A Call for Action to Strengthen the Commitment to Equitable Student Success: A Case Study of North Carolina Community College Strategic Plans

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Community College Journal of Research and Practice

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Strategic plans are valuable tools for colleges seeking to cast vision and provide focused guidance for leadership and faculty, but it is not clear how these plans address student success. This study analyzed plans from 55 of the 58 community colleges in North Carolina. First, we analyzed the plans using a 10-step strategic planning framework to determine how well each aligned with this planning process. Then, we analyzed the plans to see how they aligned with a framework for student success that includes four elements: completion, learning, labor market outcomes and equity. Additionally, we examined the plans with an interest in understanding how they reflected the influence of neoliberalism ideals. We found that all 55 strategic plans identified goals, and most of the plans also provided strategies corresponding with these goals. Less attention, however, was given to implementation. A close look at the identified goals within the plans highlighted predominance of labor market objectives (36%), followed by attention to transfer/completion (31%) and learning (25%), with minimal attention to equity (9%), which suggests that neoliberal ideals – that gauge success by accountability measures of completion – have placed pressure on colleges in the strategic planning process. Our document analysis suggests that community college leaders are missing an opportunity to leverage the strategic planning process to support organizational learning and change by not focusing campus attention on shared goals prioritizing student success and advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion. Neglecting to provide publicly-available planning documents also misses the benefit of stakeholder engagement.


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