Institutional Priorities: How They Impact Students

Written by Lisa Bleich

I am participating in a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Applying to US Universities.  Last night I was listening to an interview of an Associate Director of Admissions from the University of Pennsylvania.  As she went through Penn’s evaluation process, she mentioned that 85% of the candidates are academically capable, but since admissions is creating a community of learners based on “institutional priorities”, there is no way to know or control how you will fit into these priorities in a given year.

This is why we often hear about students who have straight A’s and perfect tests scores, but don’t get accepted.  Each college or university has priorities that they set forth in any given year from explicit needs, such as we need more flute players and a goalkeeper for our men’s soccer team to wanting to improve their academic standing in key departments.

It is not always obvious what the specific priorities are; however, it is easy to identify the over-arching institutional priorities by looking at a school’s strategic plan.

Listed below are the strategic plans for two New Jersey schools: Rutgers and Princeton who both announced a five-year plan during 2014.

Rutgers University

Rutgers released its Strategic Plan for the New Rutgers in February 2014.  At its core, the plan aims to increase Rutgers’ academic ranking and standing in key academic areas where it lags its peers and aspirational institutions.

It outlines the academic areas where Rutgers matches its aspirational institutions and where it lags behind.

This article from the Star Ledger outlines some of the steps Rutgers will take to implement its strategy, which includes offering academic merit scholarships to top NJ students who remain in state and funding new positions and research in key academic areas.  Barchi is investing money to develop courses related to five academic themes: cultures and diversity; improving health; creating a sustainable world; educating involved citizens; and creative expression.

Princeton University

Princeton outlines four broad strategies to address the most pressing issue facing higher education right now: the growing trend in inequality in the American society.

  • Sustaining and enhancing scholarly excellence that makes a difference in the world: How do we build financial support for world-class research and innovation? How do we fortify the humanities at a time when they are both urgently needed and under siege from policymakers? How do we ensure that graduate students have the resources they need to become scholarly and professional leaders? On what schedule do we renovate or replace Princeton’s research, teaching and residential facilities?
  • Making strategic academic investments: Where does Princeton have the greatest opportunity to provide teaching and research relevant to long-term issues of fundamental importance? For example, can Princeton do more to answer basic scientific questions about sustainability and the environment or do more to meet the demand for knowledge about society, culture, politics and economics in diverse regions of the world?
  • Enabling more students to contribute to the world in more ways: When should we expand the undergraduate student body again (to address scarcity while preserving Princeton’s distinctive culture and sense of community and ensuring that we have needed capacity in residence halls, academic departments and student services)? How can we reach more students from low-income families? For example, should we create a transfer program that could attract military veterans and community college students? How can we respond to the demand for international exchange programs and realize the benefits of international diversity?
  • Making leadership, citizenship and service central to the Princeton experience: How can we make public service a defining part of the Princeton experience? How can Princeton itself take a global leadership role in higher education?

Princeton strategic planning process article.

As prospective students, a strategic plan can give you insight into how you can contribute to the class and the institutional priorities.  It will also help you identify if their strategic initiatives line up with your own.  And if they don’t, then you can rule a school out.  It’s all part of the process to find a school where you can succeed.

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