Penn State’s Strategic Planning Process

Penn State has had perhaps the most extensive institution-wide history in strategic management of any major U.S. university. Since the 1980s, Penn State has relied on planning to strengthen its ability to make careful, informed choices and to allocate resources according to evidence, judgment, and strategic priorities. Penn State’s planning process operates on a five-year cycle and has three primary components as described below:

  • Integrated planning
  • Unit-level planning
  • University-level planning

Integrated Planning

Integrated planning brings together enrollment, staffing, and facilities data to support strategic planning and decision-making at Penn State’s campuses. As part of this process, base year and historical data related to admissions and enrollment, staffing, capital projects, capital funding, tuition income, salary expenses, and departmental allotment and wages are provided to the campuses. Campus leaders then work with University Park staff to develop four-year projections to support planning.

Unit-level Planning

Unit-level planning guidelines are set by the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost (most recently in the summer of 2013). At the campuses, unit-level planning builds on the foundation provided by the integrated planning process. The most recent set of guidelines asked each of Penn State’s 48 budget units to provide:

  • An articulated vision for the next five to 10 years
  • Strategies to achieve the vision
  • Plans, progress, and initiatives in learning outcomes assessment (academic units only)
  • Strategic performance indicators
  • A discussion of progress made and issues addressed related to diversity planning and the seven challenges that guided the University’s Framework to Foster Diversity 2010-15
  • A discussion of how recommendations of the Academic Program and Administrative Services Review Core Council continue to factor into unit planning and management
  • Information on practices that promote integrity and ethical behavior
  • Discussion of how the unit is contributing toward Penn State’s goals for sustainability
  • Correlation of strategic initiatives to budget planning

University-level Planning

University-level planning lags unit planning by one year and draws extensively upon the unit-level plans and other resources in a broadly participatory process. The combination of top-down/bottom-up planning is a fundamental characteristic of strategic management at Penn State. Within common guidelines (see above), each unit defines its own planning approach, implementation strategies, and performance metrics, which then feed into the University planning process. This hybrid technique recognizes the value of the unit-level planning process in its own right and provides a backbone for University-level planning.

Our Commitment to Impact: The Pennsylvania State University’s Strategic Plan for 2016 to 2020 was developed by the University Strategic Planning Council through a broadly inclusive process.

From 1998-2015, University planning included a separate but parallel diversity planning process based on the Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State. Since the implementation of the initial Framework in 1998, Penn State has made considerable strides toward building a truly diverse, inclusive, and equitable institution and in establishing an infrastructure to facilitate effective diversity planning, implementation, and reporting processes. In 2016, Penn State merged its diversity strategic planning into its overall University strategic planning process to achieve greater strengths and synergies. More information about diversity strategic planning is available on the Educational Equity website.