Penn State releases best practices in diversity strategic planning

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa.— The product of a strenuous review process, the latest diversity strategic plan — including updates for improving equity and inclusion at Penn State — has been published. Among the findings are a series of best practices and potential best practices for incorporating issues of diversity, equity and inclusion into the fabric of the organization, the result of more than 17 years of diversity strategic planning and review across the University.

Identified by a rigorous, long-term review process, these best practices for colleges, campuses and units across the University include themes on campus climate and intergroup relations, representation, education and scholarship, and institutional viability and vitality. A full list of best practices and potential best practices is available here. Among them are:

  • Engaging in ongoing discussions about the positive benefits of achieving a culture of inclusive excellence;
  • offering scholarly, research, co-curricular and student-leadership opportunities addressing diversity;
  • monitoring the diversity climate and progress;
  • collaborating across U.S.and international cultures to foster global engagement and citizenship;
  • establishing a multilayered process for conducting searches and assessing candidates and including diversity in onboarding and retention initiatives;
  • creating more diverse curricula;
  • initiatives to identify, develop and advance managers and leaders from diverse populations;
  • integrating diversity and inclusive excellence through the vision, mission, values, strategic goals and curriculum; and
  • identifying “intelligent metrics” and strategic indicators for evidence-based decision making and accountability.

“Since 1998, Penn State’s Framework has served as our road map and blue print for planning around diversity, equity and inclusion at the University,” said Vice Provost for Educational Equity Marcus Whitehurst. “For many years, one of the most unique characteristics about the Framework has been its review process, which has identified some outstanding best practices for the University to consider.”

Long-term, nationally recognized efforts

Penn State is one of the first universities to approach diversity goals using a strategic planning process, and one of the few universities to engage in regular comprehensive progress reviews and the only university that publishes their findings publicly online.

“There is a degree of accountability associated with not only the review process itself but also in publication of the results,” Assistant Vice Provost for Educational Equity Victoria Sanchez said. “We have accomplished much since 'A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State' was first launched in 1998, and we are excited to share the most recent set of findings, recommendations, and best practices from the 2014-15 Framework Review with the University community and beyond.”

Penn State has been nationally recognized for making it a priority to build a diverse, inclusive and equitable institution.  The University has received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award for the third year in a row, in part because of the strength of the strategic planning process laid out in "A Framework to Foster Diversity at Penn State." Additional benchmarking studies have also shown Penn State to be at the forefront of its peers in regards to diversity strategic planning, implementation and assessment.

A long-term process

Since 1998 and at regular intervals throughout the three, five-year cycles of University-wide diversity strategic planning, each Penn State college, campus and administrative unit has been asked to develop its own diversity plan in response to the University-wide strategic plan and to provide mid-point and final updates, which are evaluated to gauge progress.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Educational Equity led an assessment of the "Framework" updates and strategic plans submitted in July 2014. The Framework Review was carried out through the work of five teams during the fall 2014 semester. The teams included representatives from throughout Penn State and were chaired by experienced University leaders. Feedback reports were provided to Executive Vice President and Provost Nicholas Jones and Whitehurst, who met individually with each unit executive during the spring and summer of 2015. Units have had the opportunity to update their strategic plans in response to the Framework Review Feedback they received. Review teams also identified best practices and made recommendations for University-wide progress.

Constant evolution

Chancellor Kelly Austin of Penn State Schuylkill, who led one of five review teams, said one of the strengths of the most recent review is that it highlights different ways of thinking about diversity.

“Over the years the conversation about diversity and inclusivity and our understanding of diversity and inclusivity has expanded well beyond race and nationality to include gender, LGBTQA, adult learner, as well as many other forms of diversity,” Austin said. “It is important to understand how the definition has expanded and evolved over time.”

Barbara Dewey, dean of University Libraries and leader of another review team, agreed. “One of the things that the University needs is an overall definition on diversity,” she said.

A definition is now in the works, she said, in part thanks to her published review.

Austin highlighted continual follow-up on the progress of the proposed plans as one of the most important best practices. His team reviewed 12 to 15 different plans from across the University’s 48 units, and he wants to see them fully implemented.

“There needs to be consistent follow through, a constant reminder to remain committed to all aspects of the plan that we have collectively agreed upon, and that we routinely update and assess the plan as necessary, to maintain currency,” Austin said.

The future

Beginning with the current University strategic planning cycle, diversity planning is merging into the University’s overall planning process. For 2014-15 through 2018-19, each unit plan will require an update on progress toward meeting their unit diversity plans for the upcoming strategic planning cycle.

“One of our goals moving forward is to fully integrate these same best practices and strategies within the University’s strategic plan and to work toward building on our overall efforts to enhance diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the University,” Whitehurst said.

In the context of the current University strategic planning cycle, diversity planning is merging into the University’s overall planning process and under the unit strategic planning guidelines for 2014-15 through 2018-19, each planning unit plan included a progress update on meeting each of the seven challenges of the "Framework" and unit diversity plans for the upcoming strategic planning cycle.

Final results of the 2014-15 Framework review — review team feedback, best practices and updated unit strategic plans incorporating diversity, as well as an overall University-level assessment of progress and next steps and related materials — are now available on the Office of Educational Equity's diversity strategic planning website at Summary analysis of best practices is available at A series of presentations highlighting best practices will be forthcoming, in partnership with the Office of Planning and Institutional Assessment.

Last Updated February 18, 2016