Portland State University

Case Study

Community Involvement and Smart Planning Blaze a Trail for the Future at PSU

Like many institutions across the country, Portland State University (PSU) has dealt with rising tensions and impassioned debate about resources and culture. Unlike many of its peers, PSU has embraced this passion and used it to create a stronger campus and community.

Facing a Rocky Terrain
PSU turned to Coraggio to help develop a new strategic plan after a particularly rocky year. In-debt students and pressured administrators were under a lot of stress, and faculty had come perilously close to a union strike. We soon saw that the school needed more than a fill-in-the-blank five-year plan. This 30,000-member campus community needed a smart strategic planning process that was as transparent and inclusive as it was equitable. Conscious that people and process are integral to any successful planning process, we started mapping a course.

Surveying the Land with an Equity Lens
It was a professor who first suggested the equity lens – the angle that came to define the planning process. An equity lens overlay ensures that teams keep in mind historical inequities like racism, sexism, and income inequality when designing the process and when making decisions about the University’s future. With this approach, the university was taking steps to narrow achievement and opportunity gaps. Our application of an equity lens at PSU is likely the first use in a higher education strategic planning process.

Boots on the Ground
Coraggio began exploring. We tapped into the deep knowledge and passion of the PSU faculty, and town hall meetings and online forums got the community talking. Meanwhile, our team visited classrooms, produced videos, and even gave out free ice cream. We balanced the input of official committees by touching more than 4,000 members of the community. An advisory group was specially chosen to represent the diverse perspectives at PSU.

Charting a course
The result was “Let Knowledge Serve the City,” a forward-facing plan that mapped a path for the next five years. It represented an entirely new point of view, and helped calm some of the tension at PSU. Because our collaborative process ensured that community members felt included in the planning process—and because the experience we created helped restore trust in the administration—the university was able to produce this equitable and implementable plan.

“Let Knowledge Serve the City” – Gold Award for “Special Purpose Publications” from the Northwest Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE)

Click here to read PSU’s final four-year plan.

“ Coraggio is the best consulting team I have worked with in my 40+ year career. Team members are creative and adaptable - and are excellent listeners as well as facilitators. In taking on the PSU engagement, they realized quickly that frayed relationships across the campus required a different approach. They adjusted accordingly - and when the project was done, the university not only had a five-year strategic plan with broad stakeholder buy-in, but a more positive and productive campus environment. I feel very confident in recommending Coraggio's services to other organizations. ”

— Lois Davis, Chief of Staff and Vice President for Public Affairs