Strategic Planning


The scenarios fulfill an important role in the strategic planning process. They serve as the starting point for each committee's deliberations. Committees will ask themselves not "what are we going to do in our area in general?" but rather "if the world looks like one of these four scenarios, then what does it mean for our mandate?" This will encourage the committees to think through a range of options, and obliges them to maintain a certain degree of realism, i.e. to combat the Christmas tree propensity of many strategic planning exercises.

1. The U.S. Economy—and Amherst College—Remains Financially Constrained

The stock market continues to fluctuate; growth in the real economy remains sluggish; inequality in wealth and income continues to rise; and unemployment and underemployment remain high, affecting even young people with excellent educational backgrounds. Pressures grow everywhere simultaneously: research and foundation dollars decrease, the public backlash against elite colleges considered to be too leftist increases, the move away from liberal arts towards professional degrees continues, Federal funding for Pell grants does not keep pace with cost increases, government regulations force rich colleges to spend higher proportions of their endowments, politicians threaten to deny the wealthiest colleges tax-exempt status.  Our budget remains severely constrained and the likely trend is downwards. 

 2. The US Economy—and Amherst College—Grow Significantly

The U.S. and global economy do well, although with high degrees of wealth and income inequality. Amherst College’s many wealthy alumni continue to support the College. We invest well, and both our academic and financial reputations remain stellar. Smaller and less-resourced colleges do not fare so well, and we benefit by attracting their star faculty. We become a bigger, richer, and more visible college, with a budget that grows higher on a per capita basis than today.

3. College Education Goes Virtual and Amherst College is Forced to Follow

Online courses of all kinds become certified and credit-bearing at leading institutions and even lead to full degrees. The quality of such courses continues to grow by leaps and bounds and research demonstrates that, when done well, they can produce learning results as good as, and in some cases better than, traditional in-class courses. Students everywhere go to college with the expectation that the online courses they took elsewhere (often with top Harvard, Stanford, New Delhi, Oxford, or Monterrey professors) will count toward their degrees; all institutions of higher learning, including Amherst College, are grudgingly forced to follow and offer credit for a wide range of online courses. In less than five years, the new global expectation emerges that both basic and advanced courses can be taken online. This changes Amherst’s approach to degree requirements and puts severe pressure on our traditional business model. It also opens up new opportunities.

4. Amherst College Goes Global

Much of the growth in the demand for liberal arts education, and the ability to pay for it, comes from the emerging markets; millions of well-heeled and smart kids want to go get a top liberal arts education. With the continuing shift in financial and cultural power away from the West, there is a vastly growing interest in the U.S. for more international literacy, global fluency, etc. Top universities everywhere are rapidly internationalizing, with some of the biggest ones developing global networks of campuses (NYU, Harvard, Duke, etc.) Rich entrepreneurs in emerging markets (some of them Amherst graduates) are pouring money into high-quality local liberal arts colleges and seek links with top U.S. players. A new norm is rapidly emerging in higher education that top instituions are international ones.To stay relevant in the evolving competitive landscape, to improve educational quality for our students, and simply to catch opportunities for financial diversification, Amherst College has no choice but to internationalize as well.



Johnson Chapel