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Context for the Plan
As the Whitworth community embarked on setting a bold 10-year vision for the university and a strategic plan for achieving that vision, it engaged in a rigorous analysis of its internal strengths and weaknesses relative to the opportunities and threats in the external environment.
One of Whitworth's greatest strengths is a clearly understood and broadly embraced sense of the university's mission. Among the university's various constituents, there is strong consensus about Whitworth's distinctive place in the higher education landscape as an institution committed to both rigorous and open intellectual inquiry and the integration of Christian faith and learning. Faculty, staff and administrators enjoy uncommon unity and work together to create a campus culture that emphasizes student responsibility and relationship-centered learning inside and outside the classroom. A strong regional reputation, combined with national recognition in a number of areas, contribute to record demand for a Whitworth education at the traditional undergraduate level and steady growth in programs serving non-traditional students and graduate students. Learning is supported by campus facilities, technology and infrastructure that have never been stronger and that, in most areas, are competitive with peer institutions.
The planning process surfaced several concerns that may be considered weaknesses. There is broad consensus that recent enrollment growth has stretched the campus infrastructure to its limits if historic student-faculty ratios, residency goals and class sizes are to be maintained. Additional student residence, dining and intramural/recreation facilities as well as new facilities for physics, plant biology, performing arts and intercollegiate athletics are needed to serve the current student population and to compete effectively for future students. Given existing debt obligations, it will be necessary to secure significant philanthropic gifts to underwrite much of the cost for new capital projects. Developing a deep and sustained culture of philanthropy among all Whitworth constituents, while also attracting new donors with capacity to make large-scale gifts, will be necessary to achieve the stated goals.
One of Whitworth's significant opportunities is to build on the broadly understood and embraced sense of mission to articulate an inspiring vision for the university's future, supported by a systematic strategic planning effort. A bold vision can help to raise Whitworth's visibility in new arenas and to attract new supporters. Whitworth also has an opportunity to stabilize its traditional undergraduate enrollment in order to build on current programmatic strengths and to develop interdisciplinary programs and scholarship that equip students to connect ideas from multiple fields, to expand boundaries of knowledge and to address complex contemporary problems.
The most significant threat Whitworth faces is the potential un-sustainability of the current higher-education funding model; tuition and financial aid increases have exceeded the rate of inflation for the past two decades. The decision to stabilize undergraduate enrollment puts added pressure on tuition as a revenue source while continued student demand will depend on competitive financial aid. Furthermore, higher education pricing continues to fall under close federal scrutiny, and costly regulatory requirements increase every year. National demographic trends show a leveling off in the number of college-age students, pointing to a more competitive environment for recruiting and retaining students. A slow or stagnant economic recovery will present challenges both for students' ability to pay tuition and for fund-raising efforts, even amidst ever-increasing costs to Whitworth of providing a superior educational experience.