A Detailed Look

Distinctive Excellence: Defining the Future of Saint Mary’s College


Saint Mary’s College of California will be the leading Catholic comprehensive university in the western United States – known for its academic excellence, foundation in the liberal arts, ethical leadership for a just society and the common good, integrative and collaborative learning, and distinctive transformative education for students.


The College’s existing mission statement celebrates its three traditions, the classical tradition of liberal arts education, the intellectual and spiritual legacy of the Catholic Church, and the vision of education enunciated by Saint John Baptist de La Salle and developed by the Brothers of the Christian Schools and their educational institutions for more than 300 years. This strategic plan extends the application of that mission even further into the 21st century as described below. 

Characteristics of SMC’s Mission

The identity of Saint Mary’s College of California is built on three core commitments:

The Liberal Arts Tradition – the commitment to shaping our curriculum and programs to ask the fundamental questions of human existence and to situate our knowledge in light of the best thinking and writing that informs our past, present, and future.

Our Catholic Identity – the understanding of the College grounded in and informed by what it means to be Catholic, to be part of a tradition and a Church with deep and profound beliefs.  Grounded in the Catholic intellectual tradition, we are a community where the living tradition of the Church enters into genuine dialogue with the most pressing concerns of the 21st century.

Our Founding Lasallian Heritage – grounded in and informed by the core values of Saint John Baptist de La Salle: providing a quality education for each of our students rooted in the presence of God, promoting a just society and concern for the poor, and building an inclusive and diverse student-centered educational community where all are respected and welcome.


  • Promoting global perspectives and inclusive excellence
  • Preparing students for meaningful personal and professional lives
  • Integrating the intellectual, spiritual, and social lives of our community
  • Creating a more just and sustainable world
  • Addressing the conditions and effects of poverty 

Strategic Goals and Initiatives 

Multiple strategic opportunities and areas of differentiation were discussed by the Cabinet, Steering Committee, task forces, and other stakeholder groups participating in the planning process. The following six strategic themes and key initiatives emerged as our institution-wide priorities for the next five years, serving as a strong foundation for realizing our bold vision over 20 years.

1.  Raise the Academic Profile and Distinction – “Discovery in Dialogue”

Our ability to compete for students, faculty, and funding rests on the quality of our academic programs. Our markers of excellence are demonstrated by the scholarly achievements of our faculty and students, the engagement of students with ranked faculty, the transformation of our students into ethical, global leaders pursuing common good, and the relevance of the Saint Mary’s education to achieving a meaningful professional life. Our graduates will be entering a world characterized by growing uncertainty, interdependence, diversity, and technological developments. Our distinctiveness stems from our ability to inspire passionate problem-solvers who integrate their intellectual and spiritual lives, and who work and thrive at the front lines of the world’s great challenges. Today’s world needs the blend of critical thinkers, scientifically and technologically literate citizens, ethical and inclusive leaders, and working professionals to build the kind of community we model on campus. Our primary initiatives are: 

A. Be nationally recognized for academic excellence distinguished by collaborative approaches to critical inquiry that uncover human potential, advance the common good, and create a more just, sustainable world. 

B. Invest in faculty sufficiency and support commensurate with SMC’s goal of elevated academic profile and distinction, including adequate numbers of ranked faculty; faculty diversity that more closely mirrors the composition of our students; institutional support for scholarship, integrative collaborative activity and endowed chairs; and technology for flexible and innovative course formats. 

C. Support academic excellence in community by building an academic learning commons enabled by contemporary technologies and housing our Library, and by providing adequate faculty offices and instructional spaces. 

D. Prepare graduates for meaningful professional lives by integrating   students’ academic and co-curricular experiences with professional and/or post-graduate work (e.g., internships, capstone courses and collaboration with faculty and community/professional partners), and providing ongoing support, personal care, and mentoring for students’ professional development.

2. Support the Student Lifecycle – “Access to Success”

Saint Mary’s is primarily a residential campus, but today’s campus “destination” is a blend of physical and virtual spaces and activities. A large portion of our students desire to live on campus, and, at the same time, community, dialogue, and relationships are paramount in the  Saint Mary’s environment that thrives on opportunities and experiences of engagement and intellectual sustenance. We require additional facilities for the undergraduate and graduate housing demand, facilities with the latest features to enhance our competitive attraction to students seeking an experience like Saint Mary’s. These recommendations call for integrated strategies for our student-centered facilities, services, and experiences. Our primary initiatives are:

A. Realize Saint Mary’s as a destination campus for undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and staff through the definition and implementation of a comprehensive student housing strategy and a co-curricular program establishing a more community-focused residential experience that goes beyond housing to nurture the mind, body, and spirit.

B. Become a 24/7 campus that provides multiple access points for _interaction, comfort, engagement, and transactions in support of a more vibrant and active campus life, which increasingly engages the local community.

C. Continue progress in the retention, persistence, and graduation of undergraduate, graduate, and professional students.

3.  From De La Salle to Lasallian – “Expanding Responsibility for Lasallian Higher Education”

Our goal is that Saint Mary’s be – and be publicly recognized as – the model of the best of Catholic higher education. We thus see the need for an internal deepening, development, and contemporary expression of our traditions, as well as a concerted effort to externally promote them. In particular, this means that we must clearly articulate a purposeful intersection of our three traditions—Catholic, Lasallian, and Liberal Arts—in which the whole is greater than the parts and where no tradition stands in isolation from or in opposition to the others; advance an inclusive community grounded in love, respect, support, and dialogue, and foster the development of leadership for and engaged participation in all three traditions among faculty, staff, and students. Our primary initiatives are to:

A. Invest in initiatives to enhance the Catholic identity of Saint Mary’s College, including creating a Board of Trustees mission committee, convening a Task Force to explore a Catholic Studies Program, and expanding formation programs for SMC faculty and staff.

B. Further amplify the life-giving SMC traditions through the impact of the Office of Mission by increasing ongoing support of individual, unit, and community development for mission integration that will nurture academic, social, spiritual, and vocational life, while modeling dialogue about the purposeful intersection of our three traditions. We educate for human fulfillment and for the promotion of the Common Good. 

C. Raise the visibility of how the campus community can support   sustainability efforts, consistent with our Sustainability Action Plan, through various actions (e.g., learn, assess, act, advocate, and pray).  Our Catholic and Lasallian traditions require good stewardship of the earth and service to the economically poor, many of whom live in areas most at risk of environmentally related inequalities.

4.  Prioritize Facilities and Footprint – “Defining our ‘Place’” 

Physical space and facilities are integral parts of a student’s learning experience, and a satisfactory learning space and environment is necessary to delivering our distinctive academic experience. These initiatives prioritize the major outcomes desired from our master planning process, with impacts in the near term and beyond. Among our top priorities are an academic learning commons enabled by contemporary technology that houses our Library, technologically advanced classrooms appropriate for both undergraduate and graduate students, improved residence halls and co-location of faculty offices on our main campus essential in providing our distinctive, personalized, and high quality education driven by students’ need for regular faculty interaction and collaborative learning opportunities.

A. Complete a Campus Master Plan Update that is aligned with strategic plan priorities and that is approved by the Town of Moraga by February 28, 2016. 

B. Advance and sequence facility projects under the approved Campus Master Plan Update and apply financial resources necessary to begin implementation on March 1, 2016. 

C. Modernize existing facilities (e.g., Dante and Galileo Halls; Soda Center; LeFevre Theater; other academic spaces; residence halls; Rheem Campus) to improve functionality and advance sustainability, with activities beginning by July 1, 2015.

5.  Get the Message Out – “Claiming Our Competitiveness”

As Saint Mary’s moves forward strategically in clearly defined areas, it is vital that we support our strategic direction with compelling messages and comprehensive marketing activities. Students and their parents have many options today, and it is our obligation to clearly describe the distinctive features of the Saint Mary’s experience so that they can make the right choice. There are many Catholic colleges in the West, but there is only one Saint Mary’s. We intend to tell our story energetically and purposefully. Our primary initiatives are:

A. Complete the Saint Mary’s College brand assessment project and integrate core messages with the strategic plan’s vision, mission, and objectives (e.g., community of spiritual and ethical global citizens; nationally recognized faculty working directly with students; challenging education; community engagement; culturally vibrant San Francisco Bay Area; comprehensive university).

B. Fund, develop, and launch an Institutional Marketing Plan, including a branding campaign, to raise Saint Mary’s visibility, positioning, and competitiveness among colleges and universities in the western United States. 

C. Establish key performance indicators and targets for recognition and reputation, regularly measure the effectiveness of institutional marketing and apply findings to enhanced marketing, enrollment, fundraising, engagement, and other quality objectives.

6.  Ensure Saint Mary’s Financial Stability – “Strengthening Foundations in Affordability”

Our College enjoys a strong financial foundation, but this status is contingent on multiple changing factors. Continued reliance on increasing tuition revenue to support operations may not be sustainable.  Our focus will be on strategic diversification of our revenue streams in light of current trends and future aspirations, always with an eye on systems and operations that strengthen our path forward. It is also critical that we actively engage the extended Saint Mary’s community to build lifelong relationships with us, participate in and benefit from the Saint Mary’s experience after graduation, and invest more extensively in our future. Being “Associated” together for advancement is critical for promoting and sustaining Catholic Lasallian higher education

Our primary initiatives are:

A. Advance a robust culture of philanthropy built upon lifelong relationships with the College, board participation (from the Board of Trustees and Regents to School-level bodies) and manifested through meaningful alumni engagement and increased philanthropic revenue in support of priorities and strategic objectives.

B. Develop a multiyear enrollment management and retention strategy that results in a student body which reflects Saint Mary’s mission, continues to sustain its academic profile and enhance its reputation, and ensures the balance of student affordability and institutional financial sustainability.

C. Articulate a financial aid philosophy (inclusive of managing student indebtedness) that guides policies and programs for the use of institutional resources and builds awareness about the principles that underlie them. 

D. Develop and implement a strategic plan for intercollegiate athletics and campus recreation based on our commitments to competitiveness and financial sustainability.

E. Conduct and implement workforce planning and efficiency analysis to optimize quality, apply disciplined cost management, demonstrate efficiency in the context of dynamic market forces and strategic priorities, and implement rigorous performance management programs aimed at ongoing, sustainable people performance and productivity.

Implementation Framework

Effective April 1, 2015, the plan will launch with the first 24 months of actions in support of the plan’s five-year framework and planned budget resources. The plan’s activities will incorporate several operational early wins that will not require additional investments and other large-scale concurrent activities, such as the Master Plan Update and branding campaign, both important pillars of the College’s integrated and comprehensive strategies.

Board of Trustees Governance Review

In parallel with the plan’s finalization and launch, the Trustees Governance project is designed to ensure that the Trustees are organized with the contemporary policies, processes, and infrastructure to successfully support the plan’s success. The board understands that an important aspect of successful strategic plan implementation and oversight is the partnership between the governing board and the administrative leadership. When coupled with the institution-wide activities that converge under the strategic plan umbrella, this collaboration and alignment between the board and the executive leadership will enable SMC to accelerate outcomes and performance. As the strategic plan was developed and launched, a board self-study and task force recommendations informed several board decisions and actions to improve governance processes and integrate a best practice “governance as leadership” model at Saint Mary’s. 

Implementation Champions

As implementation champions, the Cabinet will translate the plan’s initiatives into actions that are prioritized, resourced, tracked, and measured so that results can be reviewed annually and reforecast or aligned accordingly to ensure relevance and delivery of strategic outcomes. The initial implementation activities will cover the first 24 months. Outcomes of Years 1 and 2 will influence activities for Years 3-5, which will then be scheduled. As finalized by the Cabinet, these activities will assign accountable parties and be incorporated into individual and unit operating plans to ensure momentum. A budget plan that guides resource prioritization and allocations will permit the College to forecast and plan for future needs and reallocate budget dollars to support immediate priorities necessary to the strategic plan’s sequencing and overall outcomes. 

Progress toward achieving the plan goals will be tracked and assessed through the Institutional Effectiveness Committee. This committee was established following the College’s last institutional strategic plan, with a charge that includes managing, supporting, and communicating about College-wide strategic planning and assessment as well as making recommendations to the President regarding the uses of strategic funding allocations. In addition to the Cabinet, the Institutional Effectiveness Committee includes the Athletic Director, Director of Institutional Research, Chief Technology Officer, and representatives from the Staff Council and the College Committee on Inclusive Excellence.


A dashboard, linked to key performance indicators and supported by metrics for each indicator, will track and be used to report to the Board of Trustees, campus community, and the public the overall plan’s impact on the institution as measured by accomplishments for each goal. The dashboard will also guide executive leadership, managers, and the board as they make strategic and operating decisions, reforecast objectives, drive performance and accountability, and ensure reliability and credibility for the strategic plan and the achievement of the plan’s goals and objectives.


“Distinctive Excellence: Defining the Future for Saint Mary’s College” is a living, breathing plan. Led by the new President and shaped by a long-term vision, the planning process engaged the College community in defining the future Saint Mary’s from an institution-wide perspective promoting shared success through their ideas and involvement. 

Saint Mary’s has several advantages as it implements Distinctive Excellence – leadership committed to best practices, a comprehensive strategy that prioritizes campus-wide initiatives, and a focus on developing academic, student life, and community engagement models that will serve all of private higher education. The strategic plan aims high and is achievable through the strength of the College’s history and heritage, its people and programs, and its vision for the future – to position Saint Mary’s College as the leading Catholic comprehensive university in the western United States.