On Sept. 22, President Sean Decatur sent a news bulletin to the Kenyon community announcing the College’s new strategic plan. The plan, “Foundations for Kenyon’s Third Century,” includes the growth of the student body to 2,000 students over the next 10 years, the reimagining of the academic calendar to incorporate a “J-term” and the introduction of a computational studies major.
“I’m excited by how well the plan maps onto our overall mission and values, and how it responds to the challenges of this specific moment and for the foreseeable future. I believe it will position Kenyon, and our graduates, for success, even in uncertain times,” Vice President for Facilities, Planning, and Sustainability Ian Smith said.
The strategic planning process took between seven and eight months, and included conversations between administrators, students, faculty, trustees and alumni. According to Decatur, the process extended from Kenyon’s newly revised mission statement, and began by putting together a steering committee which then broke into smaller working groups.
“The goal of the strategic planning process is always to pull way back from what you’re doing and to think very big picture about your deepest commitments and your biggest priorities,” said Provost Jeffrey Bowman.
Key to the strategic plan is increasing enrollment by approximately 15% over the next 10 years. Vice President for Finance Todd Burson pointed out that the goal student population of 2,000 students is close to Kenyon’s 2021-22 enrollment, although it inflated for a number of reasons — including a disproportionately large first-year class and an unusually high number of second-semester seniors.
Growing the student population will allow for a broadening of programming, but some students have raised concerns that it will change Kenyon’s unique small-school culture.
Decatur said that he did not believe growth would change Kenyon, pointing to the fact that many of Kenyon’s peer institutions are slightly larger.
“I think as long as we are very intentional and careful when doing that over the course of an extended period of time, we should be able to navigate to hit that sweet spot,” he said. Decatur noted that the key is growing the campus just enough to support growing opportunities like the new major in computation studies, but not so much as to significantly change the culture on campus.
Notably, the increased student population will create an increase in tuition revenue for the College, as many fixed costs remain the same.
The plan also includes tuition increases over the next ten years. However, Burson emphasized that keeping Kenyon affordable was a key priority and that the College also plans to increase the discount rate, the proportion of financial aid Kenyon awards relative to its tuition revenue, from 39% to 48%.
According to Burson, 52% of the additional income will cover increased operational costs that will come with growing the school, and another 37% will be used to pay off debts and grow Kenyon’s endowment.
This strategic growth will be paired with an expansion of campus infrastructure, which will include not only increasing the physical capacity of the campus, but also hiring additional staff members and adding 10 new tenure-track faculty positions.
The necessary expansions to physical infrastructure include the construction of two new residential buildings on South campus, which, according to Smith, will begin in 2022 and be completed by early 2026. Decatur said that this expansion will not only allow the College to expand but also to improve its infrastructure.
“I think the housing stuff will actually get better. And some of our other campus infrastructure, whether it’s health and counseling services or other things on campus, I think we’ll also have the opportunity to improve and get better as we think about strengthening what that infrastructure looks like,” Decatur said.
The final 11% of new revenue will go towards a variety of strategic initiatives laid out in the strategic plan.
One of these initiatives is to restructure the academic calendar to include a “J-term” in the month of January, a monthlong term where students could take a single intensive course, complete internships, research or travel abroad.
“This would enable us to have a more nimble and adaptive set of curricular and co-curricular choices for students so that not every opportunity that we have in terms of curriculum comes in a ready-made 14-week block, and gives an opportunity for faculty members to be creative about new teaching modes,” Bowman said. According to Bowman, this revised calendar would appear during the 2024-25 academic year at the earliest.
Additionally, the College will soon add a major in computational studies. Bowman emphasized the program will build on existing strengths within the faculty and stay true to Kenyon’s liberal arts model of education. He said that the search for at least one new faculty member for the major will begin next year.
Another strategic initiative in the plan is a commitment to the environment, in all academic departments and areas of the College.
“You could have historians who work on the environment, you can have poets who are interested in the literature of the environment,” said Bowman. “So I imagine [this commitment] being about both the nuts and bolts of the College and of the buildings, and also the teaching mission of the College.”
This increased environmental emphasis pairs with Kenyon’s commitment to be carbon-neutral by 2040. According to Smith, members of the senior staff are working on specific recommendations, and this planning will be complete by the end of the academic year.
Finally, the plan calls for an increased emphasis on international engagement, including broadening the range of study-abroad opportunities and travel courses.
The strategic plan will carry Kenyon through the next decade, until the next strategic planning process begins in 2030.