Taylor is a global leader in Christian higher education and is recognized as a place that prizes student learning, celebrates intentional community, and leads in the important work of faith-learning integration. Taylor’s alumni are generous, winsome, servant-leaders who bring a thoughtful Christian witness to society, serving Christ wherever they are called with integrity of heart and skillful hands. The world has perhaps never been more in need of Taylor’s graduates, but industry headwinds, significant changes in the political and religious milieu, and a global pandemic have created an inflection point in the University’s history that requires us to think comprehensively and creatively about how Taylor will thrive in the years ahead. This is the call to which the University, and thousands of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends have responded over the past nine months.
Starting in the fall of 2021, the University engaged in an expansive strategic-planning process that involved every area of campus and every University constituent group. A group of 14 faculty and staff leaders spearheaded a process that collected the insights of thousands of individuals including faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and friends of the University. Strategic-planning conversations with nearly every department, multiple sessions with the University Assembly (a group of 50 faculty and staff leaders), multiple campuswide forums, conversations with advisory councils, dozens of opportunities for small group discussion, a robust review of institutional data and survey results, and hundreds of pages of written feedback formed the basis of the extensive research in the strategic-planning process.
During the spring, four iterative drafts of the strategic plan were prepared and shared sequentially with segments of the community for comment, conversation, and revision. Each revision brought additional opportunities for conversation as the University sought to make the process both comprehensive and transparent. Simultaneously, the University worked to identify the expense and revenue opportunities associated with each of the specific goals and metrics associated with the plan. Lastly, the University’s human resources leadership has begun guiding a set of conversations to leverage Taylor’s significant human capital and help managers ensure their departments support the work of the strategic plan and the wider University. Over the course of the summer months, each department will develop an implementation plan, identifying how they will support the strategic plan. These implementation plans will form the basis of goals for which individuals and departments will be accountable over the course of FY2023. This process will be repeated annually throughout the five years covered by the strategic plan.
As we reflected on what would be required for Taylor to live out its vision over the next five years, we believe three elements of the University must thrive—our campus, our community, and our mission. Each is supported by two priority pillars that undergird our efforts:
We believe Taylor needs to grow the circle of learners it serves – both because it is essential for institutional vitality, and also because we believe it is a missional imperative to share the transformative Taylor education with a wider segment of learners. Initiatives include launching and expanding academic programs to serve nontraditional students for Taylor—adult learners, those interested in graduate and professional programs, and pre-collegiate students. They also provide for additional investments in Taylor’s strong liberal-arts education and pathways that will allow the University to continue to grow its diversity as we seek to better emulate the diverse multitude from every language, ethnicity, and nation who praise the Lord in heaven for eternity.
For too long, Taylor has hidden its light under a bushel. Every constituent group of the University believes Taylor needs to invest more resources in 1) raising the University’s profile; 2) engaging our constituents more effectively and consistently; and 3) reaching a significantly larger segment of the Christian world. We have identified a robust slate of initiatives that will address each of these needs, allowing Taylor to share more of its strengths with those beyond our campus. This will require investments in marketing, enrollment, and communication – in terms of both people and resources. In the process, we hope to increase the confidence of alumni and parents; and we hope for each of these groups to better understand, articulate, and value Taylor’s unique strengths within an increasingly competitive higher education marketplace.
Among Christian colleges and universities, the commitment of Taylor’s people to carrying out our mission is a key differentiator in what makes our institution special. Faculty and staff are the essence of how we carry out our mission of developing servant-leaders. For too long, however, we have not developed and invested in our own employees. The University’s senior leaders need to do more to motivate our workforce, seek their input and keep them better informed. Taylor will invest time, resources, and energy to equip faculty and staff department chairs, as well as leaders across campus to become better managers. We also will develop emerging leaders on campus and build career paths to keep faculty and staff colleagues engaged and excited about their futures at the University for many years. Finally, we will model for other institutions how to develop and deepen servant-leadership, not only among students but also among faculty and staff year after year.
Taylor has a long history of contributing to our local community. Echoing the admonition in Jeremiah 29, we seek the peace and the prosperity of our community because if it flourishes, we also—at Taylor—flourish. Building upon our legacy and attending to newer developments that God has made possible, we aspire to harness the innovative and entrepreneurial energy of our campus to create a more robust ecosystem of care and development for our community. We also have identified a set of investments in Taylor’s physical infrastructure that will modernize our campus as we seek to make Taylor an even better place to live, work, and study.
Every constituent group talked about the rising cost of higher education and expressed concerns that Taylor remain affordable for the kinds of families we have historically served. Affordability is a key driver for enrollment growth, and Taylor supporters have generously given to endowed scholarships and current-use scholarship funds for decades. In light of the increasing competitiveness of our market, Taylor must make significant gains in growing our endowment and launching new scholarships that can be deployed immediately. We have identified a slate of initiatives that we believe will draw additional philanthropic dollars to the University while we also seek to grow nontraditional revenues and increase the value proposition of a Taylor education.
Taylor aspires to move from excellence to eminence in developing servant-leaders, equipping our students to meet the next generation of challenges and opportunities. We have identified a set of initiatives that will help us advance our distinctive as we further enhance the residential, undergraduate experience, invest in athletics as a catalyst for character development, and equip our students to better spread the Gospel in a pluralistic world.
Collectively, we believe these items will contribute to the thriving of Taylor University as we seek to respond to and reposition ourselves within the marketplace, to advance our distinctives and reinforce our historic strengths, and to develop new pathways for future growth and development for the University.
Under God’s providential guidance and with His blessing, we approach the next five years at Taylor with excitement and energy for all that lies ahead. We seek to commit these priorities, objectives, and goals to the Lord’s work and trust He will establish our plans and do great things in and through us as we seek to bring the light and faith of Christ to a world in need.
In God’s providence, throughout church history, faithful individuals and institutions have been marked with special callings. Over the last nine months, the University community has worked together to identify the Lord’s calling in this season and to determine our unique strengths, in the context of a very competitive marketplace, that we can celebrate and accelerate in the years ahead. Based on that prayerful discernment and deep analysis, we have reached consensus on a vision for Taylor’s next five years. Simply stated, we pray that Taylor University would be the leading Christ-centered, student-focused university, committed to carrying the light and faith of Christ to a world in need.
The history of American higher education relates the story of hundreds of institutions who have diminished their Christian commitments in pursuit of academic respectability. Historian James Burtchaell has aptly referred to this as the “dying of the light.” Despite this general trend, there is a segment of American higher education that has maintained its Christian commitments, and an even smaller group that asks every community member to testify to their faith. Taylor is one of the leading institutions within this small group, and we increasingly stand apart from others because of our shared Christian commitments. This is important because we believe faith grows the best in the context of wider faith within higher learning (Hebrews 10:24-25). There are only a handful of ranked institutions in the United States today that foster this kind of thriving Christian community, and we are proud to be among that select group.
For decades, Taylor has been at the vanguard of educational institutions where students are the top priority. While some may assume this is the norm in higher education, it is remarkably rare. Many institutions over the last fifty years have followed one of two general paths—either emulating the model of the German research university or, conversely, pursuing enrollment growth at the expense of academic rigor. Taylor has distinguished itself as an institution that continues to care deeply about the academic and spiritual formation of students and prioritizes resources and institutional energy accordingly. From student learning to student engagement, to student development, Taylor has continued to ask, “What is best for our students?” As such, we are a bright star within the constellation of American higher education.
Taylor’s commitment to either of these areas would be a distinctive. The fact that Taylor is a global leader in both makes the University unique, and it is this distinctiveness that animates our vision for the future. In essence, we will build on what differentiates Taylor from other institutions and craft a vision that allows us to live into that uniqueness even more fully over the next five years.