Communication and Marketing

Evergreen: The New, Dynamic Plan for Alma College

Shared governance, agility and a focus toward the future are the keys to Alma’s way forward

Alma’s new dynamic plan, dubbed “Evergreen,” is designed to give each member of the campus community a clear direction and focus on the institution’s shared priorities and goals amid an ever-changing world. Starting in fall 2020, the plan offers ambitious, but attainable goals, with a focus on the future that ensures the college’s continued path to thriving in the years ahead.

“Right now, we face what is probably the greatest challenge to the college in 100 years, if not ever,” Alma College President Jeff Abernathy said, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic challenges it has presented. “We have to be willing and able to make changes in our planning to respond to what comes. This plan allows us to both focus on our goals and be nimble and agile at the same time.”

Evergreen is the third in a series of plans the college has undertaken in the past 10 years. The first, enacted not long after the start of Abernathy’s tenure as president in 2010, focused in large part on growing the college. It articulated a vision of transforming student learning environments, cultivating a culture of innovation and reaching new markets. It also helped lay the groundwork for a wide variety of campus infrastructure improvements, the start of a number of new athletic teams, and collaborations with the city of Alma.

“Unlike our previous plan, Evergreen will be as its name implies: universally and continuously relevant, ever-changing. Its regular renewal allows us greater opportunities to look at our triumphs — and make quick adjustments — to ensure continued success,” said Board of Trustees Chair Eric Blackhurst ’83.

There is no timetable to replace Evergreen. Instead, Abernathy said, the new strategy is to hold conversations across campus annually and update the plan based on those recommendations. Funds are being allocated for updates, he added, to ensure they can be well sustained.

Evergreen is the result of a shared governance strategy — one that intentionally reached out across campus stakeholder groups to ensure diverse representation of ideas, discussed over many months in 2020.

The process actually started in January 2020, prior to the start of the outbreak of the pandemic, Abernathy said. Discussions continued into February and March before momentarily pausing to deal with the immediate ramifications of the pandemic. In August, as the college prepared to return to campus for the start of the fall term and focus returned once again to Evergreen, Abernathy said he and others realized they could do something that had not been done with previous plans — seek feedback from the entire campus community

“At least 400 individuals were involved in the planning process, with 1,000 different encounters among them. That’s an incredible number,” Abernathy said. “People were very deeply engaged, bringing ideas and opinions that we would not have heard otherwise. I believe Evergreen is a different and stronger plan as a result.”

Feedback from those all-campus meetings was refined by the campus leadership group, Abernathy said, before being presented to the Board of Trustees in October. It was unanimously approved.

The end result is a plan based around five themes: Purpose and Place, Experiential Learning, New Programs and Innovation, Financial Vitality, and Creating a Just and Inclusive Community. Each theme contains a set of clear and measurable goals — a clear, yet adaptable vision for the future.

“I have so much appreciation for the Board, the leadership team, and the campus as a whole for their support of Evergreen. It’s been an incredible effort,” Abernathy said. “It provides the framework we need to face the challenges of the future together, and emerge as a stronger Alma College.”

FIVE THEMES: THE ROOTS FROM WHICH EVERGREEN GROWS

1. Purpose and Place
As citizens of this place, we must deepen our efforts to model citizenship for our students by committing to improving Alma and Gratiot County.

GOAL: Develop and promote a culture on campus of environmental sustainability and work to reduce the college’s carbon footprint to ensure that we are protecting the environment around us.

“One of the goals outlined in Evergreen is to connect with community leaders and organizations, in order to help identify the needs of the community and increase student engagement on campus and with the broader local community. We believe these partnerships can enable our faculty, staff and students to build meaningful connections and leverage their strengths and experiences in service to our part of the world.” — Carla Jensen, Director of Career and Personal Development, Center for Student Opportunity

2. Experiential Learning
Experiential learning opportunities, along with our career development programming, must become a statement of excellence for Alma College.

GOAL: Launch a broad signature initiative focused on public service and engaged learning that expands service learning opportunities and service experiences and is a central expression of the mission of the college.

“I think we have the programmatic muscle and the financial resources to make us become one of the finest small colleges in the country at offering these experiential opportunities. That, to me, is the essence of who we are and what we’re doing. It’s the future of the college experience. It’s putting a vote of confidence in young people that has traditionally not been given to them.” — Derick “Sandy” Hulme, Arthur L. Russell Professor of Political Science

3. New Programs and Innovation
While staying true to its liberal arts core, the college must develop new programs, offer new avenues for learning, and serve new markets.

GOAL: Implement five new graduate programs and enroll 60 graduate students by fall 2023.

“At Alma College, we strive to meet the ever-changing needs of our students and communities. With a strong commitment to the liberal arts, we look to new program growth that can maximize our student impact, highlight the college’s strengths, serve new and existing student populations, and meet the needs that surround us. We are committed to growing our non-traditional student populations and expanding our offerings in undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs.” — Amanda Slenski ’07, Vice President for Admissions and Special Assistant to the President

4. Financial Vitality
The college cannot thrive on the edge of financial viability. We need to be creating a budget surplus that can be reinvested into our core liberal arts curriculum.

GOAL: Spend responsibly, strategically, and consistently with our mission and values while aiming for efficiencies across campus, and invest in growth and infrastructure.

“The college has done a lot in recent years to manage its resources more responsibly, which strengthens our financial position and helps maintain our long-term fiscal health. We need to continue building on that momentum in years to come, creating a budget surplus that can be reinvested into the student experience while decreasing our dependence on our annual line of credit borrowing.” — Jeff Swears ’83, Chief Financial Officer

5. Creating a Just and Inclusive Community
We must become a more diverse and inclusive campus community. We must also invest in our faculty and staff, value and support the good work that they do to help students, and hold each other accountable for any actions that do not support our community expectations.

GOAL: Build a holistic culture of inclusion on campus by utilizing the campus-wide diversity, equity and inclusion assessment to gain a better understanding of the campus climate, learn more about our current successes and shortcomings, prioritize and implement next steps based on the assessment recommendations, and share findings and next steps in a timely and transparent manner.

“Focusing on creating a just and inclusive community will move us beyond representational forms of diversity and into something that focuses on the value of the person — of each individual student at Alma College — and how their experiences and values influence those of the college.” — Donnesha Blake, Director of Diversity and Inclusion

Story published on February 11, 2021