Board approves college’s five-year strategic plan

Document aims to strengthen mission, improve finances


Spring 2014

The Calvin College Board of Trustees approved a strategic plan for Calvin College at its recent January meetings, that, when implemented, will use the next five years to prepare the college for years to come and will meet the college’s objective of having all long-term debt funded by operating revenue by 2017.

The strategic plan provides the college with a strategy document that clarifies the college’s vision and sharpens its program offerings and operations in order to provide a solid platform for the college to do more ambitious and creative work.

The plan is organized around six themes: Strengthen Calvin’s Mission in Education; Secure Calvin’s Mission in Scholarship; Support Calvin’s Mission in Community; Strengthen Calvin’s Pursuit of Diversity and Inclusion; Secure Calvin’s Financial Future and Support Calvin’s Mission through External Partnerships.

“The strategy for Calvin College is to use the next five years to plan for the next 20,” said Michael Le Roy, president of Calvin College. “We want to remain anchored in what we do well, but be nimble.”

The college’s strategic planning process began in the fall of 2012 and has relied on community-wide feedback at every stage.

Hundreds of faculty, staff, students, alumni, board members and other stakeholders have provided written and oral feedback through brainstorming sessions, telephone town hall meetings, and numerous formal and informal meetings on and off-campus.

The resulting feedback helped the President’s Cabinet and the Planning and Priorities Committee (PPC)—a 16-member college committee that includes representatives from the faculty, staff, students, administration and board of trustees—in forming the college’s five-year strategic plan.

“By being collaborative and inclusive and working together on this process, this plan has evolved and become better and better,” said Le Roy.

Paralleling the strategic planning process has been the college’s prioritization plan—a long-term plan that specifically addresses the college’s financial situation. The prioritization plan was approved by the board of trustees and now fits into the college’s strategic plan under the theme: Secure Calvin’s Financial Future. The plan lays out five strategies for closing the college’s current ($4.5 million) and forecasted ($7.7 million in 2017) operating deficits, which include revenue generating and expense reducing measures.

The strategies include: raising $25 million by 2017 to pre-pay principal on the college’s long-term debt; selling non-core real estate assets over the next several years and using the proceeds to reduce the principal of long-term debt; refinancing the remaining long-term debt in 2017; increasing revenue through enrollment growth, new program growth and potentially differentiated tuition pricing for higher cost programs; and reducing annual operating expenses by roughly $4.5 million by June 30, 2017.

The college has already made significant headway on many of these strategies. As of the January board meeting, the college’s first strategy of raising $25 million has nearly been met, with donors committing more than $22 million toward principal reduction for the 2017 refinancing.

“The generosity and commitment of our donors in such a short time demonstrates God’s faithfulness and love for Calvin College,” said Le Roy.

The process of prioritization also had its genesis back in October 2012 when the college fully realized its financial realities. Since that time, the college has taken measures to reduce its operating deficit for budget year 2013–14 from $6.2 million to $4.5 million, in which a significant savings was achieved through revisions to the college’s health care costs, among other things, many of which provide permanent savings to the college. The recently approved prioritization plan builds upon the savings realized in 2013–14.

College leaders identified three principles that have guided the decisions of both the prioritization and strategic planning processes. Those guiding principles include the preservation of quality in the college’s academic programs, a commitment to minimize the adverse effects on students, and a commitment to faculty and staff of the college.

“What we’ve done here together these past several months is not different from what other good institutions of higher learning are doing across the country. We’re examining ourselves for the purpose of improving how we fulfill our mission of equipping students to think deeply, act justly and live wholeheartedly as Christ’s agents of renewal in the world,” said Le Roy. “The good, but difficult work of the last year- and-a half has paid off in that the college is in a much stronger financial position and is on a pathway toward growing success.”

The cabinet and PPC are currently working on a collaborative implementation plan that will ensure the strategic plan is followed and key decisions are aligned with the plan.  College leaders are encouraged by the collaboration among administration, faculty, staff, students and board members throughout the planning process and are confident that this collaboration will continue to be rooted in a shared sense of mission.

“The board of trustees commends and thanks the many who participated in the process and those who worked so hard to bring this plan to fruition,” said Scott Spoelhof, chairman of the board. “The board has been a grateful participant in the process and is honored to offer its final approval.”