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Town Hall Recap: Implementing Drexel’s 2020–2030 Strategic Plan

June 23, 2021

About six months after Drexel University released its new 10-year strategic plan, “Drexel 2030: Designing the Future,” University leaders involved in the initiative hosted a virtual town hall providing an update of how and why that strategic plan is being administered across Drexel, and by whom. 

On June 21, Drexel senior leadership, members of the strategic plan’s Executive Planning Committee (EPC), which had worked to develop the initiative, and its Crafting Our Rise Everyday (CORE) Team, which is overseeing the execution of the plan, discussed progress and explained what has happened so far with “Drexel 2030: Designing the Future” and also provided an update on the University’s incoming class and financial status. Through brief remarks and presentations, they also shared the implementation structure, next steps in the implementation process as well as additional ways for faculty and professional staff to still get involved in the strategic plan and/or share their feedback and ask questions. A Q&A was also held towards the end of the event for viewers to ask questions. 

“The purpose of this town hall is twofold,” Drexel President John Fry said in the opening remarks kicking off the virtual meeting. “First, we want to provide you with full information about the implementation process for the strategic plan and how we create the conditions necessary for our success. And then the second is to commit to a regular dialog and communication on that work — the actual doing of the work and the progress that we're making.”

The town hall — the first in a series to be held throughout the implementation process — was meant to inform the University community of the strategic plan’s progress, and represents one of the ways in which the CORE Team is striving to be as transparent and as informative as possible during the implementation process. A recording of the town hall is embedded below.

For a recap of the event, here’s a look at what has happened, what is happening, and what will happen at the University as it relates to the strategic plan, and as it was explained by University key leaders, administrators, faculty and professional staff at the town hall.

What Has Happened at Drexel

The roots of the new strategic plan extend back to 2018–2019, the pre-planning stage in which four planning groups analyzed Drexel’s academic resources, institutional effectiveness, retention and position in the higher education landscape to start informing the creation of the strategic plan. Their subsequent recommendations were reviewed the next year by the EPC, which used those findings and related interviews and meetings with colleges, schools, administrative units and students, faculty and professional staff in the University community to identify top priorities and shape, complete and oversee the new strategic plan.

“With the EPC, the goal was to create a plan that would help address the major shifts that are coming in higher education and the broad challenges that we face,” said Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost Paul E. Jensen, PhD. “And what happened, of course, was as the EPC was working through the strategic planning process, the University and the world, quite frankly, were impacted significantly by COVID and by the social unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd.”

In the spring of 2020, the EPC adjusted its development of the strategic plan to incorporate and reflect a community survey from February 2020 and initial COVID-related responses, as explained in a May 2020 DrexelNow article. Later, it incorporated the early framework of the then-newly created Anti-Racism Task Force into the strategic plan, as University leaders discussed first in a July virtual town hall and later expanded upon in an October virtual town hall. By the time that the plan was approved by Drexel’s Board of Trustees and released in December 2020, the culmination of an enormous two-year undertaking, the University was well equipped to start the steps after already overcoming and reacting to an unprecedented time in the nation’s history and the higher education landscape.

Six months later, the strategic plan is well on its way to being implemented under the oversight of Senior Vice President for Graduate and Online Education, Dean of the Graduate College and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Professional Studies in the College of Medicine Professor of Pharmacology & Physiology Elisabeth J. Van Bockstaele, PhD. After serving on the on the EPC for 18 months, first as a co-chair of the analytics sub-committee and later as a member of the integration sub-committee, Van Bockstaele was named Chief Strategy Officer in December 2020 to provide leadership, spearhead new partnerships and collaborations across the University and establish transparency and accountability during the plan’s implementation process.

The strategic plan’s website was recently updated to include information related to the implementation of the strategic plan, including a timeline of events, the identification of members of key teams and groups, and a further, detailed explanation of processes and priorities.

At the June 21 town hall, Van Bockstaele and other members of the CORE Team provided an extensive overview of what has happened since the strategic plan was finalized in December.

“What I hope to accomplish today was create awareness that implementation is underway,” Van Bockstaele said. “I wanted to inform you on the scope and organizational structure and set expectations that this is a University-wide, sustained initiative, and engagement and feedback is key to our success.” 

The “pillars of the plan,” as Jensen called them, are six strategic imperatives that will help move Drexel forward: culture of equity, empowered students, immersive experience, learning and curriculum, powerful partnerships and innovative research. To leverage those unique Drexel characteristics and reimagine the University going forward, a group of Drexel faculty and professional staff from across the University — including members of the EPC, to ensure continuity— formed a CORE Team in January 2021 to oversee the execution of the plan and its three focused, prioritized goals: to drive current and future enrollment success, to promote efficiency and effectiveness in deliverables, and to identify and expand into new markets and the diversification of revenue sources. Under those main focus areas are 12 initiative teams, some of which have been already formed, that will pursue the goals of the plan. Over 200 self-nominations and nominations of faculty and professional staff across the University were received to create these groups, with additional opportunities for faculty and professional staff to still get involved with the initiative teams that are still being finalized.

Those 12 initiative teams are:

  • Under the “Driving Current/Future Enrollment Success Focus Area”
    • Retention/Student Success (team currently being drafted)
    • Graduate Education (team already finalized)
    • Marketing/External Communications (team is yet to be put together)
    • Internal Communications/Digital Infrastructure (team is yet to be put together)
  • Under the “Efficiency and Effectiveness in Mission Delivery Focus Area”
    • Research Administration (team is yet to be put together)
    • Pricing and Financial Aid (team currently being drafted)
    • Operations (team is yet to be put together)
    • Housing/Facilities/Auxiliary (team currently being drafted)
  • Under the “New Markets & Diversification of Revenue Sources Focus Area”

The CORE Team members will be responsible for ensuring integration, consistency, accountability and transparency of work in the initiative teams, as well as developing strategies and supporting the teams and moving those teams’ recommendations to higher leadership for implementation. The chairs of the initiative teams, in addition to members of the EPC and the CORE Team, make up the Imperative Integration Council; and the chairs of the initiative teams, plus EPC and CORE Team members, make up the Focus Areas Collaborative Council. 

All of those initiative teams will be tri-chaired by a faculty member, a professional staff member and a senior administrator, to ensure diversification of leadership across colleges, schools and units. In addition to that diversity of thought, other diversity indicators across those teams will be monitored by the CORE Team’s DEI Liaison Ahaji Schreffler, who is the director of programs in the Office of Global Engagement and one of the two co-administrators for the Anti-Racism Task Force. Gender balance and the ability to create opportunities for emerging Drexel leaders were also taken into consideration when developing those teams.

The collaboration of Drexel faculty and professional staff on these groups and topics will result in a more unified and informed University that can respond to market needs and create internal and external partnerships, said the CORE Team’s Professional Staff Liaison Kevin Coleman, who is also the assistant director of military, government and community college strategic partnerships at Drexel University Online.

“Working together and gaining appreciation for what others do at the University, we share knowledge, we build relationships, we produce creative solutions for overcoming former problems and we become better,” said Coleman. “I think the pandemic that accelerated the opportunity to collaborate more deliberately across the Drexel community has helped many of us realize why we can be proud contributors to the 2030 direction of Drexel University.” 

From January to April, three initiative teams were launched (Undergraduate Online, Continuing Education and Lifelong Learning, and Partnerships) and have started meeting with the implementation team to discuss goals and strategies, and start working towards those priorities.

The Undergraduate Online team, for example, which is working to facilitate and build that kind of programming, has identified two areas of focus: to influence change and drive net tuition revenue in Drexel’s existing bachelor’s programs, and to make recommendations to ensure success for future online bachelor's programs, such as infusing more online education in first-time, full-time student experiences as well as adult learners. A pilot program for three online degree programs — the B.S. in computing security & technology, the B.S. in business administration and the B.S. in education — launched in March with an increased discount, marketing blitz, reduced time for decision and a reduced time for transfer credit evaluation. The pilot will end in August, and it is already on track to reach the goal of a 40% increase in new matriculants to achieve a targeted goal for a positive net tuition revenue. For the other established initiative teams, Lifelong Learning and Continuing Education is working to develop a centralized business plan for those tracks to ensure consistency across the University’s programs, and will have three-month, six-month and one-year check-ins with the implementation team. And the Partnerships initiative team is looking at deepening interdisciplinary partnerships, expanding regional opportunities and identifying innovative solutions. 

The teams, and their work, is flexible and responsive, as have been other aspects of the strategic plan’s creation, design and implementation.

What’s Happening at Drexel

In his opening remarks, Fry said that the University’s collective response to the events of the past year — including the COVID-19 pandemic, which fundamentally changed how the University works, learns, teaches and operates, and the creation of the Anti-Racism Task Force, which is working to shape Drexel into a more inclusive and anti-racist institution — helped provide a solid and stable launching point for the strategic plan.   

One of the key and current indicators of the University’s strength and ability was the “really talented and really deserving and really large class of first-year students,” Fry said, that will be entering the University this fall. The most recent numbers and statistics show 3,119 incoming students, up 420 from the previous year and with a slower summer melt, with about 31% of those students being first-generation, and 26% being eligible for Federal Pell Grants. This forecast provides optimism for a future generation of Dragons and the University’s commitment to access and opportunity for its students — both of which are integral to some of the goals of the strategic plan.

Additionally, Fry and Executive Vice President, Treasurer and Chief Operating Officer Helen Bowman — both of whom are members of the EPC — provided a look at the University’s financial position and how it will be supporting the strategic plan. The University recently reached and moved past the $700 million fundraising milestone of its $750 million Campaign for Drexel, “The Future Is a Place We Make,” which has provided a myriad of opportunities for students, faculty and professional staff through the funding of programs, endowments, scholarships and more. The University’s endowment is now over $950 million, and Drexel has also strengthened its financial position for Fiscal Year 2021 after securing external funding, such as COVID-19 relief funding from the federal government, and collectively curtailing unrestricted expenditures across the University. 

“So from this very strong and very stable base that we have, we can begin to contemplate a really exciting future for our University, not only in the decade ahead, but beyond, and ‘Drexel 2030: Designing the Future,’ our strategic plan, does just that in terms of imagining all the possibilities that we have as a University,” Fry said. 

What Will Happen Next at Drexel 

The June 21 town hall was one of the first in a series the strategic plan’s implementation team will hold to provide updates, receive feedback, answer questions and otherwise communicate news and goals to Drexel faculty and professional staff.

While some teams have already been finalized, it’s not too late for Drexel faculty and professional staff to get involved and be more engaged in the strategic plan’s implementation process. Some who have already been nominated or self-nominated have yet to be contacted and will be in the future. Those interested in serving on the other initiative teams — namely, Marketing/External Communications, Internal Communications/Digital Infrastructure, Research Administration, and Operations — can do so using a special Qualtrics link or by emailing Drexel2030@drexel.edu. Those who want to share feedback, comments, opinions or ask questions can also use that link and that email address to reach out.

This summer, the Focus Areas Collaborative Council will also start meeting, and imperative teams composed of at least one designee from an initiative team will also start meeting this summer to ensure that the six imperatives and other tenets are infused in each initiative team. In the next few months, all initiative teams will be finalized and will hold kickoff meetings, and will be reporting their progress in the fall. Recommendations that don't fall under the purview of those 12 initiatives teams will be tracked by a diversity advisory council currently being formed in the Office of Equality and Diversity.

Starting in September, Jensen and Bowman will resume visiting academic units and administrative units to discuss the strategic plan’s progress via smaller town hall settings. Further dialogues, like roundtables and discussions with members of the EPC and Core Team, will also be held for faculty and professional staff.

In the meantime, keep an eye on the strategic plan’s website, which will be built out more and updated in the upcoming future, and look for future communications related to the implementation process.