Traverse City News and Events

A Sneak Peek At NMC's New Strategic Plan

By Craig Manning | Dec. 20, 2021

The Northwestern Michigan College (NMC) Board of Trustees will have its first discussions about the college’s newly completed “NMC Next” strategic plan at a meeting scheduled for tonight (Monday). While initial timelines for the strategic planning process indicated that board approval of the new plan would happen before the end of the year – with the document officially becoming the college’s guiding roadmap beginning on January 1, 2022 – the NMC Strategic Planning Steering Committee has recommended that the board review and discuss the strategic plan tonight, with the intention of approving it next month.

Diana Fairbanks, NMC’s executive director of public relations, marketing, and communications, says the timeline was adjusted “so the board could take a deeper dive [into the strategic plan] at its work session in January before the monthly meeting,” which is scheduled for January 24. The Ticker took a look at the current draft of the strategic plan to explore how it could shape NMC’s direction from 2022 to 2025.

The document provided to NMC board members for tonight’s meeting proclaims a mission for the college (“We deliver lifelong learning opportunities to transform lives and enrich our communities”) as well as a vision (“We aspire to be a global community where all learners unlock their full potential”). It also identifies NMC’s key values (which include learning, integrity, collaboration, respect, inclusion, innovation, stewardship, and excellence) and outlines five broad strategies for the college to focus on over the next several years. Each strategy is broken down into 4-6 smaller and more specific objectives. The individual objectives, in turn, point to measurable goals and deadlines for when those goals should be achieved.

The strategies and objectives are summarized below.

Strategy 1: Future-Focused Education

Here, NMC vows to “Enhance offerings through flexible academic pathways, innovative instructional delivery models, and relevant, hands-on educational experiences to empower global learners for the future.” Objectives include increasing the number of student credentials available at NMC from 236 to 270; boosting NMC’s proportion of online courses from 28 percent to 35 percent; developing “additional teaching strategies” to improve success and completion rates in online and hybrid courses; adding “shortened course pathways” in multiple academic disciplines; and creating an environment where “every credential-seeking student” at NMC engages in at least one experiential learning opportunity as part of their education pathway. The NMC Next plan sets completion deadlines throughout 2024 for each of these goals.

Strategy 2: Student Engagement and Success

The purpose of this segment is to “Develop and deliver comprehensive support services, robust engagement opportunities, and a vibrant collegiate experience to foster learner success, goal completion, and employability.” One key objective would strive to enhance student sense of belonging at NMC by way of increased participation in extracurricular and co-curricular activities – with hopes of improving “first semester persistence” from 77.7 percent to 82 percent as an outcome. Another objective would seek to boost enrollment rates among local high school graduates, adults in the 21+ age category, and “underrepresented student populations.” Remaining objectives would focus on improving enrollee success rate by getting more students to engage with academic support services at the college. Completion dates for goals identified in this section range from spring 2024 to fall 2025.

Strategy 3: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

The NMC Next plan calls on the college to “Cultivate an inclusive environment that fosters a sense of belonging and delivers equitable opportunities so all students and employees are able to thrive and succeed.” This section of the document encompasses the objectives that the college would seek to implement most urgently, including plans to “Create a college Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) statement of definition and purpose, receive President’s Council approval, and present it to the Board of Trustees by August 2022”; and to hire a part-time DEI leader by the end of next year. Other further-off objectives include implementing DEI training – both at the time of onboarding and on a regular basis thereafter – for all NMC employees by August 2023; improving application, enrollment, and retention statistics for “vulnerable student populations” by fall 2025; and reviewing and revising “NMC systems, policies, and procedures for inclusive and equitable language and processes across college systems” by December 2025.

Strategy 4: Community Partnerships and Engagement

This section of the strategic plan includes a variety of objectives for improving NMC’s ratings in its annual Community Attitude and Awareness Survey (CAAS), with an overall goal to “Enhance collaborations that advance community engagement, economic and workforce development, and innovative opportunities for lifelong learning.” Key objectives for improvement, based on recent CAAS survey feedback, include responding better to the “community’s learning needs” by focusing more heavily on partnerships with community employers; increasing opportunities in skilled trades instruction; offering more “personal enrichment” to members of the community, by way of lifelong learning opportunities; and providing more access to four-year college programs in Grand Traverse County.

Strategy 5: Institutional Distinction and Sustainability

NMC hopes to “Leverage distinctive programs that strengthen institutional sustainability and expand global connections for our learners and communities.” In other words, the objectives in this strategic category are geared toward specific NMC programs that tend to bring the college a lot of attention and recognition, both locally and abroad. Those signature programs include aviation, the Great Lakes Water Studies Institute, the Great Lakes Culinary Institute, the Dennos Museum Center, the International Affairs Forum, WNMC, and the Great Lakes Maritime Academy. Many of those programs have their own strategic plans for future operations and growth, and several objectives here simply call on those programs to “execute” the key steps identified in their respective plans. Notable tidbits in this section include a “multi-year expansion plan” within the aviation program, which would “increase enrollment by 25 percent and net revenues by 33 percent” by 2024; and a plan for a Maritime Academy and Culinary Institute partnership that would “develop and offer a maritime culinary certificate by Fall 2023.”

NMC President Nick Nissley previously described the strategic planning process as “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” If the board votes to approve and formally adopt the document next month, it will mark the first time since 2007 that NMC has implemented a brand-new strategic plan. But Fairbanks has noted in the past that this year’s planning process involved much more “extensive community engagement” than that one, and Nissley has argued that the NMC Next plan is uniquely important given how technology, COVID-19, and other factors have changed education since the 2007 plan went into effect.

“Given how the world has changed, how everything has become so topsy-turvy, I think that is exactly why we need a strategic plan right now,” Nissley told The Ticker in May. “The world's changing so quickly and dramatically for our learners. We need to be able to fulfill our commitments and help prepare them for that.”

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