The strategic planning process: An analysis at two small colleges

Sharon Beth DeVivo, University of Pennsylvania


Higher education institutions across the country engage in strategic planning. This study investigated the strategic planning process at two small colleges in order to understand how this process comes to be viewed as legitimate by internal constituencies. Legitimacy is the perception held by stakeholders that the process has value to the institution, has a transparent agenda, and the process and outcome have been well communicated to the various constituencies on campus. Those that are viewed as legitimate are much more likely to create a shared understanding of the institution and to move the institution forward. Specifically, this study examined how the president and other leaders on campus rely on existing funds of trust, relationships, good communication and transparent decision-making to create a legitimate strategic planning process that leads to change. This qualitative study included thirty-three interviews with board members, presidents, senior staff members, faculty and staff at the two institutions, as well as a review of the strategic agenda, accreditation documents and the materials that were created to assist in drafting the final agenda. The study found that the day-to-day decision-making practices of the president significantly influenced the perceived legitimacy of the strategic planning processes. The oversight of board members is required to ensure shared governance, but an active role is not necessary for the process to be perceived as legitimate. The views of junior and senior faculty toward the administration need to be understood before embarking on the process. Transparency and communication can be used throughout the process to engage individuals and build legitimacy. Finally, institutions not in financial crisis that spend time on strategic planning have the opportunity to create a shared understanding of the future for their institutions.

Subject Area

School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

DeVivo, Sharon Beth, "The strategic planning process: An analysis at two small colleges" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3310485.