New Planning Process Supports Strategic Innovation

As the 2016–18 Strategic Plan’s end date draws near, the ACUI Board of Trustees has been hard at work crafting a new approach to planning. Under the new structure, the board has identified strategic guideposts to direct ACUI’s future for the next three to five years. Within these guideposts, the board will annually determine priorities for the Association, with the understanding that this cycle will enable year-to-year flexibility as circumstances change.

“A traditional strategic plan that comprehensively outlines our aspirations has been the approach that ACUI—like other organizations—has used for years,” said Dr. John Taylor, chief executive officer. “I think we’ve seen more recently that the pace of change has increased as has the desire to measure progress on a more frequent basis.”

Within the past three years of the existing strategic plan, for instance, the U.S. political climate has shifted, the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements swelled, and the Association transitioned its executive leadership. The new planning process is intended to be nimble, allowing ACUI to adjust its direction as needed. It will also support greater accountability since volunteers and staff will create measurable goals aligned with the Association’s annual priorities.

“The strategic guideposts will provide consistent direction and be broad enough to truly represent our imagined future,” said ACUI President Mike Coleman, Tallahassee Community College. “At the same time, the way in which we prioritize efforts to achieve these guideposts can be more flexible with the new structure.”

Strategic Guideposts


Research was incorporated into the last two strategic plans, but it now stands as its own initiative. In recent years, the amount of doctoral research about college unions has grown, the Association has funded its own research project on student engagement and learning, and ACUI revised its research agenda. This strategic guidepost builds on these successes while intending to enhance existing and develop new structures throughout the organization to support research. Ultimately, the hope is that this research will help practitioners in making informed decisions and help higher education leaders articulate contributions of the college union.


Assessment and evaluation have been standard practices in ACUI’s educational programming and service delivery. The strategic guidepost on data will help the Association go a step further and use data intelligence to more effectively explore new markets, enhance services, recruit volunteers, define educational gaps, and create just-in-time content. Part of this will involve leveraging existing data and exploring personalization opportunities.


As the Association uses data to better understand members, another strategic guidepost focuses on increasing the value of member and volunteer engagement. In the past, members and volunteers have indicated their appreciation for the networking and professional development experiences that ACUI provides. Deepening this and other types of involvement in the Association will strengthen retention and satisfaction given that members and volunteers will see a return on the resources they invest in the organization.


As was mentioned, much has happened in recent years. Among these changes has been a growing divisiveness in society. College unions can play an important role in supporting conversation across difference, which was why the board decided to strategically focus on active dialogue as a guidepost. The board recognizes such conversations might not always be “civil” or “harmonious,” but sees ACUI as positioned to offer education, tools, and resources that support campuses in creating constructive discussions to understand others’ perspectives.


The Board of Trustees began its discussion of a new approach to strategic planning during information sessions held at each regional conference in 2017. Simultaneously a volunteer working group conducted an environmental scan to identify themes that should be considered in developing the Association’s new strategic vision. The working group presented its findings in March 2018, identifying several trends likely to affect members in advancing campus community as well as ACUI as an organization. From there, the board determined which trends most required action on ACUI’s part as well as opportunities to address areas beyond those revealed in the scan. The strategic guideposts were finalized in May, and in June the board announced the annual priorities to the Leadership Team, allowing volunteers and staff to begin drafting measurable goals for 2019. These goals will be tracked quarterly with the start of the new calendar year.

“We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from volunteers and staff about how focused the strategic guideposts and annual priorities are,” said Jeremy Schenk, Northwestern University, who currently chairs the board’s Strategic Direction Committee. “People are excited that ACUI is emphasizing these four critical areas and are looking forward to being able to contribute to the Association’s success in a measurable way.”

Overarching vision statements meant to last three to
five years. These are:

Take a leading role in researching the impact of the college union on campusLeverage data to enhance education and delivery of servicesIncrease the value of engagement for members and volunteersAdvance campus community through active dialogue
Objectives designated within the guideposts focused
on achieving visible progress within 12 months.

Ways volunteer groups and staff aim to complete the annual priorities. These are specific and attainable initiatives that also support accountability.


  • Elizabeth Beltramini

    Elizabeth Beltramini served as ACUI's director of content curation and chief diversity officer. She worked at ACUI for more than 20 years before leaving in 2022 to pursue new challenges. Upon her departure, Beltramini received ACUI's Honorary Membership and Presidential Award for Distinguished Services.

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