The Mission of an Institution of Higher Education with Tom Longin

A mission is kind of the north star and really
ought to be the guiding point. So, the institutional mission and the mission statement and oftentimes
the two should be close to the same, but in, oh, say if you look back 25 years or even
10 years, mission statements were very long, cumbersome, and often very difficult to follow
in terms of driving a strategic plan or driving a presidential search. So, the key thing is
the mission is about the purpose of the institution and how the institution will deliver on that
purpose. And stating that in as succinct a fashion as possible is really critical. I
often turn to four questions, five questions I guess, that kind of help me and as I’m talking
with other people about the mission and the board’s responsibility but the institution
as a whole. Who are we? And what do we believe? And that’s that we are a higher educational
institution. That can be a very simple response. Whom do we serve? What programs do we offer?
In what form and where do we offer them? And then something that’s become very important
in the last 10 to 15 years, how do we know that we’re accomplishing our purpose? How
do we know that we’re effective in doing what we’re doing? It’s really important once you’ve developed
a mission statement that you’re comfortable with or that can drive strategic process and
strategic thinking, it’s really important to ensure that it’s current, that the language
is current, that it’s focused on the realities of the institution. And just in terms of kind
of staying on top of the mission statement, I’ve seen some interesting examples of how
best to do that. A number of institutions, usually kind of faith based institutions,
will have — I mean they’ll start meetings and, oh, a retreat with a prayer, but they
also have, oh, put the mission statement kind of up there in the same way. And they have
a mission moment at the beginning of a meeting or at the beginning of a retreat where they
take a look at the mission and they consistently do this from meeting to meeting and they look
at and they reflect on how the mission should relate to the agenda that they’re going to
be involved in either for that meeting or for the retreat. So, that’s a good thought.
Oftentimes when the board itself is setting up plans for a retreat, a good time to say
well, let’s at least reflect a bit on mission and mission statement. In advance for a presidential
search, a really good time when you’re taking stock of kind of what’s the status of the
institution, what leadership do we need, that whole question around what’s our mission and,
you know, what does our mission statement say? So, the same thing’s true with the reaccreditation
process. There are all of these good opportunities, many of which don’t get used very often, to
just stop for a moment and say let’s focus on what our mission is and let’s focus on
what it means today as we have this meeting, as we go through this reaccreditation process,
this retreat, this presidential search process. Once you have a mission and you’ve kept it
current, it’s very, very important that the board and the senior leadership team kind
of include mission right at the front end of the institutional effectiveness assessment.
Constantly starting that process with a sense of what is our mission, what is the plan we’ve
had to accomplish that mission in the timeframe that we’ve envisioned for it, what were the
benchmarks we had? In an operational sense, it’s relatively easy to put into play key
performance indicators that will reflect directly on the mission. When you say, you know, what
are the key educational, financial, and governance performance indicators, a board doesn’t just
need to focus on the operational performance indicators of the campus and the institution
but also should on the mission itself. So, if we use retreats, if we use benchmark
institutional events, searches, new strategic planning process, reaccreditation process
as kind of those moments when we’re going to assess and we do the key performance indicators
and strategic priorities assessment, we should be pretty confident that we’re accomplishing
the mission of the institution.

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