President's Update: June 2023
Dear Faculty and Staff,
We write today to provide you with a report on the Board’s deliberations on Better Lesley, an initiative to identify how we create the best experience for our students that is consistent with the Strategic Framework but allows us to live within our means. We are grateful for the broad participation of the community in this process to face our challenges and understand our opportunities together. We understand that considering changes that may need to happen in the future can be difficult but having an open way to obtain input has been and will continue to be critical to making the best decisions.
How We Arrived at This Moment. In May 2021, faced with the challenges of the pandemic, we developed a way to balance our budget over three years. Following this plan, we were able to reduce a pre-existing budget gap from $7.5 million to $2.5 million, despite the effects of COVID, by investing in better enrollment, financial aid and marketing. We also invested, among many other things, in our students’ mental health, a chief reason students leave higher education, by partnering with Riverside Community Care to open the first mental health clinic on a college campus in the Commonwealth. At first, the strategy was working, as we experienced the anticipated slow return to pre-COVID enrollment levels and narrowed the budget gap. For a variety of reasons, mostly external, in Fall of 2022, we saw that these trends were shifting significantly and that we faced an operational deficit that was structural. Under these circumstances, we recognized that incremental change was not an option. We needed to re-think our offerings and the way we operate to work with more effectiveness, simplicity, and attention to changing student needs. We, of course, are not alone in this. Others in higher education, particularly in our sector, and in other sectors, such as retail, finance and tech, face similar challenges in rapidly shifting marketplaces.
Strengths. Fortunately, we come at these challenges with strength. We have a strong reputation as a leader in the education of teachers, mental health professionals, artists and professionals in related fields, like the business of these and similar professions. We have a healthy endowment thanks to generous donors. We have made improvements on which to build, including a unique general education program, the opening of the Riverside Outpatient Center, new technology and systems, a collaboratively created Strategic Framework and a thoughtful campus plan that will serve our campus and the greater Cambridge community.
Better Lesley Process. To build on these strengths and create a foundation for the future, we began in January engaging cabinet leaders, management faculty leadership and other key academic and administrative leaders to look at how to optimize five areas: enrollment, academic, non- academic, financial and campus plan. More than 100 faculty and staff across the university convened to discuss how to improve Lesley’s student experience while living within our means. Out of the work of these groups, eight cross- university task forces were formed to look in depth at emerging ideas.
Those task forces have shared recommendations ranging from thinking about how to build on our strong experience supporting student cohorts, to imagining new structures, to streamlining and better supporting partnerships that help our students. The willingness of community members to consider combining areas and structuring programs to provide students the most flexibility is appreciated, and we have heard the desire for those closest to programs—academic and non-academic—to be involved in planning those changes and incorporated that into the plan ahead. We also considered the recommendations of academic leaders and administration, reviewed data on many trends related to our academic offerings and drew on our long understanding of the institution and the many things that have been considered and debated over the years.
Goals. At the center of this work are our students and community. We understand that students seek an experience that is more convenient, less expensive and more flexible to meet their academic interests and career and other needs. We know that faculty and staff seek support in making necessary changes as well as professional and career development. We see the role we play and can continue to play in our broader community in supporting the employers who hire our graduates, providing access to services and enrichment opportunities and developing our campus to be an urban oasis and place of gathering. We look forward to providing stronger support to our alumni through lifelong support programs, help in developing their own practice and providing ways to come together to make and display art.
What We Will Change. The Strategic Framework and the work of Better Lesley have provided a path on how to achieve these goals. The Board of Trustees has charged us to do the following:
- Re-focus on Lesley’s core strengths, invest in their growth, and move away from low-enrolled programs,
- Operate as one university, academically and administratively, and
- Continue the work of the Strategic Framework and the Campus Plan
So What Will This Mean? For students, we will focus on making a Lesley education more convenient and accessible by re-imagining online and other modalities, the timing of courses, dual degrees and how non-degree seekers can take Lesley offerings as and when they desire. To make our programs more student responsive, we will invest in work for our faculty to create more streamlined inter-disciplinary pathways and more flexibility in how our programs can be completed over less time. To make the personalized education that Lesley provides more economic, we will continue to price Lesley at or near the low to mid-end of our private competitors and develop partnerships and donors to offer scholarships, like those now available to Riverside Scholars@Lesley, combine stronger financial aid, guaranteed internships and cohort support. We will also invest in making advising and student services more proactive, building skills outside classroom work that provide the basis for shining in course work, including piloting a cohort model to connect students with common interests to each other.
For our faculty and staff, we will prioritize ways to help manage the work of change, planning with you and addressing key stress points. We will institute professional development about Lesley and its work and move to more cross-disciplinary and institutional understanding in new structures we design in conversation. The structure of the university will become less complex, and increasingly facilities and systems will be improved to provide greater support.
For our alumni, we will be an engaged and helpful partner over the arc of their careers, offering professional development opportunities in the form of weekend courses or retreats, certificates and professional credentialling and affordable opportunities to pursue advanced degrees through partnerships. For alumni from our Threshold program, and other neurodiverse adults, we will offer lifelong support, whether for career or for social and residential life. We seek new ways to bring alumni together like Alumni Weekend, spaces for alumni artists to work together and an art store.
For our community, we are continuing to develop affordable pipelines that diversify and expand the ranks of critical professions, such as education and mental health, like Riverside Scholars@Lesley and the Cambridge paraprofessional program. We envision the Doble campus developing into a learning-by-doing campus with aligned partners, such as a pre-school or a daycare facility or an art studio.
What We Will Do Next. With these goals in mind and with the Board’s support, we will do the following:
To re-focus on Lesley’s core strengths, invest in their growth, and move away from low-enrolled programs, we will:
- Plan over the summer, and launch in the fall, four management faculty teams to re-define how our core academic offerings are structured: to combine programmatic areas, to transition non-core, low-enrolled programs, to create more opportunities for dual degrees and to develop program structures with greater flexibility, efficiency and accessibility in time and format (including online and offerings for non-degree students), with a draft strategic plan for each area by mid-fall.
To operate as one university, academically and administratively, we will:
- Launch over the summer four administrative teams to implement this charge, re-imagining advising to more proactively support students throughout the university and develop cross university understanding of programs, developing unified processes around all enrollment channels, implementing a Green Carpet experience for employees and re-designing registration and scheduling to improve the scheduling of classes so it is clear from the outset—to the maximum extent possible— what classes will run at what times and in which modalities.
- Work with the four management faculty teams to define a way to unify academic work and look across the university in academic planning.
- Develop over the summer, and launch in the fall, a cross-university, inclusive NECHE self-study.
To continue the work of the Strategic Framework and the Campus Plan, we will:
- Continue the work on the campus plan, selling buildings that we no longer use or no longer suit our needs-including the President’s House- and investing the proceeds in renovating the South campus, University Hall and a learning-by-doing environment on our Doble campus.
- Accelerate processes and procedures, and build ties to employers who hire our graduates, and to grants and gifts, so that Lesley students and alumni have more financial aid, guaranteed internships, and a supportive cohort experience around their professional pathways.
By re-imagining our university at this critical time, we are making the difficult but strategic moves to overcome a near-term challenge and position us to serve our students and communities well into the future. Our university has a key role to play in education, mental health, the arts and related fields, like the business of these and similar professions. We must continue to educate and support the teachers, counsellors, therapists, social workers, artists, policy makers, writers and business leaders who practice these arts and act as catalysts for a more connected and just world.
Hans D. Strauch
Chair, Lesley Board of Trustees
Janet L. Steinmayer
President, Lesley University
2023 Strategic Framework
Our 2023 Strategic Framework links together the many strong programs at Lesley into a holistic vision of the University’s distinct contributions to and positioning in higher education, and outlines our path forward into the next decade. An institution-wide planning process was undertaken involving several reviews of the plan by every academic and administrative area of the University as well as its Board of Trustees.
At the end of 2022, the plan was completed, and, in the beginning of 2023, its implementation begins.
Building on our legacy, Lesley proposes to create a new university model based on active partnerships between educators and employers, support for students and alumni over the arc of their careers, and community development in our physical campus and the virtual space to create “ecosystems” of systemic change, which will diversify the fields for which we prepare our students.
How will we achieve this?
Working in Partnerships
Based on a legacy of partnerships with schools, civic organizations, nonprofits and companies, we understand the importance of partnering with the organizations that employ our graduates, to create and illuminate the pathways for a diverse group of individuals to access, navigate, and thrive in their careers and lives.
- establish an Office of Partnerships, within the Office of the President, so that we can engage with and manage relationships with these organizations across the university, including the Threshold Program. These partnerships created in concert with faculty will provide multiple benefits to our students in finding career pathways, to employers in recruiting and retaining a better developed and more diverse workforce, and to the community in access to needed resources, through community and co-curricular engagement, such as the mental health clinic from our Riverside Community Care partnership.
- work with these partners to build a more diverse workforce—in all respects—to identify and eliminate barriers in these careers and provide ongoing support and development.
- ensure that students who choose these professions are more directly connected to work with these employers in projects, internships, practicums, field placements, research, scholarship, training, and longterm employment, in some cases by combining scholarship funds with employer recruitment and retention programs, as these relationships should be of substantial mutual benefit to both parties.
- ensure that our structure provides resources to allow faculty and staff within Lesley to be engaged in building programs that partners seek; create reporting structures so that those who work with partners across Lesley stay informed; and add proper supports for partner relationships.
- establish locations for partners central to our mission directly on our Doble Campus, as a tenet of our Campus Plan, so that collaborations are integrally connected to the student and community experience.
We understand that the practitioners we educate will require not only ongoing learning and skill-building but also continuing networking, professional identity development, and self-care.
- create and launch a holistic support model which identifies a menu of commonly needed opportunities for continued learning, networking and personal well-being, targeted toward student and alumni interests in each School and the Threshold Program.
- identify our current offerings within this menu, emphasize professional practice strengths already at Lesley, determine priorities in filling gaps in our offerings, and develop near-term solutions for addressing those gaps.
- identify priority areas where an alumni network would help provide professional support and opportunities for engagement across faculty, staff, students and partners, and create a structure at Lesley for managing those networks to redesign our engagement with our alumni.
- create connections throughout our campus, including among our faculty and staff, to support people in obtaining and renewing credentials and qualifications and finding resources for self-care, so they can achieve the career progress they are seeking.
- redesign the website to be a source of inspiration to prospective students, current students, and alumni alike, by providing an expansive view of all the pathways one might take within their chosen field, outlining intersections and gateways to new fields for career changers, and framing program choices based on what an individual’s goals are.
- expand our offerings of online, hybrid, and low residency courses and programs to meet prospective students and professionals where they are.
Practitioners in these professions are working in burgeoning fields that frequently combine in-demand disciplines so innovation will need to keep abreast of these developments.
- develop educational opportunities that allow people interested or working in the “human arts” professions to explore all the ways to work in these areas.
- continue to identify needs, utilizing our partners and other connections, and have a process to prioritize and ensure that our programming is responsive to changes in the environment, including through the Center for Human Arts Innovation.
- build pathways to programs through additional options for combined degrees and/or clusters of courses, such as 4+1 programs, stackable credentials, dual degrees at the graduate level, and new combinations of graduate degrees and certificates.
- promote our new outcomes-based General Education program so people understand how differentiating it is and so that it creates connections across disciplines for students in ways that are meaningful to them and lead them toward innovative pathways and solutions.
The critical nature of the human arts professions is not always recognized or celebrated as much as other professions; Lesley should be at the vanguard of changing that.
- establish a visibility campaign across these fields to bring focus to the incredible expertise and scholarship within the Lesley community, linking that work to the university.
- publicly advocate for the long-term professional and personal value of these areas of study and work and their impact on society to create a more just world.
- connect the visibility campaign to affordable and illuminated pathways at Lesley to respond to demand in these critical fields.
- adjust our programming—how we market and celebrate our University— to help prospective and current students and alumni feed the rich array of careers available to people with skills in the areas for which Lesley provides training, with a focus on amplifying diverse voices in these fields.
- establish annual awards that recognize excellence in these professions and celebrate achievement.
- utilize our Thought Leadership Series and other guest lectures to shine a spotlight on the tremendous work done by professionals in these fields and their importance in the world.
- create stronger connections with our alumni so we can better highlight their impact in the human arts and have our alumni serve as passionate ambassadors of the value of a Lesley education.
- ensure that we are understanding the market, building awareness, and telling our story effectively within it.
Engagement Across Campus
We recognize the wide range of work that goes into providing the individuals we educate with the experience that will spur them forward.
- create and execute the prioritized plans that are necessary to build a community that honors our commitment to social justice and our framework for equity, diversity, inclusion, and justice and ensure that this framework, which is central to all areas of our work, includes diverse, neurodiverse and global perspectives, and expands beyond the classroom and into students’ co-curricular activities to help them learn the skills for meaningful work and life.
- continue to develop the systems, processes, policies, and financial resources, including the use of data, to operate the campus effectively and equitably.
- complete a substantial amount of the Campus Plan, so that our campus is welcoming to and accessible by our entire community, including the Cambridge community.
- continue to review and assess how best to provide living, dining and retail options across campus.
- build the relationships which will attract the funding necessary for the work we envision.
- build awareness of internal resources and the interdisciplinarity of our work throughout all areas of the university, including an easy-to-use resource guide.
- work across the campus to build financial sustainability.
What to Expect When We Achieve Our Goals
What will the impact be on students?
- Students from many backgrounds will be welcomed at Lesley and will access better opportunities in careers that allow them to create a more just and humane world.
- More students with differing abilities who need additional support over the arc of their lifetimes will have the support they need through the expanded impact of Threshold.
- Diverse abilities and perspectives will be celebrated and students’ differences will be seen as central to the value they bring as they embark on their careers, whether as part of a team or as independent artists, instructors, or entrepreneurs.
- Students will better understand how their skillsets and education connect to different career paths and will have the opportunities to explore these paths and build their education through varied course offerings and well-developed partnerships.
What will the impact be on faculty and staff?
- Because we will be able to plan with this Framework, faculty and staff will enjoy better resources to support the programs and partnerships that make their work fulfilling and purposeful.
- Lesley will be an inclusive community of diverse faculty and staff that share their scholarship and expertise to inspire change in their respective fields and educate and support individuals at all stages of their careers.
- The incredible scholarship and research of faculty will be more visible to professionals and other scholars and industry experts through the visibility campaign.
What will the impact be on organizations doing this work?
- Organizations will fill recruitment gaps and improve retention with diverse, qualified, passionate candidates who personify the Lesley difference.
- Neurodiverse Lesley alumni will become valued assets for employers, bringing unique skills and empathy to their roles.
What will the impact be on alumni and communities that we serve?
- Alumni will experience their education serving and supporting them over the long term, and their continued connection to Lesley will allow them to pivot throughout their careers and lives.
- Alumni following creative paths will have access to training and a community so that even individuals, such as visual and other artists and entrepreneurs striking out on their own, have the benefit of institutional support, mentors, and colleagues.
- The communities that our work serves will be more directly and intimately connected to Lesley and will understand what we can offer them.