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Words from Waller

September 28, 2022

Dear Willamette community,

Over the last few weeks, I’ve written about Willamette’s purpose, mission, vision, and values, and Provost Long shared views on the complex challenges of the 21st-century world in which our students are being prepared to lead and flourish.

Over the next few weeks, I'm going to focus on Willamette's "strategy," as outlined in the strategic plan approved by the Board of Trustees last spring. When we talk about strategy, we introduce the idea of competition. Students have many different institutions to choose from—indeed, many different types of institutions—when they are deciding where to attend college or where to pursue a graduate degree. Our strategy is in the ways that Willamette seeks to differentiate itself among the thousands of other colleges and universities. Who do we choose to serve? What programs will we offer? What choices can we make to improve the quality of those programs, or reduce their cost?

At its heart, strategy is about choice: what we choose to do, and what we choose not to do. No university can be all things to all potential students, and strategic choices require hard tradeoffs. There are many paths to greatness, but universities need to be careful that the strategies they pursue—in other words, the choices that they make—are aligned with their mission and values.
For that reason, the first, and most important, strategic decision Willamette needs to make is who it seeks to serve and what programs it offers. The answers to both these questions flow directly from our purpose and mission.

From the beginning, Willamette has been a liberal arts university, emphasizing teaching and learning aimed at educating future leaders across a broad range of civic society. We believe in the importance of both liberal education to develop broad capacities to read, write, and think, and professional practice, to develop specific skills for action in the world.

Today, the College of Arts and Sciences remains at our institutional core, augmented by both undergraduate and graduate professional degrees in our other schools and colleges. But there are many disciplines and degrees we do not offer, many of them very popular elsewhere and economically, socially, or environmentally important, such as paraprofessional undergraduate degrees in areas like medical imaging, or graduate degrees in wildlife management or toxicology.

Willamette is focused on fields that are, as I sometimes say, "coherent with the liberal arts"; fields that are aimed at developing broad capacities rather than narrow technical skills, taught in ways similar to arts and sciences, and often benefiting from broad collaboration with faculty throughout the university.

Just as Willamette doesn't attempt to do everything, we cannot serve everyone. The strategic plan calls out three groups for which the university's curricula, support units, and facilities are optimized.

At the undergraduate level, programs in both Salem and Portland are designed primarily for the needs of mostly full-time populations of mostly residential (on campus or in the local community) students who are at or near traditional college-going age. That means that both curricular and co-curricular programs are designed not just to meet the needs of students with limited workforce experience, but also to support identity formation in young adults, and the social challenges with (in many cases) the first separation from family.

At the graduate level, Willamette emphasizes two distinct groups of programs: full-time options for early career professionals, and part-time and hybrid mid-career programs for mid-career students. Our early career programs (including Law, the full-time MBA, and Data Science) offer substantial cost savings both directly through joint degrees that reduce program duration and tuition and indirectly through reduced opportunity cost and foregone salary, and often less disruption and dislocation than degrees pursued after family formation. Special curricular attention is given to experiential education and internships and externships, recognizing the particular needs of students without significant workforce experience.

The second, growing group of graduate programs are aimed at mid-career professionals preparing for career change or advancement. Examples include the MBA-P, Data Science, and the low residency MFAs in visual studies and in creative writing. These programs are explicitly structured to be accessible to part-time students, often with flexible pacing and scheduling.

Again, strategy is about choice, including the choice of where Willamette will not compete. Willamette has no plans to invest in building highly-scaled online courses or online undergraduate options, which are poorly matched to our investments in co-curricular opportunities and facilities. We are an institution committed to the Pacific Northwest with no intention to expand outside our region either domestically (like Northeastern and Middlebury have done) or with international campuses in Asia or the Middle East.

At its heart, our strategy is about embracing who we are (and aren’t) and focusing on our strengths as an institution to help us continue to be a remarkable place to learn, live, and work.

non nobis solum,

Willamette University

Office of the President

Salem Campus

Waller Hall, 5th Floor
900 State Street
Salem Oregon 97301 U.S.A.