President, “No one knew what to expect.  And anytime you bring in a third party, people continue to ask, what is this person going to do?  Why are they here?  Our faculty was thinking, Gray does not know our institution, they do not know our culture.  But, I think that rapidly disappeared because of the way that you all handled yourselves, very professionally.  And the data spoke for itself.  I was surprised, in a positive way, at the depth of the information that was provided.”

After the two-day Program Evaluation Workshop, the President said, “The faculty really came together as professionals.  They rose above the subjectivity of their own area.  The Community College really came together, in a collaborative way to really have a meaningful discussion around our program offerings.  As you know, I had been at the college thirty years.  So, I’ve seen times when they did not reach positive outcomes–but we had a great group of faculty and staff.  I think this came out in the meeting with Gray and I did not really see any negativity–and that surprised me.” 

“I think our institution got out of the engagement with Gray exactly what we wanted.  That is a more focused program portfolio, the Program Evaluation System to use moving forward, and more information and data.  More information and data is one thing, but how Gray helped us use it to focus our decisions for strategic planning and program review processes was wise.”

“I think our institution received exactly what we wanted out of the engagement with Gray.”

A Community College President serving 4,500 students

Two Sides to Every Equation (or Ledger)

“I will share with you that I received push-back from some of my executive team, primarily on the cost.  A couple of these individuals do not recognize that there are two sides of the ledger.  Whenever you are considering the cost, you really have to look at the return on investment,” reflected the former President.  “On the surface, it sounds like a significant amount of money, but the fact of the matter is, the cost is equivalent to six students.  Six students!  If the information and data that Gray provided could result in decisions that would result in increased focus on the most viable program(s), we could easily recover that plus a number of students.”

“I know they are continuing to use some of the data to grow existing academic programs,” explained the President (now retired).  “As a consequence of our engagement with Gray, our executive team got a little bit more focused on exactly what we needed to do.  More specifically, the project is going to be very beneficial in terms of growing programs and focus for a strategic plan and for the future. Secondly, the information we obtained will be extremely beneficial when the strategic plan is presented for review to the Board of Trustees and ultimately the Board of Higher Education.” 

Gray Associates

Gray Associates, Inc. provides the best available data, software, and facilitated processes to help higher education institutions make high-stakes decisions regarding academic programs, pricing, and locations.

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