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Planning Guidelines for 2015-2023 Strategic Plan

Strategic planning is a systemic process, building commitment to institutional priorities and ensuring that NSU remains vital, sustainable, and accountable. All strategic planning at NSU is founded in the principles of NSU's heritage, mission, vision, values, and strategic goals. All divisions, units and departments should update their strategic plans to align with the NSU plan.

Planning Process

Prior to developing the strategic plan, units should understand any opportunities and barriers to operationalizing their vision for the future. An environmental scan informs the division/unit/department of its current position and reviews the external and internal environments. There are many accepted methods for conducting successful environmental scans. Two that are frequently used in Higher Education are the SWOT and CAS methods.

Regardless of which method you choose, the environmental scan is a critical step in identifying appropriate goals and outcomes, as well as developing action plans. For assistance with this process, or more information on either SWOT or CAS, please see the Strategic Planning website.


This analysis consists of two main scans: the internal scan, Strengths and Weaknesses, and the external scan, Opportunities and Threats. The internal scan should provide planners with an accurate assessment of the division/unit/department's capability before developing goals, outcomes and action plans. The analysis allows planners to build upon strengths and overcome weaknesses. Internal considerations may include, but are not limited to, culture, finance, reputation, faculty or staff commitment, skills or expertise, organizational systems, stakeholder expectations, and demographics among others. An external scan considers economic, social, demographic, political, legal, technological, and/or international factors to identify opportunities for growth and improvement, and barriers thereto. Identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats allow planners to recognize and address gaps between the division / unit / department's current status and vision for the future. Example SWOT templates are attached to the guidelines.


The Council for the Advancement of Standards (CAS) was created as a direct response to the emerging profession's need to establish standards to both guide practice and preparation. CAS established a comprehensive and valid set of criteria by which to judge program quality and effectiveness. CAS standards and guidelines are organized into 12 components: mission; program; organization and leadership; human resources; ethics; law, policy, and governance; diversity, equity, and access; institutional and external relations; financial resources; technology; facilities and equipment; and assessment and evaluation. The assessment process involves several steps: establish a self-study process and review team; understand CAS standards and guidelines and the self-assessment guide; compile and review documentary evidence; judge performance; and complete the assessment process. CAS is designed to obtain a holistic evaluation.

Strategic plans should include a mission statement, vision statement, goals, outcomes, action plans, and performance measures (e.g.: indicators, metrics, milestones, etc.). The following guidelines are intended to help incorporate the basic tenets of institutional effectiveness into strategic plans:

  • Strategic plans usually begin with mission and vision statements. These should be developed and/or reviewed and revised as necessary, and displayed on the division/unit/department website. These should align with the NSU mission and vision statements.
  • The Northeastern State University plan includes a statement of Values. Creating division/unit/departmental values is appropriate but not required.
  • Using the institutional priorities and each of the six university-wide goals as guidance, strategic plans should establish unit-level goals. Goals should align with the mission, vision and targeted university-wide goal.
  • Under each goal, the strategic plan should identify outcomes specifically stating the results sought to achieve the goal.
  • The strategic plan should then identify an action plan designed to accomplish the outcome(s). It is important to identify the person(s) responsible for achieving, or leading, progress toward action plans.
  • For each outcome, the strategic plan should specify the performance measures or indicators that will be used to assess progress toward outcomes and goals. Ongoing assessment is essential to inform the need for adjustments in action steps and to ensure success.


A mission statement is a clear and explicit statement of purpose. At the division/unit/departmental level, it should convey to the reader a good understanding of the nature of programs, services, and/or functions provided in support of NSU's mission.


A vision statement is a unit's aspirational statement defining their strategic position at some point in the future. The vision statement should be based upon an analysis of the unit's current position and capacity for future performance.


Value statements express the characteristics a unit deems foundational to accomplishing their institutional purpose.


A goal is a general statement of achievement that represents a desired result of the strategic plan. Multiple goals within the strategic plan should be as distinct as possible. Division/unit/departmental goals should align clearly with the University's goals.


An outcome is a measurable statement identifying what must be achieved to accomplish a goal. Outcomes should be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timed. Begin outcome statements with words such as increase, improve, enhance, expand, strengthen, reduce, decrease, etc., to communicate that a change from the current status is desired.


Action plans are incremental tasks necessary to achieve outcomes. These may include a specific program, project, tactic, service direction or strategy that will realize the outcome and goal. Begin action plan statements with words such as promote, develop, establish, initiate, implement, review, evaluate, etc., to communicate the action(s) that will be taken to bring about the desired change.


Performance measures are clearly stated standards or indicators of the desired change articulated in the goal or objective. It is a measure of overall performance; it is not an action taken toward attaining a goal or objective. Performance measures must be aligned with and developed for each goal area, or for each outcome. In either case, developing the performance measure begins by asking the question, How will we know that we have accomplished our goal or outcome? Performance measures may be qualitative (descriptive) or quantitative (numeric).

  1. A qualitative performance measure describes an accomplishment resulting from significant effort and allocation of resources that cannot be captured numerically. Often qualitative measures are accompanied by expectations for completing the activity within a certain timeframe and at a high level of quality. Examples include accurate and timely completion of the university-wide budget, successful implementation of a new organizational structure, or providing extensive public services for which measuring impact within a relatively short period of time is not possible.
  2. A quantitative performance measure is a numerical representation of the extent to which a goal or outcomes was achieved. To accurately communicate any progress that has been made, a baseline must be established for a quantitative measure. Examples include setting enrollment and degree production targets; improving retention and graduation rates; setting grant proposal, award, and expenditure targets; achieving a key ranking; securing an amount of additional resources; improving satisfaction ratings; or reducing error rates or customer complaints.

These timelines are important for the 2015-2023 Strategic Plan revision and implementation:

  • Revised Strategic Plans for the divisions and other major offices reporting directly to the President are due by June 30, 2015.
  • Annual progress reports are due to the President by April 1 annually.

An oversight individual should be appointed to evaluate completion of action steps to ensure progress is reported based upon available data assessed by outcome performance measures.

The format of the NSU 2015-2023 Strategic plan should serve as a general guide to divisions/units/departments in preparing strategic plans.

The Strategic Plan Template (DOCX) was approved as the campus standard planning format.