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June 2012
Meeting the Challenge
The Ursinus Promise
The Strategic Plan Process
Eight Priorities & Recommendations
Implementing the Strategic Plan


In the Fall Semester of 2011, the Ursinus community embarked upon a process of developing a strategic plan. This document is the product of that process.  Transformative Education: A Strategic Plan for Ursinus College seeks to specify what Ursinus is as well as what we want to become.  It reaffirms the mission of the College and the values that inform our corporate sense of purpose.  It enunciates eight priorities, shaped through the process of community discussion, which chart a course for the College with thirty-three recommendations to be implemented over the next five to seven years.

At its best, a strategic plan is about ideas: ideas of visionary potential and of practical purpose.  Agreeing upon these ideas provides us all with a common language as we move forward.  Transformative Education should inspire action and expansion upon its ideas, with initiatives and activities that were not even imagined during its development.

To better understand where we have arrived, it is valuable to recount the journey that has brought us to this point:

August 2011

State of the College address

In my first address to faculty and staff assembled, I offered eight propositions as a first step in engaging the Ursinus community in a year-long effort to delineate the strategic direction and emphases that would guide the College.  I charged the members of the Campus Planning and Priorities Committee (CPPC) with forming a workgroup for each of the strategic propositions.  It was the responsibility of each workgroup to evaluate the assigned proposition and to convert the issues into a formal strategic priority with recommendations for action.  The recommendations had to be specific enough so that we can chart progress. 

September 2011 to January 2012

• Workgroups engage with the College community and produce reports on the strategic priorities

Workgroups were populated by faculty, staff, students, trustees, alumni, and local community members, nearly one hundred participants.  The activities of the workgroups further engaged hundreds of members of our campus community who took time to participate in group discussions or to respond to one or more of the many questionnaires that were circulated to gather data.   The workgroups met over the Fall Semester, and their reports were completed in January 2012.

February 2012

• Development of strategic plan draft

The workgroup reports were compiled by me as editor, and the resulting draft of the strategic plan was reviewed with the CPPC.

March-April 2012

• Community review of strategic plan

The draft strategic plan became the subject of feedback from all College constituencies.  It was shared with the Board of Trustees at its March retreat and then made available online to the Ursinus community.  Open meetings were conducted among faculty, staff, and students.  The March President’s Perspective invited online feedback from the on- and off-campus community.

May- June 2012

• Final draft of the strategic plan

The CPPC revised the strategic plan in light of community comments before it was brought to the Board for consideration at its spring meeting.  It was ratified by the Board of Trustees on 1 June 2012 

On behalf of all who have worked on the strategic plan, I now commend it to the Ursinus community. Your informed involvement in this process was critical. Your opinions made a difference because the final version of the plan bears their marks. This plan will guide our efforts over the next five to seven years. Jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes once wrote, What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  The future of Ursinus rests, as it always has, in the hearts and minds of this community.

Bobby Fong
June 2012


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A firm strategic direction is essential for Ursinus College, especially at a time when perceptions of the purpose of higher education are in flux.  Both governmental and private voices have called for an increase in the number of college graduates.  But too often, such calls have been focused narrowly on career preparation and economic competitiveness.  The response has been a proliferation of certificate and on-line programs that emphasize information transmission and preparation for a particular occupation.  While an Ursinus graduate should be equipped to make a living, it would be an abasement of liberal learning if our enterprise were limited to that goal. 

Liberal education is an approach to teaching and learning that enables students to master different ways of knowing: creating knowledge in the sciences is different from creating meaning in literature.  It is insufficient in our College for a student only to learn a particular body of knowledge; the goal is to learn how to know.  Moreover, liberal education forms the dispositions as well as the intellect. We aspire to teach students how to think critically and communicate effectively, but also to work cooperatively and act ethically.  Ursinus seeks “to enable students to become independent, responsible, and thoughtful individuals through a program of liberal education.”  Our challenge is to explain how an Ursinus education prepares our graduates to succeed and to live well.

To meet the challenge, we must affirm our strengths. Ursinus is a college that changes lives. It is uncommonly able to do so by virtue of its being a small, residential community, characterized by a close relationship between students and faculty.  It has developed and refined a distinctive, highly regarded, model of liberal education as represented in our core curriculum.  We encounter eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds at a time when their rate of personal development and change will be greater than any comparable period in adulthood.  We need to equip them with the tools to manage their own recreation of themselves.

Meeting the Challenge

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We offer a transformative experience.  We aim

 1.      To cultivate judgment that is essential for a satisfying career and useful life.

Judgment is essential for every aspect of a well-lived life. We exercise judgment when we decide what career to pursue or whom to marry.  Future professionals and leaders must develop their capacity for judgment. Lawyers seeking the argument that will sway a jury, doctors attempting a difficult diagnosis, managers considering how best to motivate their teams, and school board members deciding what program to support, all face questions the answers to which cannot be determined with mathematical precision.  They must choose in the face of uncertainty and complexity. We believe that it is possible to learn to make better judgments and choices. We may not be able to anticipate what technical skills our graduates will need ten years from now. We do know that they will need to think well and hard about questions for which there are no pat answers and to benefit from the knowledge and experience of others as they do so.

 2.      To cultivate qualities of intellect and character that are essential for a satisfying career and useful life.

To exercise and act on judgment, we must be able to understand and assess competing ideas. We must be able to revise long-held views and oppose conventional wisdom when given good reasons to do so. We must be able to live with uncertainty and ambiguity and to resist easy answers. Consequently, we need courage to re-examine cherished beliefs, a commitment to work with others with whom we disagree, persistence and discipline to work through difficult problems, and intellectual curiosity so that judgment is a satisfying pursuit.

 3.       To provide our students with an education that is rigorous, so that they will work harder than they thought possible, and individualized, so that their hard work is inspired by goals they understand and embrace.

Students are unlikely to learn if they are not challenged to work hard.  Learning judgment, in particular, demands that students take an active role in their education.  We cannot serve our students without challenging them, and no reasonable person will believe that a degree for which one does not have to labor is worth very much.  At the same time, we invest faculty and staff attention in individual lives.  Each student is known and taught by name and face.  Advising goes beyond filling out a class schedule to discussing a student’s hopes and aspirations.  A student’s request to tailor a course of study to meet individual interests and needs should merit respectful consideration.  An Ursinus education should be like clothing fitted to the individual, not bought off the rack.

The Ursinus Promise

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We believe that parents and students will respond to the promise of transformation that occurs not through magic but through the student’s own hard work, supported by a faculty and staff prepared to guide them in that work, and by means of an educational program designed to develop the qualities of intellect and character necessary to live successfully and usefully.

In short, we should tell prospective students this: “Your success is our utmost concern. Every feature of the Ursinus program is devoted to that end.  If you embrace the rigor and challenge of an Ursinus education, and choose to join our community, you will develop the qualities of intellect and character necessary to live a satisfying, successful, and useful life.”


The Strategic Planning Process

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This process began with the President’s State of the College address in August 2011, in which eight areas of attention were specified for investigation. Responsibility for overseeing the process was lodged with the Campus Priorities and Planning Committee (CPPC), a permanent standing committee of faculty and administrators. CPPC members co-chaired eight workgroups and solicited nearly 100 persons, including faculty, students, staff, alumni, trustees, and friends of Ursinus, to join the workgroups, which were charged with the preparation of recommendations for inclusion in the Strategic Plan. The activities of the workgroups further engaged hundreds of members of our campus community who took time to engage in group discussions or to respond to one or more of the many questionnaires that were circulated to gather data.

Each workgroup formally submitted its report to the CPPC in January 2012. This draft strategic plan is a compilation of the recommendations of the eight workgroups. It was reviewed by the CPPC in February and by the Board of Trustees at its winter meeting in early March.

Following review by the CPPC and the Board of Trustees, the draft was revised to incorporate suggestions from both groups. The current iteration of the plan was released to the campus community after Spring Break in mid-March. Focus groups and other open meetings are being held in late March and April to gather comments from faculty, staff and students. Members of the Ursinus community, both on-campus and beyond, will also be able to communicate their questions, ideas, and concerns electronically.

Another revision will be completed in May to incorporate suggestions from the Ursinus community and presented to the Board of Trustees at its spring meeting in early June. Depending on the progress we have made, the Board will be asked to ratify the strategic plan either in the spring or, if further work is necessary over the summer, at its fall meeting.

After the strategic plan has been ratified, specific assignments will be made to individuals and bodies in the College to begin work on implementation. Periodic reports will be required, and an annual summary of progress and work remaining will be shared with the Board of Trustees and the Ursinus community. Much will be required of all of us to implement the recommendations, but we will all be able to share in the satisfaction of what can be accomplished in the years ahead.

Through this strategic planning process, the College has endeavored to evaluate our work together in light of our educational mission and values. Our goal is to provide an educational program that is economically sustainable and accessible to students of diverse social and economic backgrounds, to create a flourishing academic community of faculty and staff, and to use tuition and gifts judiciously and fairly.

The Eight Priorities & Recommendations

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Priority One
Maintain the academic strengths of the College while assessing each academic program to identify areas of distinction.
Priority Two
Create initiatives to link academic learning with applied learning and post-baccalaureate work.
Priority Three
Manage student body size by focusing on retention.
Priority Four
Shape the campus community for diversity.
Priority Five
Make Ursinus a workplace of choice.
Priority Six
Improve town-gown relationships.
Priority Seven
Engage our alumni.
Priority Eight
Increase fundraising.


Maintain the academic strengths of the College while assessing each academic program to identify areas of distinction.

Over the past decade, the College has grown in the numbers of students, tenure-track faculty members, and new and renovated buildings.   Ursinus also instituted a new and expanded core curriculum distinctive enough to garner national attention.  The core was designed to ensure that students experience depth and breadth not only in their major field(s) of study but also across the curriculum.  Two distinctive components, the Common Intellectual Experience (CIE) and the Independent Learning Experience (ILE), were designed specifically to create intellectual community, to challenge students academically, and to promote student engagement, personal responsibility, and independent learning. 

CIE engages the entire first-year class in reflection about certain fundamental questions of liberal education, around which the entire two-semester course is structured: How should one live? What does it mean to be human? What is the universe and what is my place in it?  CIE is taught by faculty from every discipline on the premise that a liberal education requires inquiry into human issues more basic than any specific discipline.  It also models for students the commitment and benefits of thinking far outside the bounds of one’s discipline.  In turn, the ILE requires students to pursue their academic and professional interests through an experience beyond the classroom.  The ILE offers upper-level students the choice of study abroad, student teaching, internships (both here and abroad), or independent research projects, including the Summer Fellows Program.  Many students undertake more than one ILE or incorporate several independent learning experiences in a single ILE. 

Both the CIE and the ILE depend on a faculty comprised of skilled teachers who are also active scholars and creative artists.  Animated by a passion for discovery, the instructor conveys to students not only the latest developments in the discipline but provides a model of an intellectually engaged life.  The teacher-scholar readily empathizes with the challenges this intellectual life poses to students and inspires in them a sense of its satisfactions.  These benefits are especially evident in faculty-led student research.   Whether as mentors or partners, Ursinus faculty members regard student-faculty collaborations in research and creative production as an essential pedagogy.  It spurs students’ abilities to think independently and imaginatively, to effectively deal with complexity and ambiguity, to make reasoned decisions, to express themselves orally and in writing, and to address real world problems in innovative and creative ways.  It boosts the College’s ability to attract and retain strong students who seek out independent research and creative opportunities.  It is an institutional point of distinction in recruiting and retaining faculty who are fully dedicated to both excellence in teaching and excellence in research with students.

While Ursinus’ growth over the past decade has allowed us to add new academic programs and majors without removing existing ones, this model is no longer economically sustainable as we move forward.   Instead, we must make use of existing resources in innovative ways.  If new programs are added, then others must be trimmed.  If we are not adding faculty because the size of the student body is stable, we must enhance programs through interdisciplinary collaborations.  We cannot rely uncritically on existing programs and past traditions, but rather we must reexamine our curriculum and its delivery.  To fulfill the vision enunciated in the Prologue, we must think more deeply and more creatively about what is worth doing and what innovations would best strengthen our core commitment to liberal education.  We must build upon that core commitment to the liberal arts so that it more explicitly and coherently informs everything we do.

Recommendation 1: Strengthen and support the CIE, evaluate and fortify the first year experience, and consolidate the link between the two.

We need to strengthen and support CIE so that this signature program more explicitly and coherently informs students’ first year experience and beyond.  Implement a system of regular classroom observations, and enhance the CIE training program, especially with regard to pedagogy and how to lead discussions.  Review CIE syllabi and practices to normalize rigor and expectations so that all sections are of comparable quality.  Identify best practices in mentoring first-year students, and institute ways of identifying effective advisors.  Review the ways that new students are acclimated to campus, and seek ways to use orientation and first-year residences to extend the experience of CIE beyond the classroom.  Implement a CIE Fellows program to offer leadership opportunities in CIE to upperclass students who best exemplify the qualities of intellect and character that CIE nurtures.  Consider using residence advisors and faculty in residence-based programs that offer further opportunities for students to reflect on CIE texts and themes.  Explore the desirability of off-campus experiences as part of CIE.

Recommendation 2: Evaluate and strengthen the core to ensure we are meeting the goals and mission of the College. 

Continue to support the existing core curriculum while encouraging innovations in both courses and pedagogy that result in a more coherent and compelling set of core offerings consistent with the College’s commitment to the liberal arts.  Establish a more coherent program for the written and oral requirement.  Reduce reliance on adjuncts to teach core courses (the prospective stabilization in student body size may help with this).  Expand opportunities for students to pursue internships and research projects at non-profit organizations, and include service opportunities while studying abroad.  Explore cost-effective Study Abroad options, especially for those in scientific and technical fields. Consider developing an option for completing one’s Student Teaching while on a Study Abroad program.  Develop a systematic approach to the assessment of the effectiveness of diverse ILE programs through the creation of a rubric and set of standard guidelines and requirements that all ILE programs must fulfill.  Assess and address staffing issues relating to research mentoring, internship supervision, and student teaching observation in departments with large numbers of majors.

Recommendation 3: Create interdisciplinary Centers that further cultivate the capacity for reflective judgment and that offer students opportunities to exercise it on and off campus.  

We need to bring greater coherence to our curriculum by building on the close-knit intellectual community fostered in CIE.  In particular, further opportunities need to be afforded students to exercise reflective judgment through interdisciplinary inquiry and practice.  However, beyond CIE, our current curricular structures are not flexible enough to encourage our faculty to cross disciplinary boundaries and collaborate in creating new forms of interdisciplinary teaching, learning, and research.

To accomplish this goal, we will establish a series of thematic centers that link inquiry and practice.  They will encourage faculty collaboration and student learning by building bridges across the disciplines and to the world beyond the campus—regionally, nationally, and internationally.  All centers will share a common goal and organization that reflect our core commitment to liberal education.  For example, every center will: a) guide students in the selection of pertinent courses that already exist in the curriculum, and develop several new interdisciplinary courses as needed; b) create a Fellows program that provides students with leadership opportunities in the functions of that center; c) maintain a seminar series that brings to campus theorists and practitioners relevant to the center’s particular focus; d) run an internship program that places students in positions that reflect the center’s issue-oriented, multi-disciplinary character and that provides experience in sound judgment; e) place leadership in a group of faculty whose expertise spans the interdisciplinary area of that particular center; and f) establish an advisory board, comprised of alumni, Trustees, and members of the off-campus community, to ensure that the experiential component of the center’s activities fulfills our curricular goals.

The programmatic coherence provided by these centers will enable us to explain more clearly and compellingly, to ourselves and others, exactly how our curriculum benefits students.  Students and their families will see that the development of the capacity for reflective judgment through interdisciplinary inquiry best prepares students to thrive in life and in work.  Integrating students into the operation of the centers will aid in retention.  A more thoroughgoing commitment to interdisciplinary inquiry will lead to a more integrated faculty body, whose members help students discover the benefits of a liberal education by living the life to which it leads.  

Each of these benefits contributes to the College’s core commitment that liberal education informs all that we do.  At a time when resources are constrained, better coordination of cross-disciplinary studies will enable us to reevaluate lower-demand courses and programs while aligning student interests with opportunities for interdisciplinary work.

Recommendation 4: Examine departmental programs to determine their distinctiveness, rigor, and relevance to this generation of students. 

Each department should be measured against peer institutions to determine strength of program and points of distinction.  Areas for attention include a) cross-disciplinary collaborations, b) creative pedagogy, and c) real-life engagement opportunities for students, particularly enhanced internships that are academically and professionally current.  Seek connections to the alumni network, members of which can provide career counseling and guidance on where the discipline is moving.  Provide opportunities to engage disciplinary skills in service learning.  Develop a systematic approach to program effectiveness through the creation of rubrics for assessment.  Review core major courses (e.g., intensive writing courses, methods courses, capstone experiences) to norm expectations and assignments.  Increase departmental accountability for how instructors address poor performance on SPTQ measures and other forms of teaching assessments in their annual self-evaluations.  Evaluate the deployment of adjuncts and how their teaching performance affects rehiring.

Recommendation 5: Affirm the value of student-faculty collaborations in research and creative production by supporting them wholeheartedly.

Ursinus expects its faculty to be active scholars or creative artists because of the disciplinary expertise and habits of mind that such work engenders.  For the same reasons, we strive to provide students with opportunities for research and creative work in as close collaboration with faculty as particular projects allow.  Investigate differential workloads for faculty so that classroom teaching and student-faculty collaborations are calculated in course-load equity across campus.  Funding for student and faculty conference travel should be a priority in fundraising.  Gauge the appropriate number of summer fellows commensurate to the ability of students able to succeed at summer research.  Encourage more external grant submissions and student and faculty publications and presentations. 

Improve research facilities, especially in the sciences.  Consider ways to create shared and flexible research spaces.  Create more off-campus connections for high impact academic research opportunities and internships for students.  Evaluate ways in which Myrin Library can contribute to research and independent study.


Create initiatives to link academic learning with applied learning and post-baccalaureate work.

Ursinus must help students translate their classroom experience to the world in which they will live and work.  But to build bridges that connect the curriculum to life and work, we must ensure that the diverse functions of the college work in concert toward that goal.  Enhanced coordination of ILE and other programs is required at every level to provide our students the opportunity to exercise the capacity for reflective judgment.

Current students enter an economy characterized by ever more rapid flux.  Studies estimate that one-third of them will eventually work at jobs that do not yet exist.  In such circumstances it would be a disservice to train students primarily for one particular job.  Instead, an Ursinus education develops those qualities of intellect and character that will always be in demand in a vibrant yet challenging economic environmentIn a 2009 Association of American Colleges & Universities national survey of over 300 firms, almost 60% of respondents looked for both in-depth expertise and a broad range of skills and knowledge--precisely the combination characteristic of an Ursinus liberal education.  In addition, over 80% of respondents expected graduates to have completed either a significant project that demonstrates depth of knowledge and critical thinking skills or an internship or community project that "connect[s] classroom learning with real-world experiences."  The ability to think independently and innovatively, the willingness to take on responsibility and work effectively with colleagues, the importance of conducting oneself in an ethical manner: these are the products of an Ursinus education, and these qualities will never be obsolete.

But to deliver on the Ursinus promise, we can and must do more to ensure that each student profits from this education.  Through departments and centers, faculty must work closely with Career Services to secure substantive internships.  There should be increased opportunity to couple internships with Study Abroad.  Alumni networks must be mobilized.  We must take better advantage of our proximity to Philadelphia for internship possibilities.  Advancement should pursue the funding possibilities inherent in this expanded program.  Closer to home, student employment on campus, not only in academically connected programs but in Residence Life and other administrative offices, should be regarded as opportunities to invest students with more responsibility to make substantive decisions.  The recommendations that follow offer greater detail concerning how to construct the bridges that complete the Ursinus promise. 

Recommendation 6: Review and strengthen the Independent Learning Experience.

Enhance the opportunities afforded ILE by exploring new faculty and student exchange partnerships and supporting international students and scholars on campus.  Expand internship opportunities with regional private, public, and non-profit organizations.  Focus especially on creating links to the abundant opportunities available in Philadelphia.  Encourage more on-campus research opportunities that cross disciplines.  Consider internships with virtual components or e-internships, on-campus internships, and short-term externships.  Promote off-campus student research opportunities in the region and across the country.

Such experiences are powerful on their own, but they can be transformative when students reflect on their experiences and connect them to both their classroom experiences and their future careers.  In order to encourage such reflection, consider a public oral or written product from their experience as a capstone to the ILE requirement. Such a product would not only benefit the student but also represent the experience to both internal and external audiences.

Improve the quality of ILE experiences through more standardized evaluation and advising.  An ILE advisory committee can establish general outcomes for the Independent Learning Experience.  Individual departments could then promulgate program-specific ILE learning outcomes for their majors.  First-year and major advisors should prompt students to connect ILE experiences with career goals. Internship and research advisors should establish clear learning objectives and expectations.  Study abroad experiences should also have clear expectations that link to academic and applied learning.  Best practices in ILE advising should be shared. 

Recommendation 7: Improve engagement with external audiences (alumni, parents, area employers) in order to connect students with internship, career, and postgraduate opportunities.

By increasing the number of graduates who gain quality employment opportunities or  acceptance into top-tier graduate and professional programs, Ursinus will enhance its reputation as a liberal arts institution that builds effective bridges from the campus to the real world.

Forge stronger and more active ties to a wide variety of corporations, non-profits, small businesses, and other professional organizations to create internship opportunities for every student interested in pursuing one.  In particular, the administrative structure of the centers can serve as a vehicle to expand the possibilities available to students.  Recruit leaders in fields pertinent to each center to serve on its advisory board.  Their selection should depend in part on their capacity and willingness to expand career opportunities for our students.    

One way of strengthening bridges from campus to the world is to give students opportunities to interact with alumni who have translated their liberal arts education into successful careers.  Invite alumni to serve on the advisory boards of the centers, to mentor students in internships, give career advice, and help them gain access to professional networks.  Pursue shadowing opportunities with alumni and promote Winter Break externships. Develop a culture among alumni to serve and mentor current students.

Central to internships and post-baccalaureate activities is an expanded role for Career Services.  Students participating in internships could be required to participate in seminars or online training on business etiquette and other topics so they are adequately prepared for the work environment.  Career Services can supply information about correlations among GPA, test scores, graduate school/professional school admissions, and job offers.

The College should integrate information from different college services about scholarship, graduate school, internship, and job opportunities.  It should conduct a review of pre-professional programs (e.g., pre-med, pre-law) to determine how students can best be served.  It can seek ways to support students preparing for graduate and pre-professional school exams (e.g., GRE, MCAT, LSAT, GMAT).

Recommendation 8: Create a culture of service and community engagement.

To fulfill the College mission of preparing students "to live creatively and usefully," more can be done to integrate community engagement into the academic program. Consider instituting a civic engagement core curriculum requirement or departmental service learning requirement. In addition, more could be done to support faculty in the development of courses with community-based components, including assistance to arrange placements with community partners.

As successful as UCARE and the Office of Sustainability have been in supporting volunteerism and community service, more could be done to make such service pervasive. Set an expectation that all student organizations do annual service projects in the community.  Create a campus-wide day of service that coincides with the Martin Luther King Day of Service.  Undergirding these student efforts would be continuing support for efforts such as the Bonner Leadership Program and the UCGreen Fellows Program. As we grow opportunities and expectations for civic engagement, it will obviously be necessary that we follow through with an infrastructure that supports this growth, including consistently reliable and available transportation for individual students and student groups.

Recommendation 9: Provide support for faculty and staff to better link academic learning with applied learning and post-baccalaureate opportunities

ork with Residence Life, Admissions, Advancement, and other offices on                                                                       campus to make student employment more meaningful.  The Ursinus community provides numerous opportunities for students to exercise responsibility and judgment.  Explore the significant educational opportunities available to students in the governance and administration of our own community.  The Berman Museum peer docents, Bonner Student Leaders, The CIE Fellows program, and fellows programs attached to the proposed centers offer various models for this initiative.  Common coordination of these programs should also be a priority.

Consideration should be given to adding staff to Career Services (e.g., a full-time Internship Coordinator). Likewise, encourage increased support for faculty participation at workshops to expand the range of ILE options.  Promotion and tenure decisions should value the service of faculty invested in providing high quality advising and direction to students for ILE, post-baccalaureate, and service opportunities.



Manage student body size by focusing on retention.

The percentage of first-year students who graduate within six years of matriculation is the most important and transparent outcomes measure of student success and satisfaction.  Near-term Ursinus enrollment projections aim to stabilize the entering class at 440.  Therefore, within the current no-growth economic and enrollment environment, the Ursinus community will need more than ever to concentrate on retention of students attending the College.

The most recent Ursinus 6-year graduation rate is 80%, within striking range of the 85% achieved by the top 50 national liberal arts cohort of colleges.  Improving the retention rate will require more explicit coordination among the admission, instructional, and advising functions of the college.  The campus must be dedicated to delivering the highest quality of educational programming within the constraints of its resources. 

Students are more likely to come, stay, and succeed if we present them, from their first contact with Ursinus to the day they graduate, with a clear sense of what our goals for them are, of how our academic program coheres around those goals, and of why it is in their interest to be part of a close-knit community that challenges them, supports them, and invites their contributions.  In fulfilling the Ursinus Promise, we must coordinate our efforts to offer students a rigorous liberal education that rewards their hard work with the clear sense that they are making progress in developing the abilities and the habits of mind and heart they need to lead successful and fulfilling lives.

Ursinus retention and graduation rates, and the stability of the student body, will improve as a result of renewed attention to admission and academic quality, improved transparency in the assessment of that quality, and coordinated focus on advising and supporting students in benefiting from that educational experience.

Recommendation 10: Reassess the desirable academic and extracurricular qualities of Ursinus applicants and the allocation of financial aid needed to encourage their matriculation.

Align our description of an Ursinus education to prospective students with current offerings while being alert for opportunities to enhance the value of that education with programs that strengthen recruitment and retention of high-achieving students.  Weigh the pros and cons of traditional deadlines vs. rolling admissions.  Encourage faculty to have a more active role in recruitment.  Determine which admission and financial variables best predict persistence and graduation.  Reassess the current allocation of merit and grant aid, identifying resources to meet more fully the demonstrated need of needy top-tier academic applicants.

Recommendation 11: Improve the consistency and effectiveness of academic advising in order to boost student success and satisfaction.

Determine criteria for service as first-year advisors, and explore creative approaches to advising such as a) increased use of academic-related staff as major advisors and b) utilization of a standardized record-keeping system to share pertinent information on students.  Assess how advisers are currently evaluated, and use evaluations to help determine suitability for advising.  Enhance advisor training and continuing education with a view to ensuring that advising consistently encompasses not only the choice of a class schedule or troubleshooting but also guidance for our students in understanding what an Ursinus education has to offer them and their active role in shaping it.  Recognize faculty for contributions to advising through the addition of a specific advising component to the tenure and promotion evaluation process.

Establish a clear trajectory for students in each major through a focused advising plan that encourages a variety of experiences, including study abroad, internships, and post-baccalaureate planning.  Consider e-portfolio and resume development upon entry into the major.  Provide training and mentoring for major advisers, and support their work by developing common guidelines and forms for advising majors in each department.  Guidelines for advising interdisciplinary majors, double majors, and minors should be developed at the college level and customized within each program.

Recommendation 12: Review the structure of our academic requirements.

Strengthen mechanisms for helping students navigate the curriculum and discover new learning and service opportunities.  While retaining quality, consider reducing pre-requisites and the number of courses required in a major in order to give students more flexibility in fulfilling college, department, and program requirements. Use upperclass students as peer mentors to help underclass students get connected within their major department.

Recommendation 13: Develop an empirical, Ursinus-specific retention model.

Establish a permanent institutional research office of the College and task it with developing a predictive model related to persistence and graduation, particularly for groups with historically lower graduation rates.  The office should create a campus-wide culture of data collection and assessment by promulgating standard protocols for data collection and working with Instructional Technology to facilitate training and user-friendly interfaces. 


Shape the campus community for diversity.

If we are serious about cultivating the judgment of our students, we must make it possible for them to encounter and be challenged by diverse perspectives.  That is why, from their first year in the Common Intellectual Experience, students are asked to reflect not only on the roots of their own ideas but also on texts drawn from diverse historical contexts and cultures that represent formidable alternatives to their ideas.  But if our students are to be open to re-examining their cherished beliefs and to working with others whose views they dispute or don’t yet understand, then we need to shape our classrooms and our community to bring together people of diverse experiences and perspectives. We expect our students to become successful contributors to and leaders of workplaces and communities when they leave Ursinus, and to this end, they need to encounter and learn from people who differ from them.  For all these reasons, the College must be intentional in creating a heterogeneous campus where we practice respecting and civilly engaging others especially at the points where they are different from ourselves.  This encompasses student admissions policies that are mindful not only of ethnic and cultural backgrounds but also of socio-economic circumstances.  The College must maintain its well-deserved reputation of being accessible to the financially-needy.

However, the mere presence of diverse populations on campus is not sufficient.  There is safety in solidarity with others of shared ethnic background, religious tradition, or sexual orientation.  But the College must seek in its curricular and co-curricular work to bring its diverse student body together to discuss materials of common interest, where they are most likely to learn something from one another.  Our campus should also offer numerous opportunities for students to cross boundaries of difference to work together.   This can be a collateral benefit of group projects in courses and research, of community service and advocacy, of residential living, and of affinity groups from athletic teams to pan-Hellenic organizations.

Faculty and staff should be mindful that they too benefit from membership in a diverse community.  Shaping for diversity consequently goes beyond the profile of the student body.  It extends to our policies for hiring and supporting employees.  We can be proud of such initiatives as providing language classes for workers whose native language is not English.  But let us go further.  How can we increase the critical mass of multicultural faculty and staff at Ursinus? What need is there for diversity education for employees?  How can we better model for students the ways to participate in and reap the rewards of living in a diverse community? 

Recommendation 14: Work toward an inclusive campus community.

Maintain and initiate curricular and co-curricular programs that encourage thoughtful consideration of diversity issues and opportunities for cooperation across groups.  Refine the Global Study and Diversity core requirements, and continue to consider how CIE deals with issues of human diversity.  Think about adopting an annual campus-wide diversity theme that influences the choice of speakers and performers we bring to campus and that could be addressed through curricular and co-curricular programs.

Recommendation 15: Better coordinate diversity efforts.   

Current diversity initiatives are decentralized.  On the one hand, this has permitted the development of multiple efforts from different campus groups without a rigid structure.  On the other hand, many liberal arts colleges have some form of diversity office or officer with resources for the coordination and publicity of diversity programming.

Replace the current faculty committee on diversity with one that includes faculty, students, and administrative support staff.  Charge the committee with drafting a statement on diversity at Ursinus after consultation with campus constituencies.  Direct the recommendations from the recent Teagle study, the faculty committee on diversity report, and the Presidential Committee on Race & Equality to the appropriate standing committees of the College for consideration.  Make good use of the data collected by these groups.  Consider the establishment of a diversity officer for Ursinus.          

Recommendation 16: Establish consistent campus-wide hiring practices and training in diversity issues to ensure increased and continued efforts to recruit a diverse faculty and staff.

Make hiring protocols consistent and ensure that search committees are aware of legal and cultural issues in evaluating candidates, perhaps through an orientation by the HR staff prior to launching each search.  Continue with diversity training and support for faculty and staff.  For faculty, make training to deal with diversity issues in and out of the classroom part of professional development.  Use the Dean’s Colloquium to present an overview of campus diversity initiatives to first-year faculty.


PRiority FIVE:

Make Ursinus a workplace of choice.

A liberal arts college fulfilling the vision of the Prologue will provide deep and lifelong benefits not only for students, but also for faculty and staff.  It creates a community that encourages its employees to live a full life of ongoing intellectual engagement with students and colleagues.  Not only does such a workplace allow the College’s employees to thrive intellectually, personally, and socially, it also models for students the profound rewards of living a life shaped by liberal learning.

The College aims to be an inclusive community where all employees understand their significance to the mission of the College, where their voices are heard and their contributions valued.  Our workplace, therefore, should engender open communication between stakeholders in how to make the College as effective as it can be.  It should encourage its members to grow professionally.  It should use evaluation protocols that help employees improve their work.  It should support the health and welfare of its workers.   

The College does many things well with very slender resources, but there are areas in which we could do better.  While we are keenly aware of current fiscal constraints, making the College an employer of choice will necessitate investment of College resources. But without a stable employee infrastructure, the College will struggle to achieve its core educational mission.

Recommendation 17: Keep salaries competitive to attract and retain talented employees, and maintain open communication about salaries through open discussion and by providing data.

Competitive salaries and a clearly articulated process for determining raises are important to College employees.  According to the American Association of University Professors (AAUP)/Chronicle survey, Ursinus is at the 80th percentile nationwide for faculty salaries at liberal arts colleges, a goal set and achieved under the administration of President Dick Richter and maintained under President John Strassburger.  As for staff, salary ranges for new hires are gauged against data published annually for most positions by an association of College and University Personnel Administrators (CUPA).  However, there is concern that long-term employees may have been subject to salary compression.  The College should review staff salaries for competitiveness and develop a standard means for setting raises.

Annual communications and meetings with faculty and staff where available data are provided would lead to a better understanding of salaries and alleviate some concerns.  Do a study of salary compression, and to the extent that compression needs to be addressed, link it to internal equity and merit pools.  When financially feasible, conduct a staff compensation study to determine how salaries compare to local markets.

Recommendation 18: Review health care and other benefits, and better communicate how they support the employees of the College.

The rising cost of the College health care plan is a cause of concern.  Appoint a Presidential Work Group on Health Care comprised of health care professionals and representatives from the faculty and staff who can explain to the community what our options are going forward.  We also are mindful of the benefits of wellness programs in enabling faculty and staff to lead healthy and balanced lives.  We should carry out an audit of our wellness program to ensure that it offers effective and manageable options for all faculty and staff.  As the College continues its shift to a consumer-driven approach to health care, consider hiring a part-time Wellness Coordinator to support and direct the work of NewU programs.

Review policies for holidays, vacation time, and progressive discipline.  Work to deepen connections with local childcare facilities to provide discounts and reserve spaces for employee children, and disseminate such information through the Human Resources (HR) website.  More generally, overhaul the HR website to include a section clarifying total compensation for employees and college-wide benefits.   Establish a quarterly HR newsletter to be emailed to all employees.

Recommendation 19: Offer employees clear avenues to improvement and professional development.

The College is enriched by encouraging staff participation in our intellectual community.  Human Resources should initiate a conversation with supervisors about supporting such staff participation.

There is disagreement as to whether the current system of performance conversations is effective.  Enunciate a clear process for staff evaluation.  Consider a written evaluation system for staff members.  As a provisional measure, hold workshops to train department chairs and staff supervisors as to how to evaluate staff.

Ensure that staff are invited to campus workshops that would enhance their professional development; encourage staff to attend webinars and off-campus workshops.  Ideally, a professional development package could be envisioned for staff, inviting them to attend at least one workshop a year. 

Numerous structured opportunities exist to provide faculty feedback before tenure; however, after tenure fewer opportunities of this kind are available. The move to chair is a substantial professional step for which faculty should be more formally prepared, so support attendance at seminars whereby department chairs learn how to carry out their duties.  As for teaching, faculty remain at their most vital when they are learning; engagement with new approaches can make their disciplines more attractive to students.  Therefore, offer opportunities for post-tenure faculty professional development, including opportunities for study of emerging disciplines and mechanisms for senior faculty to serve as mentors to junior colleagues.

Recommendation 20: Identify and address understaffing in critical areas of the College.

The size of the staff has not kept pace with the expansion of the faculty and the student body.  The College has yet to hire an institutional researcher despite the Middle States Report’s strong recommendation that we do so. Survey responses and experiences of daily life at the College suggest that the combination of overwork and understaffing is detrimental to employee health and well-being, to productivity and efficiency, and to our external profile. 

Regarding possible reallocation of resources, the College could ascertain how much secretarial time is needed per department in low-use periods and examine similar approaches for other categories of support staff as appropriate. Administration support staff could be cross-trained to work in each other’s departments; the College might consider voluntarily reduced summer hours.

Recommendation 21: Establish structured opportunities for employees to be heard, to learn, and to see change.

The College’s close-knit community is one of its major strengths.  However, there are improvements that could be made to foster inclusiveness and to ensure that employees feel that they are valued and respected. 

Create a Staff Assembly that meets monthly, during which time staff can receive information from invited presenters and raise questions or concerns.  This forum for communication could encourage the staff’s sense of investment in the College community and improve relations with faculty and administrators.

Revamp our online intranet to be more user-friendly.  Most information sought by faculty and staff is readily available online; however, it is difficult to find in our current system. Provide sections on the site that will archive document information disseminated in Staff Assembly and Faculty Meetings.

PRiority SIX:

Improve town-gown relationships.

The residential character of the College challenges students to learn and live together as a community.  But our concern for community doesn’t stop at the edge of campus: it extends beyond the campus to the local community and its residents, business owners, organizations, schools, and public and natural spaces. The college must continue to support engagement of students with the community, thereby fostering their habits of social responsibility, deepening their civic commitments, and developing their leadership skills.  

A town that reflects the shared values of both the College and the local community can bring many benefits to all stakeholders. These include rising real estate values, commercial vibrancy, enhanced ability of the College to attract students and faculty, and an increased attractiveness of the town that brings the regional public to shop, dine, and engage in the cultural and intellectual activities that a town-gown partnership can develop.

In addition, our students can benefit from the demonstrated commitment to local involvement and leadership exhibited by such a relationship between town and gown.  The willingness of the College and the community to support worthwhile causes can be an important part of their education.

Recommendation 22: Encourage student civic engagement across the College

Involve students in the community a) through service learning projects where civic engagement is required as part of a course;  b) through volunteerism and philanthropy where time and effort are devoted to worthy causes and organizations as part of co-curricular life beyond the classroom, whether as individuals or by affinity groups such as residential units, clubs, or athletic teams;  c) through internships, where students work, with or without  pay, for employers, government agencies, and not-for-profits in exchange for experience, networking opportunities, and possible future employment.

Engage students to work with local firms to develop business and marketing plans, and identify projects whereby faculty and students might provide welcome expertise.  Ursinus students already are engaged in a great variety of activities beyond the campus.  The goal is to optimize the alignment of those activities with community needs.  This calls for faculty commitment to service learning in courses, efforts to make volunteerism and philanthropy a universal characteristic of co-curricular life, and coordination of internship opportunities. 

Recommendation 23: Make the Ursinus campus a more welcoming destination for the community

Build on the programs and exhibits of the Berman Museum.  Explore ways that The Kaleidoscope could be used more often as a community resource, both as a venue for lectures and performing arts series and possibly as a home for local theater and arts groups.  Mark access to the Perkiomen Trail where it crosses land owned by the College. Better signage on campus could help make the campus more inviting.  Consider expanding the College’s bikeshare program to the community.  Use relationships with local and regional schools to encourage community attendance at arts and sporting events.  Course offerings in wine-tasting, dance, meditation, and recycling would be of interest to both members of the town and the campus community. 

Recommendation 24: Investigate ways to welcome students into the surrounding community

Investigate a way whereby student Ursinus cards can be used as debit cards at local vendors.  Stock Ursinus gear at local stores.  Create a robust host family program for all students who desire such a connection.  Ursinus already partners with St. Luke’s United Church of Christ to sponsor the monthly “Tavern Talks” series. Build on that concept by sponsoring community dinners whereby restaurants are venues for campus constituencies and townspeople to mingle.  Even though over half of students have cars registered on campus, student access to shopping at Lower Providence, Oaks, and King of Prussia remains an issue.  Re-examine the feasibility of shuttles or shared car use.

Recommendation 25: Find ways for the College and surrounding community to engage in mutually-advantageous partnerships. 

Create a college-community council to serve as a sounding board and as a means to envision and discuss strategies for community improvement.  Seek ties to local governmental bodies and school boards.  Consider a joint branding effort that encompasses town-gown relations.  Consider some form of annual recognition, such as an announcement, award, or public event, for individuals, businesses, and organizations that make significant contributions to College programs. 

Investigate ways to create an arts presence on Main Street, including an arts festival where restaurants open in the evening to attract Museum visitors and restaurant customers.  The expertise of the Museum staff could also be useful in establishing an art studio business in the community.  Consider art performances in town.  Connect campus and community interests in local history with the projects of the Historical Society and the Speaker’s House.

Recommendation 26: Improve communications between Ursinus and the surrounding community.

Strengthen channels of communication so as to make public Ursinus efforts to engage students in community service, to establish the College as a destination for townspeople, to welcome students into the surrounding community, and to pursue civic partnerships.  Seek to designate an administrative representative with the responsibility for creating and fostering relationships between the College and the community.

The “On Campus” mailing to the community has been a means of publicizing events and performing arts presentations at the College.  While this effort should continue, increasing reliance on internet and interactive forms of communication call for additional measures.  Low-tech solutions include signs along Main Street that advertise productions on campus.  Launch an online calendar of events that will be accessible by anyone in the community, and create web links to community group websites.  Revamp the visitor section of the Ursinus website to feature restaurants, stores, and other services in the Collegeville area.  Consider ways to deliver information through cell phone applications, such as a cell phone tour of the campus outdoor sculptures, or a walking tour of early structures in Evansburg and Trappe.  Explore ways to use social media, including the addition of staff with special expertise in this area.

PRiority SEVEN:

Engage our alumni.

Engagement with alumni does not rest merely in the Advancement Department or the Alumni Office.  It involves the entire campus and should be pursued with a view to supporting the goals of the Prologue and specific recommendations of this strategic plan. 

Recommendation 27:  Identify and build relationships with all Ursinus constituents in a systematic and coordinated way. 

Identify faculty and staff to serve as liaisons with Advancement to engage a broader base of alumni through networking, speaking engagements, and events designed to draw affinity groups, whether by program of study, athletics, or the arts, as well as by reunion class.

Recommendation 28: Recognize and value all forms of alumni contributions to the campus.

Find ways to create the expectation in current students that they will have lifelong connections to the College. Establish official criteria for selecting alumni award winners.  Alumni achievements and contributions should be featured throughout campus, especially in Admission, and put in place a communications plan in addition to the Alumni Magazine for sharing alumni achievements internally and externally.  

Recommendation 29:  Create vehicles to give alumni a voice, networks, and leadership opportunities.

Invite alumni to serve on the governing boards of the centers, mentor students in internships, give career advice, and to help students gain access to professional networks.  Encourage alumni involvement with students by posting internships and jobs on CareerNet.  Increase alumni participation in the Career Ambassador program.  Engage alumni in senior advising and create young alumni opportunities to link with students and each other.  Create a thriving national alumni council with regional leadership.  Utilize electronic, web, and social media for outreach and networking among alumni.  

Recommendation 30: Enhance all forms of communication with alumni.

Create a college-wide, integrated communications plan.  Make the website a place to go for all Ursinus communications.  Be more intentional and inclusive in developing articles for the Alumni Magazine, by making alumni members on the editorial board and soliciting articles from alumni writers.   Consider departmental and affinity newsletters, email, and other links.  Develop benchmarks for these forms of communication.

Recommendation 31: Exploit Ursinus pride and thoughtfully establish traditions for students as well as alumni.

Re-establish or create new traditions to foster an ongoing history that will form an alumni legacy. Actively engage students in the process of reconsidering traditions so that they feel ownership for these now and in the future.   Encourage faculty engagement with alumni and especially with their former students.  Make major campus events a rallying point for traditions.    

PRiority EIGHT:

Increase fundraising for the goals outlined in this strategic plan.

This strategic plan contains recommendations for an array of initiatives that are not only essential for distinguishing Ursinus among its competitors but also offer excellent opportunities for fundraising.

The key to effective philanthropy is relationship-building and active engagement of alumni.  Rather than dealing only with a select group of alumni with identified capacity, we seek to engage as many of our 17,500 alumni as possible.  In addition, efforts must be made to reach out to parents, current students, friends, institutions, and the community so that the Ursinus family extends beyond its graduates.

Recommendation 32: Create opportunities to build constituency connections that foster lifelong attachments and philanthropy.

Develop a more robust reunion strategy to increase attendance, engagement, and giving at key points in the lives of our alumni.  Create teachable moments for alumni to understand their legacy and responsibility to the future of the College.  Foster class spirit and identity from the time students arrive throughout their lives on and beyond campus.  Empower the senior class and find ways to engage and welcome them as new alumni.  Give alumni a sense of being “A Bear for Life!”  

Recommendation 33: Engage in a significant comprehensive campaign.

Develop priorities for fundraising based on items identified in the strategic plan.  Write a case statement, enact a feasibility study, and develop a seven-year plan for a significant, inclusive fundraising effort.  Target the College’s sesquicentennial in 2019 as a key campaign moment.  Actively engage the campus in this effort to reach out to as many participants as we can from all of our constituent groups. 

Implementing the strategic plan

Our community has enunciated with both imagination and hard work the priorities and recommendations set out in this strategic plan.  Without imagination there can’t be vision.  Without hard work to identify particulars, we will not be able to proceed with concrete initiatives.

The plan consists of a statement of mission and eight propositions supported by thirty-three recommendations.  In the academy, progress toward fulfilling a strategic recommendation can be measured by a list of activities that can be checked off as they are accomplished.  After the strategic plan has been ratified, specific assignments will be made to begin work on implementation.  Particular activities are assigned to individuals and committees responsible for their implementation.  Some initiatives fall within existing responsibilities of individuals and portfolios of standing committees; others will be new assignments. It is on the individual and committee level that timelines are set.  A college is a decentralized operation, where faculty and staff are expected to take the initiative to complete their assignments.  Periodic reports will be required, and an annual summary of progress and work remaining will be shared with the Board of Trustees and the Ursinus community.  Much will be required of all of us to implement the recommendations, but we will all be able to share in the satisfaction of what can be accomplished in the years ahead.

There are boundaries on the scope of the recommendations.  First, this is a strategic plan organized about eight propositions, not a comprehensive plan for all facets of the College.  Second, not everything we might wish to do with regard to the propositions can be accomplished in the five to seven years covered by this strategic plan, and the activities mentioned under the recommendations are meant to be those that can be achieved within that time period.  Third, in the context of the current economy and the anticipated stabilization of enrollment at Ursinus, we have to confront financial constraints, even with the prospect of a fundraising campaign growing out of the strategic plan initiatives.

Many recommendations are administrative and logistical, calling for a reorganization of resources rather than new ones.  Some call for operational funds embedded in future budgets.  Still others look to start-up and bridge funds from grants and third-party financing.  Finally, some call for endowment.  Items calling for external funding or endowment are candidates for a comprehensive campaign.  The strategic plan necessarily precedes the launch of the comprehensive campaign, but it provides a road map rather than an exhaustive list of the items for which we will seek funding.

Embedded throughout the strategic planning priorities are four themes: interdisciplinarity, experiential education, commitment to service, and appreciation of difference.  They are markers of ways in which an Ursinus education will aim to be transformative and distinctive.  Let me touch on each in turn. 

1)      Ursinus will seek additional ways of encouraging students to integrate knowledge across fields of learning.  As a liberal arts college, Ursinus cannot offer courses and majors in every field, but it can create programs and encourage individual study across disciplines.  The frontiers of knowledge are increasingly found at the interstices of disciplines, as are the opportunities for technological and business innovation and the solutions to public policy problems.  The future demands graduates accustomed to uniting disparate insights from a variety of authorities.  Experience in interdisciplinary thinking should mark our graduates. 

2)      Ursinus already encourages experiential education, requiring each student to pursue an independent research or creative project, do an internship, study abroad, or student teach.  We can do more.  Ursinus should be known for how it assists students in bridging from the campus to the world, from undergraduate study to post-baccalaureate opportunities. This entails initiatives from town-gown partnerships with businesses to enhanced alumni networks smoothing the entry to graduate schools and to employment opportunities. 

3)      Ursinus will promote a commitment to service on the part of its students.  It will enhance service learning and volunteerism, where community service is an avenue for the practice of citizenshipTeaching our students to negotiate issues of ethics and citizenship must be part and parcel of an Ursinus education. 

4)      Appreciation of difference is an essential outcome of an Ursinus education because, in our pursuit for what binds us as a common humanity, we can’t forget that we cannot be human in general: we express our humanity in particular culturally-mediated ways.  We must both affirm the claims of universal humanity and uphold a commitment to cultural diversity.  We must affirm equal opportunity and valuing individuals according to their achievement, on the one hand, but we must also strive to give place and voice to different races and cultures, acknowledging that the very definitions of “success” and “happiness” are culturally mediated.   

In the end, the four underlying themes of the strategic plan are themselves linked.  Interdisciplinary learning prepares students to work at the cutting edge of innovation, and experiential education enables them to exercise their knowledge and skills in real-world situations while they are still undergraduates.  The commitment to service readies them for civic responsibility, and an appreciation of difference empowers them to make a difference in a contingent world.

Through this strategic planning process, the College has endeavored to evaluate our work together in light of our educational mission and values.  Our goal is to provide an educational program that is economically sustainable and accessible to students of diverse social and economic backgrounds, to create a flourishing academic community of faculty and staff, and to use tuition and gifts judiciously and fairly.

As a community, the members of Ursinus College have defined its work.  Let us begin.