Why Universities Need Strong, Meaningful Mission Statements

In my previous post, I argued that one reason universities are running into problems is that they have failed to master basic strategic management. Chapter 2 of virtually every Strategic Management text is about Mission and Vision statements, and the reason is simple – without a strong mission and vision it is impossible to create a strategic plan.

The strategic plan involves developing objectives to meet goals, but without a real mission and vision, how can the organization determine its goals? All decisions are reduced to basic financial motivation – increase revenues, build enrollments, etc. It is fine to desire these things, but the question is how to get there. There are many ways to attract students, but to be successful, a school must know precisely what it is and what it’s trying to achieve.

I was thinking about this issue when I read a recent article in Inside Higher Ed about the enrollment and financial woes of Pennsylvania’s 14 state universities. I lived in Pennsylvania for six years, and as I read through the list of schools I realized that I recognized the names of all of them, but I didn’t know a thing about any of them. I wondered if any of them used a unique mission and vision to drive their strategic thinking, so I decided to look up the mission statement for each of the schools.

Mostly, they were pretty easy to find, which is typical. Organizations often have a mission statement, but don’t really use it because they don’t understand how it fits into the strategic planning process. A table of the universities and their mission statements follows this post. At four of the universities I was unable to find a mission. That doesn’t mean it’s not there – just that it’s not easily accessible to the casual visitor.

However, just because a school has a mission doesn’t mean it’s a good one, or one that can be used as a focus of a strategic plan. A good mission statement is clear, concise, and tells you the reason the organization exists. That reason shouldn’t be overly specific, but there must be something unique about it. Of course the schools exist to educate students, prepare them for careers, make them good global citizens, etc., but so does every other school. It’s like saying Apple exists to sell electronic devices. Wait a minute – Apple was recently criticized for a mission statement that did just that! In both cases, it may be broadly true but not very helpful.

Of the 10 mission statements I found, none appeared to be particularly useful in stating exactly why the institution exists. A few were absurdly long, and appear to have been cobbled together from statements from a variety of stakeholder groups. The others tend to be remarkably similar. The schools are devoted to high academic quality, they want to prepare students to be leaders and citizens, they are committed to diversity, etc.

If I were advising these schools, I would recommend that before they add new programs or launch new marketing campaigns to build enrollments, or cut programs and lay off faculty and staff to reduce costs, that they think long and hard about exactly who they are and what makes them unique and special. That will form the foundation of an effective strategic plan.

Bloomsburg U. Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania is an inclusive comprehensive public university that prepares students for personal and professional success in an increasingly complex global environment.
California U. To advance its ultimate mission of building the character and careers of students, the University shall focus its efforts on three goals: student achievement and success, institutional excellence, and community service. These interrelated ends will be facilitated by the following means: high quality faculty, students, programs and facilities. These means, in turn, will be funded through an energetic program of resource acquisition and stewardship.
Cheyney U. Established in 1837, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania cherishes its legacy as America’s first institution for higher learning for African Americans. Our mission is to prepare confident, competent, reflective, visionary leaders and responsible citizens. We uphold our tradition of academic excellence as we maintain our historical commitment to opportunity and access for students of diverse backgrounds. Cheyney University provides a nurturing, intellectually challenging and socially enriching environment.
Clarion U. None found
East Stroudsburg U. East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania will provide:

  • Challenging and contemporary undergraduate and graduate curricula that engage and equip students to critically appraise and apply knowledge in their lives and chosen fields of study.
  • A learning community that promotes diversity and views teaching as the university’s primary focus.
  • Varied opportunities for student and faculty research, creative endeavors and involvement in public service.
  • Leadership and service in the educational, cultural and economic development of the region.
Edinboro U. Distinguished by its focus on individual attention to student success, commitment to diversity, and responsiveness to the evolving needs of the broader community, Edinboro University provides the highest quality undergraduate, graduate and co-curricular education.
Indiana U. Indiana University of Pennsylvania is a leading public, doctoral/research university, strongly committed to undergraduate and graduate instruction, scholarship, and public service. Indiana University of Pennsylvania engages students as learners and leaders in an intellectually challenging, culturally enriched, and contemporarily diverse environment. Inspired by a dedicated faculty and staff, students become productive national and world citizens who exceed expectations personally and professionally.
Kutztown U. Kutztown University’s mission is to provide a high quality education at the undergraduate and graduate levels in order to prepare students to meet lifelong intellectual, ethical, social, and career challenges.
Lock Haven U. None found
Mansfield U. Mansfield University is dedicated to a personalized education with all programs grounded in the liberal arts. As a small, comprehensive public university, we are committed to promoting leadership development through character, scholarship, cultural awareness and service to others. Through our passion for learning, we positively influence the world.
Millersville U. Millersville University recognizes excellence in teaching and learning as its reason for being and is committed to offering students a high quality, comprehensive university experience of exceptional value. Dedicated to providing nationally recognized programs that embrace the liberal arts, the University provides academic opportunities which are supported by outstanding faculty who are also accomplished scholars, artists and practitioners and are supported by a talented and dedicated professional staff.


The University provides an extensive range of academic and professional programs to meet the interests and needs of both undergraduate and graduate students. To better prepare students for a diverse society and workforce, the University embraces diversity of people, cultures, ideas and viewpoints. By balancing traditional and innovative learning environments both inside and outside of the classroom, this inclusive campus community enhances learning outcomes and better equips students for their chosen professions. By preparing students to become well-rounded individuals for productive roles as civic and community engaged leaders and citizens, Millersville University contributes to the public good. The University stimulates intellectual and creative energy that fosters the growth of our students, faculty and staff and contributes to the social, political and economic advancement of the Commonwealth and the wider world. The Millersville University community pledges itself to academic freedom and encourages imagination and curiosity, unfettered discourse, the exchange of divergent and controversial opinion, and multicultural awareness and understanding within an environment of civility, mutual respect and cooperation.

Shippensburg U. Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania is a regional state-supported institution. It is part of the State System of Higher Education of Pennsylvania, which is made up of 14 universities located in various geographic regions throughout the Commonwealth. Founded in 1871, Shippensburg University serves the educational, social, and cultural needs of students primarily from south central Pennsylvania. The university enrolls students from throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic region, the United States, and various foreign countries as well. Shippensburg is a comprehensive university offering bachelor’s and master’s degree programs in the colleges of arts and sciences, business, and education and human services. The curricula are organized to enable students both to develop their intellectual abilities and to obtain professional training in a variety of fields. The foundation of the undergraduate curriculum is a required core of courses in the arts and sciences. These courses prepare students to think logically, read critically, write clearly, and verbalize ideas in a succinct and articulate manner; they also broaden students’ knowledge of the world, past and present. The university’s primary commitment is to student learning and personal development through effective and innovative teaching and a wide variety of high-quality out-of-class experiences. The ultimate goal is to have students develop to their utmost the intellectual, personal, and social capabilities they need to perform as competent citizens prepared to embark on a career immediately upon graduation or after advanced study. The personal attention given each student at Shippensburg is reflective of the strong sense of community that exists on campus and the centrality of students within it. The university encourages and supports activities which give students many opportunities to apply the theories and methods learned in the classroom to real or practical situations, such as faculty-student research and student internships. Student life programs and activities complement the academic mission and further assist students in their personal, social, and ethical development. Committed to public service and community-centered in its relationships to the region, the university works closely and collaboratively with other organizations at institutional, programmatic and individual levels to develop common goals, share resources and invest cooperatively in the future of the region.
Slippery Rock U. None found
West Chester U. None found



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