Otterbein University realizes its potential by reaffirming core values

But as a college of opportunity, what did that mean for the 21st century? Access and affordability.

There has always been a focus on experiential learning. The first firemen in Westerville were Otterbein students. In today’s world, experiential learning is done through internships and partnerships with the community and corporations.

“Getting in touch with the core make-up, profile and history of the institution, and determining how that translates into a contemporary context was critical to our ability to move forward,” she says.

Otterbein’s progressive and innovative history helped her reconsider the organization’s major strengths. And that’s also why every new employee’s on-boarding process now includes talking about those core values, and the university’s vision, mission and history.

“I knew that higher education was facing some significant challenges, and it made a lot of sense to me to look back at the past innovations and how we thought about positioning the institution,” she says.

Terms like branding and marketing didn’t exist then, but you can find examples of core values and what they thought was important. By resonating with Otterbein’s history, Krendl says they were able to re-embrace and reaffirm what they stood for as they went forward.

Identifying priorities

As you strategically plan for the future, Krendl recommends a triangulation process.

First, look to your strengths. What fits in your vision and mission? Where do you have existing organizational strengths, an established reputation and unused capacity?

Then seek out opportunities. In the case of Otterbein, she says most of its graduates want to stay in Ohio, and many want to remain in Central Ohio.

So, in order to identify areas of opportunity and determine how students can have successful careers here, Krendl spoke with employers, potential supporters, the city of Westerville and area school systems. The university’s MBA program routinely does research projects for nonprofits and for-profits, so she spoke with that group about the challenges they face.

Only then should you consider the competition to ensure you’re not duplicating what exists.

“We have a number of well-established higher education institutions in the region and we don’t want to duplicate,” Krendl says. “We want to create something that’s unique to Otterbein.”

Following that process enabled the university to come up with innovative ideas that met real needs, because like so many other areas of business — timing is everything.

For example, one of Otterbein’s assets was a 60,000-square-foot warehouse used for storage, swing space and rentals.

This facility will become a regional economic development hub that incorporates science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics programs. Business partners, regional and city officials and area high schools will have a presence in the Innovation Center, too.

Throughout a strategic planning process, you must also be willing to admit when you’re wrong, Krendl says, because you’re going to make mistakes.

“Don’t be afraid to make the mistakes. But just realize it as early as possible, and make whatever adjustments are necessary,” she says.

Something that aided Otterbein was a dashboard that lets the university’s leadership see if the institution is reaching its goals.

“One of the things we learned was we weren’t investing enough money in enrollment management, so we started doing some things differently,” Krendl says. “Buying some new tools. Hiring some help to help us figure out how to realign our financial aid packages.”

So, seek help where you need it and where you don’t have the in-house expertise.

A process built for buy-in

It’s not easy to make changes, but it’s a lot easier when you use the whole community to help — whether that’s an internal community or outside stakeholders.

In order to identify priorities and get buy-in along the way, Otterbein has a unique grass-roots model.