Strategic Plan

Vision and Mission | Values | Guiding Principles | Strategic Themes


vice president of student affairs at kickoff breakfastThe Northwestern University Division of Student Affairs Strategic Plan for 2013-2018 was developed through an inclusive three-month process that incorporated input from:

  • Staff and leadership throughout the Division
  • Undergraduate and Graduate Students
  • Members of the Board of Trustees
  • Senior University officers.

That process culminated in a full-day staff retreat during which members of the staff of the Division reviewed data collected earlier in the process and met in small and large groups to draft vision and mission statements, develop lists of values and guiding principles, and define high-priority strategic areas and themes for the planning period. The Student Affairs Plan will nest within and support the Northwestern University Strategic Plan; it will provide strong direction for the Division in advancing student learning, building community, and strengthening the student experience.

The Division partnered with Keeling & Associates, LLC (K&A)—a comprehensive higher education consulting firm with the mission of creating change for learning—throughout the strategic planning process.

Method and Timeline 

The planning process was structured and data-driven. Staff were offered multiple opportunities between June and August 2012 to provide their perspectives.

K&A reviewed Northwestern University and Division of Student Affairs documents to identify potential issues, concerns, opportunities, and challenges germane to the strategic planning process.


  • K&A conducted preliminary telephone interviews with the Vice President for Student Affairs, Director of Business and Finance, Executive Director of Counseling and Psychological Services, Dean of Students, and Assistant Vice President for Student Auxiliary Services.
  • K&A completed face-to-face interviews on-site with the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, five groups of staff at various levels, undergraduate students, and the University Board of Trustees Student Life Committee; both the Provost and the President attended the meeting with the Student Life Committee and contributed actively to the discussion.
  • K&A conducted follow-up telephone interviews with four additional groups of division staff and graduate students after the site visit.
  • K&A used data collected from preliminary telephone interviews, on-site interviews, and post-visit telephone interviews to create tentative planning themes, which were used to develop questions for an online survey of Division staff, the purpose of which was to collect perspectives, opinions, comments, and feedback about potential themes and issues.

Survey and Data

  • K&A administered, analyzed data from, and reported the results of the online survey. The survey was emailed to all 238 staff in the Division of Student Affairs.
  • A paper version of the survey in both English and Spanish was confidentially administered by the division to 29 members of the housekeeping staff. Spanish survey responses were translated into English. Northwestern securely mailed all completed paper versions of the survey to K&A for analysis. Eighty-three percent of division staff responded to the survey online and via paper.

Strategic Planning Retreat

  • In the two weeks before the strategic planning retreat, staff members who were selected to participate in the retreat met in three small groups to develop a strategic analysis of the Division. At the retreat, each group presented a summary of their discussion.
  • The Division of Student Affairs held the planning retreat on August 16, 2012 at the Michigan Shores Club in Evanston. K&A presented survey results and summaries of planning themes derived from all interviews, and representatives of the small groups presented their strategic analyses. Staff participated in intentional, strategic discussions to inform the creation of the Division’s vision, mission, values, guiding principles, and strategic themes. K&A facilitated and documented the retreat.
  • On August 17, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee met with K&A to review the retreat and make plans for next steps. During the period of August 22-31, directors met with all departmental staff members to gather input about the lists of values and guiding principles that were developed at the retreat. The Steering Committee met on August 31 to consider and integrate this feedback into the Plan.

Strategic Plan

  • The Vice President for Student Affairs presented the Strategic Plan—consisting of vision, mission, values, guiding principles, and strategic theme to the Division of Student Affairs on September 7, 2012. Division of Student Affairs departments identified goals that support and align with strategic theme areas and shared these goals in October 2012 with the Strategic Planning Steering Committee.