By Chelsie Derman
The Signal met with President Kathryn Foster on Wednesday, March 1 to discuss several topics regarding the spring 2023 semester, including Foster’s five-year plan.
Distinguish, diversify, sustain — these three words sum up President Kathryn Foster’s five-year plan, TCNJ 2027: Extending Our Excellence.
Even before the pandemic struck, Foster knew the time had come to craft a new strategy. As Foster said, the “previous strategy had run its course.”
“We had done the things that were inside of it and said: That’s already coming to an end. Let’s clear the slate, open up a new page of paper and let’s do a new strategy,” Foster said.
Thus, a new plan was in the works — and Foster worked on that plan right in the middle of a pandemic. Ultimately, Covid-19 helped frame what the new plan should look like.
“All of us had — you might call that collective trauma of a pandemic — and so we said: Let's think again about five years from now,” Foster said. “What will the world be like, and what will the world of education be? Where would we want to be positioned within that? What kind of school do we want to be?”
In February of 2020, Foster had the drafts of the revamped plan, not completely created, but some ideas formed. This was just a month before students at the College got sent home for spring break in 2020, only to not return to campus until several semesters later.
“I even presented it to the student government at that point, saying, hey, there's some early thinking we're doing about the future.”
Covid-19 inevitably slowed down the process of creating a new strategy. Foster continued to work on her strategy Fall of 2020, when the campus was void of students, and then again during Spring of 2021.
Extending Our Excellence, the strategy’s official name, got adopted in May of 2022.
As the president of a college, Foster has the responsibility to make a five-year plan — something all college presidents must do.
“Every college and university, really every organization, ought to hold up a mirror and say: Is the direction we're going, and is the place at the top of the mountain, if you will, the place we're trying to get to? Does it still make sense given the times, given what's going on?” Foster said. “The world had a tremendous disruption in 2020, and it changed the way that you might think about education. It changed [the] behavior of students; it changed the way that faculty and staff think about work and work balance and life.”
Now, what exactly is Foster’s strategy, Extending Our Excellence? Foster describes it as having “three big buckets.”
“One [bucket] is to continue to distinguish ourselves,” Foster said. “That's why people come here. This is a school of high quality; it has a reputation for that high quality, that distinction is a big part of what we are.”
Foster said that the College can still improve on organizations, study abroad programs, internships and community engagement opportunities.
“What is that first year supposed to be?” Foster said. “What is it that would serve the students of today in that core curriculum?”
The second bucket of Foster’s plan is diversifying the College.
“There's two ways you diversify: One is about who you are and one is about what you do,” Foster said. “On ‘The Who You Are’ side, we have a companion plan to this called ‘We Are TCNJ,’ and it is a strategy for inclusive excellence, and that is about diversifying, racially and ethnically, and in other ways that we identify, can identify, who we are as a student body, as a staff and as a faculty.”
Foster said the College has made “tremendous progress” in diversifying the campus, always striving to build the community with a “wider range of backgrounds,” “a wider range of talents” and “a wider range of hunger for an education.”
While part of the strategy includes making the campus population more diverse, Foster also acknowledges yield, the percent of admitted students who decide to actually enroll.
“When we give you an acceptance letter, you still have to choose us back, so admitting is half of the battle, and yielding is the other half,” Foster explained.
Foster would also like to grow graduate programs, including 4+1 programs and 3+2 programs.
“We have traditionally been undergraduate education, largely what we call ‘traditional age,’” Foster said. “Traditional age” refers to students who enroll in the College straight out of high school or a year after — 18 or 19 years old.
Foster believes that, in order to diversify ourselves, graduate education is a great place to start.
“Graduate education, continuing education, opportunities for high school students to have a pathway into TCNJ, if this is what TCNJ has been then, you're diversifying out saying, ‘let’s hit more markets,’” Foster said.
Lastly, the third bucket on Foster’s plan is to sustain.
“That's about using resources wisely; that is about making sure that you are being efficient about your processes, that you're spending money on the things that are your priorities, that you're allocating resources appropriately,” Foster said. “That's important for students to want to be making sure that their tuition money is going to things that matter for education. Their fees are for things that people are demanding.”
While the strategy adopted in May 2022, the implementation plan began June 2022. Foster said there are about 14 things on her plan she is currently working on, prioritizing on growing graduate education.
“It's all inside those strategy priorities to create success around distinguishing ourselves, diversifying ourselves, and sustaining ourselves,” Foster said. “So, it’s happening all over campus now.”