The mission of a college or university should serve as its North Star, the standard by which key decisions are made and strategic directions are set. It’s the reason the institution exists. The mission statement often specifies key constituents served—for instance, citizens of your state or region, women, or adult learners—as well as points of distinction, such as developing a global perspective, fostering lifelong learning, emphasizing the value of the arts and sciences, or cultivating and encouraging an understanding of a particular faith within the educational experience.
As much as mission statements help clarify what an institution is, they also help underscore what it is not.
Many of us who serve on higher education boards have a general sense of mission. We know that our institutions provide education. We may know a particular audience we target. And we may know some key words related to our institution’s distinctiveness. But, that may not be sufficient to provide the kind of steady guidance we need when making decisions about such important issues as budgets, presidential leadership, strategic plans, comprehensive campaigns, and new academic programs.
Mission statements aren’t unchanging. They can evolve as an institution’s circumstances shift over time. A college can grow in complexity and offerings and become a university, a single-sex institution can embrace co-education, an institution’s student body can transform from regional to national to international. When undertaken with intention, these changes to mission strengthen the university or college. But if change creeps up on an institution without thought, especially by the board, the mission statement can fall out of alignment with reality. In that case, it becomes decorative rather than directional, and its value is lost.
Boards are charged with ensuring the appropriateness of their institution’s mission and ensuring that it guides both their work and the work of the institution. In challenging times, it’s even more important to use the mission as the board’s touchstone and to review it periodically for continued fit with the institution.
Explore more on the board’s duty to maintain the mission of the institution with AGBU.