Strategic planning is a visionary process that results in major, long-range, and far-reaching directions, providing a framework for operational planning across the organization. Careful planning, both strategic and operational, ensures that organizations can fulfill their mission with purpose and satisfy their stakeholders’ diverse needs. In 2003, Pikes Peak Community College (PPCC) published its first strategic plan for the period 2003-2007. The plan was revised in 2008 to include Strategic Factors and S.M.A.R.T. goals. In April 2011, PPCC initiated a process to develop a new strategic plan. This effort coincided with the hiring of a new president and the development of new academic and facilities master plans.
As with the 2003 version, the 2012 plan is designed to be implemented over the course of five years, with updates to occur annually. This new plan is closely aligned with the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) Strategic Plan, adopted by the State Board for Community Colleges and Occupational Education (SBCCOE), the organization that governs PPCC and 12 other community colleges across Colorado.
This planning revision for the College represents an important milestone. In the last five years, community colleges across the nation have grown exponentially, and student enrollment growth at PPCC was no exception. Additional changes in the region’s economic environment, including the recent recession, have resulted in a renewed focus on economic development, including retention of the region’s highly skilled workforce and the development of new skilled workers. These changes represent new opportunities and new challenges for PPCC.
El Paso Community College was established in 1968 by Colorado statute to provide vocational and liberal arts programs. Initial enrollment at the College was approximately 800 students. The mission of the College was three-fold:
- to assist students in obtaining job skills necessary to entering the workforce;
- to provide academic courses and degree programs for students wishing to continue their education at a four-year university; and,
- to offer special interest classes for personal growth for the citizens of Colorado Springs.
A decade later, classrooms rented in buildings in Old Colorado City were insufficient for serving increasing enrollments, and the College built its first full-service campus (now the Centennial Campus), renamed Pikes Peak Community College.
PPCC offers more than 200 degree and certificate career and technical education programs, including Associate of Arts, Associate of Science, and Associate of General Studies degrees. Degrees in the arts and sciences transfer to all of Colorado’s public universities as well as colleges and universities throughout the United States. The College operates four campuses in Colorado Springs (the Centennial, Downtown Studio, Rampart Range, and Falcon campuses) and provides a full range of courses via the Internet. In addition, PPCC offers courses at three military sites in the region: Fort Carson Army Post, Peterson Air Force Base, and Schriever Air Force Base. Approximately 21 percent of students take classes online, while another 1.8 percent enrolls at one of the military sites and the remaining 77 percent attend classes on campus.
For the academic year 2011-2012, the College has over 22,000 students enrolled, making it the second largest community college in Colorado and the largest institution of higher education in the Pikes Peak region. The College is nationally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
For academic year 2011-2012 the student population is 58 percent female, with 27 percent declaring their ethnicity as minority (compared with 20 percent of the El Paso County population) and 61 percent declaring their ethnicity as White non-Hispanic (compared with 72 percent of the El Paso County population). Almost a third of PPCC students are age 20 or younger, while 36.7 percent are between the ages of 21 and 30, and the remaining third are older than age 30.
More than 80 percent of PPCC students classify themselves as degree seeking, while an additional 5 percent are pursuing a certificate, and 7 percent of the students are concurrently enrolled in an area high school or are home-schooled. Almost half of first-time recent high school graduates attending PPCC must take remediation level classes (pre-college level) in at least one subject.
From 2005 to 2009, PPCC improved its student retention rate from 48.1 percent for the Fall 2004 Entering Class to 56.7 percent for the Fall 2008 Entering Class. Graduation rates for the same period (2004 to 2010) have not fluctuated significantly, with 1733 students graduating in 2005 and 1761 graduating in 2010.
Tuition increases have occurred each year since the inception of the first PPCC Strategic Plan in 2003, and the economic downturn resulted in a sharp decline in funding from the State of Colorado to all higher education institutions. As a result, the average student loan debt for students who have debt upon graduation has increased from $7,847 per PPCC student in 2006 to $11,450 per student in 2010. Approximately 61 percent of PPCC graduates leave with student loan debt.
The Pikes Peak region will continue growing at a faster pace than most other areas of Colorado, affecting PPCC enrollments and course offerings. Affordability will continue to be an issue as government support for higher education will not grow significantly. College leaders must seek creative solutions to keep tuition affordable and assure that students do not leave PPCC with burdensome levels of debt.
Student diversity and degree of preparedness will bring new demands to faculty, staff, and support programs. Learners will continue to call for multiple course delivery options for classes, and the College must continually invest in new technologies and practices to meet student needs and learning styles. As PPCC expands its assessment efforts and emphasizes improved learning outcomes, the College will adopt new practices that raise the level of student effort and achievement so that students become intentional learners—prepared to adapt to change and able to continually integrate knowledge from a variety of sources. New teaching and learning strategies will be tested and incorporated into the curriculum, including expanded opportunities for experiential learning, honors-level classes, the expansion of learning communities, and more.
More meaningful partnerships with business and other academic institutions will become commonplace, particularly as the need for more workers with at least an associate’s degree, or with specific technical skills typically taught at community colleges, becomes more acute. Competition from private colleges and regulatory efforts to deliver programs that prepare students for gainful employment will focus the College on sharpening its delivery of existing technical and career programs and developing new programs that respond directly to the needs of local employers.
Strategic Planning Steps
Strategic planning puts an organization’s vision and mission into action. To be effective, planning must be inclusive, incorporate an organization’s values, and provide goals and objectives that give direction to College decisions. For the development of the 2012 plan, College officials chose to use the existing Leadership Council, supplemented by members of the President’s staff and additional employees with responsibility for assessment, technology, the Higher Learning Commission’s (HLC) self-study, and strategic planning. Members of the Task Force are listed in Figure 1.
The College hired a facilitator and strategic planning expert, Debbie Sagen, to lead the process, conduct and analyze the stakeholder surveys, and write the plan. The Task Force used the Strategy Change Cycle process, created by University of Minnesota professor John Bryson (See Figure 2), to develop the new plan. This process is designed to help organizations to consider strategic change throughout the life cycle of developing and implementing a plan.
Step 1: Review Mission, Vision, and Values.
Because PPCC is a state agency, its mission is defined in the Colorado statutes and can only be modified by the Colorado Legislature. It is important to note that PPCC employees and external stakeholders were asked whether the College’s current mission continued to be relevant; an overwhelming 79 percent of PPCC employees and 86 percent of students and external stakeholders agreed that the current mission statement was relevant and did not require change.
The Task Force reviewed the current statutory mission statement and used it extensively throughout the planning process to insure that the new plan stayed true to the College’s mission. The Task Force reviewed the College Vision statement as well, and agreed that it should be reviewed and possibly updated at the end of the strategic planning process. As with the mission statement, a majority of all stakeholders agreed that the current vision statement was still relevant almost 10 years after it was written.
While values statements had been developed as part of the 2003 planning process, they were never fully embraced by the College; thus, the Task Force agreed to develop a new values statement that better reflected the organization today. An initial draft of a values statement was developed early in the planning process and was circulated, refined, and finalized by the end of the planning period.
Step 2: Scan the Environment.
An environmental assessment describes the world in which an organization operates today. Leaders often complete this assessment at the beginning of strategic planning to better understand their environment and create an inventory of their organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (often called a SWOT analysis, see Figure 3). This analysis provides a systems view of the organization and the factors that affect it.
The Task Force began its SWOT analysis by reviewing reports about the internal status of the college (financial health, enrollment trends, academic and facilities planning, and assessment progress) as well as reports about the community (the Colorado Community College System (CCCS) strategic plan, regional economic and demographic trends, the Operation 6035 regional economic development plan, and national trends in higher education).
In addition, the environmental scanning process included the development and deployment of several surveys to gather information, preferences, and opinions from internal stakeholders (students and PPCC employees) and external stakeholders. The external stakeholder survey was distributed to state and local leaders, legislators, primary employers, local school district and higher education leaders, occupational program advisory committee members, and members of the College Advisory Board and Foundation.
A summary of the completed environmental assessment appears as Figure 3. In addition, the information found in the Past, Present, and Future sections of this report (pages 5-7) are summarized from information presented to the Task Force as part of the scanning process. The stakeholder survey results and Task Force SWOT analysis are available as a separate appendix to the plan, the PPCC 2011 Environmental Assessment.
Step 3: Identify Strategic Issues.
Once the environmental assessment was completed, Task Force members could identify strategic issues, which are issues that represent a major policy choice that affects organizational mandates, mission, services, finances, structure, processes, or management. Members developed more than 65 potential strategic issue statements, and then grouped them into like categories. Those categories became the framework for the six goals that form the 2012 plan.
Step 4: Develop and Refine Goals and Objectives.
Once the Task Force completed its identification of strategic issues, members spent considerable time developing, drafting, and refining strategic goals, then receiving feedback from employees about whether the goals were appropriate to pursue. Next, Task Force members developed objectives for the major goals, using feedback from a second employee survey. This survey also requested employee feedback about the draft values statement. Finally, units across the College developed ideas for possible tactics and outcomes measurements for the proposed objectives.
Step 5: Set Outcomes, Refine Vision.
At the end of the strategic planning process, the Task Force rewrote the PPCC Vision statement to better align the vision with the new values and the proposed strategic plan goals and objectives. The process of refining plan objectives and tactics will continue into 2013 as the new plan is reviewed and as implementation priorities and budget requirements are set. The tactics that accompany this plan are published as a separate appendix to this plan.
Step 6: Measure Progress.
As implementation gets underway, College leaders, Institutional Research staff, and the College Outcomes and Assessment Team (C.O.A.T.) will employ appropriate outcomes measurements (or develop new measurements) and report progress on a regular basis. It is anticipated that the plan will be reviewed annually, to make adjustments based on new information, mandates, or opportunities.
 Bryson, J.M. (2004). Strategic planning for public and nonprofit organizations: a guide to strengthening and sustaining organizational achievement. John Wiley and Sons.