The University’s strategic plan states, “By 2025 Montclair State University will be nationally recognized as a premier public university, serving 25,000 students with programs from bachelor’s to doctoral. It will provide students with a welcoming, supportive and responsive student experience that enables post-graduate success. It will continue to be affordable and accessible, acclaimed for its research contributions, locally valued for its community and business partnerships, fiscally sound and nimble in its business practices, and diverse in its students and employees.”
This aspiration builds upon the impressive gains that Montclair State has made over the past decade in enrollment, facilities, programs, research and reputation, which have dramatically strengthened its profile as a public research university. The next chapters of growth, however, will most likely not be as tangible. Montclair State’s infrastructure is now quite robust, and it provides the University with a strong foundation to optimize its programs and services and further blossom into the nationally prominent institution it clearly aspires to be. During this next stage of the University’s development, the President of Montclair State University will place particular emphasis on strategic imperatives defined in the new Strategic Plan:
1. Build out Montclair State’s strategic plan and vision for the future
Montclair State’s current road map for continued progress is Project Soar, a strategic plan approved by the Board of Trustees in 2019 to guide the institution through 2025. The plan calls for the University to harness its considerable momentum in order to fulfil its promise, and to leverage its distinctive strengths in order to gain competitive advantages.
The new President will have the opportunity to build on the foundations of this plan to shape and articulate a strong strategic vision for the University’s future. She or he will find a shared sense of excitement about the potential of the institution among Montclair State’s faculty, staff, trustees, alumni and friends, and draw upon the wealth of their expertise and talent to increase institutional visibility and enhance student success.
The President will lead the implementation of the vision for what the future could bring for Montclair State, drawing on knowledge of best academic practices nationally, an understanding of and engagement with the issues facing institutions of higher education in these volatile times, a global perspective, and a clear understanding of the keys to institutional and student success in a foreseeable future. In short, the President must be able to rally Montclair State’s key constituencies around a shared vision for the University and must then provide the leadership necessary to make that vision a reality. At the same time, the President must be vigilant in responding to external and internal changes in the environment (not the least of which are the implications of the current global pandemic) that might necessitate a modified or even new strategy, and be prepared to lead the development and execution of such changes.
2. Build broader awareness of Montclair State University’s distinctive identity
Since 2000, Montclair State has been transformed from a very good regional university known primarily for its respected teacher preparation program into an impressive national doctoral university offering a wide array of academic programs and enriching experiences, delivered by a distinguished professoriate to a student body increasingly drawn from all over the country.
This transformation has been recognized and celebrated by its core stakeholders (faculty, students, staff, alumni and its immediate community partners), and within the state and the nation, there is growing awareness of Montclair State’s size and prominence. The new President will play a lead role in helping build broader and fuller awareness of the University.
A clearer, more distinctive brand and identity will help position the University as a “destination” school for first-time and transfer students who will be successful in meeting the academic rigor of its programs. It will also build alumni pride and enhance Montclair State’s standing with its key external partners and funders, including the Governor and the legislature.
3. Serve as Montclair State University’s “Champion” in outreach and advocacy
The President is the face and voice of Montclair State University in representing its interests to external partners. The University’s success in building its reputation and resources is directly impacted by the effectiveness of its external advocacy and engagement – with the legislature, the Governor and state administration, the private sector, donors, and leaders in key New Jersey/New York communities. This outreach will need to be intensified, as public resources become tighter and the expectations of these internal and external stakeholders become sharper. The President must be able to navigate the New Jersey political landscape and build positive working relationships with elected officials and community/business leaders.
The next President will need to convey to all stakeholders a clear and enthusiastic personal embrace of Montclair State. To succeed, the President must possess a thorough knowledge of the University’s strengths and potential, and have the ability to communicate these strengths to others.
4. Recognize and cultivate Montclair State’s remarkable diversity
One of Montclair State’s greatest strengths is the diversity of its student body. More than 50 percent self-identify as students of color and large numbers are first-generation and/or Pell-eligible. The University is widely known for being highly inclusive and has been recognized as one of the nation’s most LGBTQ+ friendly campuses, and is officially designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. This profile provides a unique opportunity for Montclair State to achieve a greater appreciation by its key public and private stakeholders of the extent to which the institution serves as an active means of economic and social mobility in the state. The new President will want to build on this rich diversity, to ensure that Montclair State continues to expand educational opportunities for – and champions the recruitment and retention of – its students through enhanced academic offerings, program quality and institutional support resources.
The President will seek opportunities to build on this foundation with strategic, equitable and inclusive approaches that lead to greater social mobility and career readiness for Montclair State’s diverse community. Attention should be given to further developing social responsibility policies and practices so that students are comfortable in knowing that what is important to them is important to the University. Achieving this will increase Montclair State’s reputation for being safe and inclusive, further enhance student engagement, contribute to retention and graduation rates, and eventually the growth of a highly engaged, robust network of alumni and donors.
Finally, the President should invest appropriate resources and attention to ensure that the diversity of the University’s faculty and staff is appropriately representative.
5. Sharpen Montclair State University’s enrollment strategy
The University has experienced significant enrollment growth over many years. Yet in light of intensifying competition from other universities in New Jersey and from surrounding states – and vastly complicated with the implications of the COVID pandemic – the new President must be closely engaged with strategic efforts to ensure sustainable enrollment levels (and associated revenues) through a focused enrollment management strategy.
In support of this, the President must lead ongoing refreshes of the University’s enrollment strategy that will keep the Board and senior leadership team aligned in support of an enrollment plan that properly balances admission standards for student quality with an enrollment yield that provides tuition and housing revenues necessary to sustain the University’s budget.
6. Build and steward Montclair State University’s resources
In light of declining state appropriations for public higher education and the desire to keep tuition increases at a minimum, the new President will be expected to work with the University community to identify and develop new, sustainable revenue streams that will be critical to the quality of Montclair State’s academic and co-curricular programs, the depth of its faculty and staff expertise, and the attractiveness of its facilities.
Enhanced philanthropy will be a key revenue strategy. The University has been successful in developing a culture of fundraising over the past decade and has grown its endowment to more than $90 million. An alumni base of more than 130,000 (about half of whom graduated in the last 20 years) provides the capacity to develop new major gift prospects as well as to increase annual giving. The President will provide hands-on leadership for philanthropy, invest time in cultivating and stewarding current and future donors, and raise the visibility of philanthropy within the University community.
The President will also need to carefully oversee Montclair State’s finances in order to ensure its continued fiscal health and sustainability. The University has a reputation for excellent fiscal management, reflected by its current bond ratings, and has always been prudent with its resources. Nevertheless, the financial implications of the pandemic are yet to be calculated, and the President will need to be especially attentive to budget and performance matters in the immediate years ahead.
7. Build relationships and partnerships with key internal constituents
The President must be engaged with the University’s internal communities and convey a personal and visible commitment to fostering a collaborative, respectful culture that unites students, faculty and staff in a spirit of shared governance in support of the common mission of ensuring Montclair State’s future success.
Montclair State is well-served by a Board of Trustees that has significant statutory autonomy and authority. It is comprised of well-respected, successful community and business leaders, many of whom have a personal connection to Montclair State. The Trustees are strongly committed to the University’s future, and to supporting and serving as a resource for the President. The incoming President will want to quickly establish a partnership with the Board, understand its needs and expectations, and adopt proactive planning and communications protocols that strengthen the partnership on an ongoing basis.