Perry White

One needn’t look very far to find evidence of initiatives that appear to threaten the kind of private higher educational experiences many of us have come to know and cherish.

The recent, laser-like discourse at the national, state and regional level focusing solely on jobs and the economy often fails to recognize the value of cross-disciplinary study—the heart of the liberal arts experience—not only on an individual’s chances to enjoy that “well-lived life,” but also on vocational pursuits. Indeed, even with President Obama’s recent call for “free community college,” many sectors of our society are loudly and vehemently questioning the value of a college education.

Colleges like Bethel must double down on their efforts to clearly articulate the value proposition of our blended liberal arts education, and support the efforts of the Council of Independent Colleges leadership team that is attempting to offer a counter-argument to those who challenge the value of liberal arts education. However, we must also acknowledge that real and lasting change is happening in our industry, and colleges must adapt.

This is the climate in which Bethel begins to chart its course for the next 5–7 years through a process of comprehensive, transparent and inclusive strategic planning.

In December, Bethel contracted with Credo Higher Education, the industry leader in planning and targeted consulting specifically designed for private colleges and universities, to help us strategize for and navigate this extremely challenging time in higher education. Over their 35-year history, Credo has worked with more than 200 small, church-affiliated, liberal arts colleges around the country, bringing a wealth of resources and experienced consultants solely focused on service to our educational sector. We are pleased to partner with such a renowned and respected organization.

Employing an inclusive and transparent process that has already engaged institutional leadership, the Bethel Board of Directors, the Alumni Council and the entire campus community, next steps are firmly in the hands of the Strategic Planning Task Force as they seek to engage further input from the constituency each represents both on and off campus. This task force comprises members of the President’s Cabinet, along with Dr. Christine Crouse-Dick, Dr. Allison McFarland, Dr. Jon Piper, Dr. Annette LeZotte, Lonnie Isaac ’93, Denise Krase and student senators Kyle Riesen, junior, and Brooke Powers, senior. In addition, George Rogers ’69, Dan Flickinger ’78 and Heather Esau Zerger ’96 have agreed to represent the board.

The planning process that Credo employs is clearly outlined in a recently released book by the company’s founder, Joanne Soliday, Surviving to Thriving: A Planning Framework for Leaders of Private Colleges and Universities.

Here, she and co-author Dr. Rick Mann outline nine elements of the thriving college in this turbulent 21st century: courageous and collaborative leadership; vision; institutional self-esteem; institutional story; habit of reflection and intentionality; culture of planning and innovation; net revenue and strategic finance; student learning and success; and transformative environments.

Beginning with a campus kick-off event Feb. 5, the process is projected to culminate with action by the Bethel Board at their meetings Oct. 8–9, 2015. In the meantime, the Strategic Planning Task Force will continue their work to engage the institution’s constituency and provide detail to the identified objectives and initiatives throughout the spring and summer and into the fall semester.

This is an exciting time in the life of Bethel College. Certainly, we welcome your thoughts, ideas and prayers—as stakeholders in Bethel’s past and future—as we enter this period of great opportunity.

With that in mind, we would encourage each of you to offer your comments, through direct communication with our Alumni Office staff, or by contacting any member of the task force.

We hope you’ll help us put Bethel on the list of thriving institutions for the 21st century.

Perry White