The FIT Challenge:
2020: FIT at 75, Bringing the Future into Focus
Over the course of its first sixty years, the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) has changed substantially -- sometimes in fits and starts, and other times with a rush as the College addressed the changing demographics of New York City and the evolution of the fashion industry that in the 1990s went global. Through the last five years what has become increasingly clear is that FIT has emerged from these changes stronger, different, and more complex. It is no longer possible to characterize the institution by any single label or phrase. FIT is a community college at which most students seek a baccalaureate degree and a small but growing number seek graduate degrees and advanced professional credentials. What was once an institution tied to a set of industries rooted in New York's garment district has become a college serving a growing range of professions and careers drawing a substantial proportion of its students from beyond New York City and its environs.
As a result of these changes both from without and within, there is a growing sense that the years ahead represent a special opportunity for FIT to choose its own future. The challenge before the College is to strengthen and preserve its historic mission of providing access to careers while at the same time developing advanced programs and initiatives designed to extend FIT's reach. Recognizing this opportunity, President Joyce F. Brown launched a strategic planning process in the summer of 2004 a sustained effort to take account of the College's current strengths and prospects, to formulate a vision for its continuing progress, and to outline a plan for reaching its strategic goals by 2020. The planning process has involved a broad cross-section of the FIT community, including faculty, staff, administrators, trustees, and students. Through the 2004-05 academic year, the work of strategic planning has included a series of individual interviews, focus groups, and deliberative roundtables as well as a major analysis of college enrollment data through the past decade. From these soundings a number of strategic planning themes were identified and committees formed to focus on several core areas in which the College seeks to move forward. A college-wide steering committee has worked to give shape and coherence to the Strategic Plan, drawing from the work of these individual planning committees.
The FIT Challenge is the result of this intensive year-long planning process. This Strategic Plan describes the College's priorities for the coming years. It outlines core elements of FIT as it can and should exist in 2020, and it identifies steps the College must take in achieving this strategic vision. The plan is ambitious, to be sure. Achieving its goals will require transformations even greater than those that have occurred within the College in the past several decades. Successful attainment of this strategic vision will require a commitment from every member of the FIT community, and a willingness to work together toward the achievement of shared purposes. While the plan is pervasive and multi-faceted, its core elements can be simply stated as five essential goals: 1. Strengthen the Academic Core 2. Commit to a Culture of Student-centeredness 3. Strengthen FIT as a Creative Hub 4. Engage in Strategic Recruitment 5. Establish a Process for Administrative Support of the Plan
The five key goals of The FIT Challenge represent steps toward the fulfillment of our strategic vision of the College in 2020. Every component of this vision can be found to some extent in the FIT of 2005. The vision for 2020 is one that exhibits these elements in even more pronounced degree. Our vision of FIT in 2020 is of a college that is academically strong as well as student-centered; an institution that builds on the excitement and creativity of New York City while also exhibiting the global reach that has become the hallmark of the nations best institutions of higher education; in short, an FIT that is innovative, globally connected, and purposefully diverse.
Academically strong. FIT in 2020 will be a college that is committed to academic renewal to the development of high-quality curricula and programming that meet the evolving needs of the students and industries it serves. Just as important, FIT will be a college that engages in the reconsideration of its programs in light of the evolving needs of the industries it serves and the students it enrolls. FIT in 2020 will be a college that fosters in its students a capacity to think in integrative ways, and to understand the relationships that exist between their chosen major and knowledge in other fields. The College will continue to be regarded as an institution that provides high-quality programs culminating in associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degrees.
Student-centered. FIT in 2020 will be a college that is known for its ability to create an environment that helps students learn, grow, and develop. Knowing that successful learning is a function of having students who know that their needs are being met, the College will have developed co-curricular programs and a culture of service that contributes substantially to each students academic achievement, personal growth, and development.
New York centric. In 2020 FIT will be a college that continues to affirm its mission of providing educational opportunity and enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of the City and State of New York. FIT will exhibit a sustained commitment to meeting the needs of students who embody a range of ethnic, economic, and educational backgrounds.
Innovative. Creativity has been a hallmark of FIT from its founding in its faculty, students, and in the leaders from industry that it attracts to its learning community. It is this creative drive, drawing together innovative achievers with direct ties to leaders of industry, that has built FIT's national and international reputation. The College will be nationally and internationally acclaimed as a center of creative innovation and drive in many fields, helping to shape new developments in the industries with which it has formed working partnerships.
Global and purposefully diverse. By 2020 the concepts of both fashion and technology will have evolved in unexpected ways. The set of global industries FIT serves will have both shifted and expanded. Among FIT's students will be an expanding cohort of learners drawn from nations beyond the U.S., their educational goals more complex and diverse, more dependent on a host of new digital technologies.
Finally, FIT will be known in 2020 as an institution that demonstrates by example the positive results of its decision to choose and pursue its own future. FIT will be a national and international exemplar of an institution that has built upon its foundations in ways that are consistent with its core values and distinctive strengths. The College will have shown that it is possible to evolve to a position of enhanced strength by conscious design. FIT will be known as a strategic organization an institution that applies limited resources to greatest effect in reaching its goals.
Goal One: Strengthen the Academic Core
In the course of its sixty-year history, FIT has evolved from its origins as a vocational-technical school to its current identity as a multidimensional academic institution. Over the last decade FIT's investments and hence strength have been focused on its two principal schools: Art and Design and Business and Technology. In the years ahead, it is important that a substantial measure of FIT's growth occur in the liberal arts. Study in the liberal arts provides a necessary component of educational breadth that allows students to engage in confident, thoughtful, and creative ways with issues beyond their major field of study. The liberal arts encompass skills of communication and presentation including the ability to express oneself effectively, in writing or by speaking.
Strengthen the Liberal Arts Component of an FIT Education. The evolution of FIT as a collegiate institution can be traced in the changing role and importance of the liberal arts as a source of expanding ideas as well as enhanced understanding of the larger world which is increasingly recasting the industries and the geo-political and cultural settings in which they operate.
Just as FIT now needs a strategy to more purposefully invest in its core programs, so too does it require a more purposeful strategy for making the liberal arts an integral part of the FIT education. First responsibility for launching the necessary discussions and deliberations belongs to the School of Liberal Arts. Ultimately, however, it is a conversation that must engage the entire college. FIT needs to conduct a college-wide conversation on what steps are needed to ensure that students in every field of study achieve breadth of learning. The action plan that results from these conversations must be consistent with the values of the College and with current distributive requirements of the SUNY system. A central question to be addressed in these exchanges is: What does it mean to be a premier institution that educates students for careers in the fashion and related industries in the twenty-first century? It is important that a solid and expansive foundation of education in the liberal arts constitute part of the answer to that question.
Conduct a thorough review and redesign of FIT's two-year and four-year curricula. At the outset of the Strategic Plans implementation, it is important to stress that FIT affirms its continuing commitment to provide programs culminating in an associate degree. The College is committed to providing a rich array of two-year degree programs, providing graduates with skills that can lead to immediate employment, while at the same time building foundations for longer-term educational and professional growth. Each school needs to review its AAS curriculum to determine in which fields the number of such degree programs needs to expand or contract. Among other things, this review must consider in which areas the baccalaureate degree has effectively displaced the associate degree as the entry-level credential.
In its design of four-year programs, the College needs in effect to begin with a blank slate, formulating curricula and programs that provide students with substantive, rigorous, and coherent pathways to a degree. The College must avoid what might seem the easier path of creating four-year programs simply as extensions of existing associate degree programs. A concern of equal importance in this curriculum overview is to address issues of course duplication and credit overload.
Undertake a sustained effort to increase the size of the full-time faculty. There are two issues in particular that drive the need for more full-time faculty. First, to build a truly collegial community, the College needs a substantial number of core faculty members who view FIT as their primary responsibility. Second, there are many components of the FIT Strategic Plan that will require major faculty leadership to make genuine progress. There is a critical need to determine two key elements: how many additional full-time faculty members the College will require in the coming years; and how the College will pay for that growth. Accompanying this growth will be the need for additional office space and other support.
Goal Two: Commit to a Culture of Student-centeredness
A strong and consistent theme throughout the Strategic Planning process has been the need for a demonstrated change in the FIT culture yielding a more student-centered college. In affirming student-centeredness as a major planning initiative, FIT underscores the need for students to feel that they are members of a college community that is committed to their learning, personal growth, and development and to helping students fulfill their educational goals as effectively as possible. Integral to the concept of student centeredness is a strong and comprehensive array of co-curricular (outside the classroom) programs, services and resources that assist students in their life skill development. Therefore, it is the College's responsibility to create the infrastructure of services, facilities, and personal interactions that contributes positively to the achievement of student learning goals. In addition, an essential component of student-centeredness is a curriculum that is rigorous, coherent, and attuned to the knowledge, skills, and abilities that graduates of any field will need to possess as working professionals.
Achieving student-centeredness will require every member of this community to conceive of FIT from the perspective of a student to examine the quality of education and services that students receive, as well as the facilities and equipment available for students to pursue their work. The message from focus groups, roundtables, and the work of several planning committees suggests that a first step consists of cultural engineering within the institution to yield behaviors that accord students a greater measure of respect and to expect from students in turn a willingness to take a greater share of responsibility for their own learning. Being student-centered does not mean relinquishing the expectation of rigor in course work and individual responsibility in order to make students happy. In a basic sense, however, it is to ask to what extent faculty, staff, and administrators at FIT treat students in responsive ways that contribute to their progress in learning. Finally, being student-centered means to engage in design of the curriculum, of the modes of teaching and learning, of college services, programs, procedures, and systems with the explicit purposes of advising and serving students well.
One kind of frustration students often experience derives simply from their transactional relations with the College, such as course registration, accounts payable, financial aid, graduation, and transcripts. Part of the constraint the College encounters is the lack of space, or the competition for appropriate space either for administrative purposes or for teaching and learning during certain parts of the week. A physical reconfiguration of certain college offices could reduce the time and frustration students expend in going from one administrative unit to another. Expanded staff and more effective use of technology may offer part of the solution to issues of these kinds. To be certain, however, many steps required to become more student-centered have substantial space implications.
Focus on the first-year experience. At FIT, as at most other higher education institutions, a students experience during the first year is a major factor in the decision to persist to a degree. FIT must direct greater attention to ensuring that students understand their initial experience of the College as being conducive to their learning goals. Accordingly, the College will develop a first-year structured program to address student development skills and issues such as stress management, time management, career assessment, study skills, academic advisement, and an introduction to college.
Improve communication. Recognizing that effective communication is essential to every students sense of engagement and belonging, the College, in consultation with individual departments, will promote an enhanced sense of connectivity among all of the College's diverse constituencies. The first step in this process will be the development of a plan to improve campus communications including the College's signage, internal web-site, and the types of information students receive from offices throughout the College.
Cultivate substantially enhanced relations with alumni. An important component of student-centeredness consists in the relationships the College fosters with its alumni. These former students constitute an important resource to the College, not just as potential donors but as working professionals whose creativity and achievement can substantially enrich the College's learning environment and help extend FIT's connection with new developments in the industries it serves. A major strategic initiative is to cultivate more substantial relations with FIT's alumni.
Alumni involvement can take various forms. Teaching, mentoring or participating on department advisory committees can be stimulating and challenging. Also, some may be in a position to provide job opportunities for our students or introductions to prospective donors.
An effort will be made by the Institutional Advancement office to engage alumni in FIT's activities. Having an updated database will enable us to have meaningful communication with our graduates and also help to establish close ties with them.
Goal Three: Strengthen FIT as a Creative Hub
Given the changes that are engulfing the industries FIT has traditionally served, the College has both the opportunity and the obligation to become a creative hub drawing together the best ideas and projects from across the worlds of design, fashion, and communications as well as the business and manufacturing practices that serve those industries. The concept of a creative hub describes to some extent what FIT does today: it is an institution that serves as a creative magnet, drawing together industry leaders with members of the faculty and students, and fostering interdisciplinary initiatives that explore new possibilities. The vision of the creative hub in 2020 is one that sees FIT evolving further in this direction to become a nucleus of creative interaction, known and regarded as a source of innovation throughout the nation and the world. To become that kind of creative hub FIT must first develop new structures and identify substantially augmented resources that can be invested in its programs of graduate study and professional education.
An appropriately configured school of graduate studies that promotes both advanced study and research. One requirement of achieving FIT's full potential as a creative hub is to invest in the graduate school as an academic unit with its own mission and organizational structure. The graduate school has a central role to play in advancing the stature of FIT as a source of innovation capable of attracting some of the most noteworthy and innovative researchers and industry professionals. A graduate school developed for these purposes would be well positioned to provide professional-level education to the industries FIT serves. An enhanced graduate school would also provide the underpinnings of a research facility that will serve as a center for business leaders to explore and develop cutting-edge business practices.
An industry-leading and financially successful program of executive education. A second, equally important step in solidifying FIT's role as a creative hub is to develop professional education programs that extend the College's reach among the growing number of professionals who seek continuing and executive education. FIT needs to develop avenues of engagement that allow more working professionals to participate in the dynamic of learning and creative growth that takes place within the College. Programs of executive education exemplify the reciprocal advantage that results from drawing these professionals into FIT's learning environment with full-time faculty members as well as students. Partnerships are a key element in the expansion of professional education programs with the graduate school, with leaders of industry and trade associations, or with specific companies in the design and delivery of instruction.
An FIT museum and library that actively support the work of scholars, students, and others in the fulfillment of a creative hub. As a physical setting and a collection of learning resources, FIT's museum epitomizes the concept of a creative hub. The museum is internationally recognized as a center for the study and display of contemporary fashion; its resources and programs engage members of the FIT community at every level, from entering student to faculty members and visiting scholars. Just as important to reaching FIT's full potential as a creative hub is an investment in the College library, both as a repository of learning materials and as a place that students, faculty members, and others seek out as a resource in the pursuit of their drive to creative and scholarly achievement. Physically and psychologically, the library needs to be more central to FIT as a site of engaged learning and a creative hub.
A broadly conceived digital repository to serve both industry and the major programs of FIT's schools. FIT's expanding use of the new digital technologies represents a fourth reason the College ought to be purposeful in establishing itself as a creative hub for the industries the College serves. The digital environment has become in itself a realm of substantial creative activity, and FIT is well positioned to assume leadership in creating the means to store, retrieve, and display images that are created in or converted to digital format. The College must build a state-of-the-art digital content repository that supports academic and administrative needs and facilitates the creation of communities within and across disciplines and organizations. This repository will support an FIT digital image library (which includes a presentation tool for teaching), enable an e-publishing endeavor to support the creation of specialized and interdisciplinary publications, and make possible the development of e-Portfolios as well as the electronic processing of documents and workflow.
A design laboratory that harnesses student and faculty work. FIT has a rich mix of faculty and students who most often express their talents and interests through special project work. The FIT design laboratory, one that can also function as a design cooperative, will provide both locale and funding for the most innovative of these projects, particularly those that involve both students and faculty. A design laboratory will also provide a setting for the kind of advanced work required by graduate studies in art and design.
Goal Four: Engage in Strategic Recruitment
An analysis of FIT enrollment undertaken early in the strategic planning process revealed that over the past decade, the College has attracted an increasing number of students whose family income, geographic distribution, educational backgrounds, and aspirations resemble the profile of predominantly middle-class students who seek the baccalaureate degree. This analysis helped confirm that FIT in the past ten years has become more competitive as its degree programs and New York location appeal to an increasingly national and international pool of students.
FIT needs to plan in purposeful ways to pursue the direction of serving a student body that is globally connected and diverse while at the same time reaffirming its commitment to attract students of the New York Metropolitan area to its programs.
Develop strategic enrollment plans for students in several markets. The College will design a comprehensive strategic enrollment plan based on whom FIT wants to teach, using both academic and demographic criteria. The plan must utilize ongoing market research and focus some strategies specifically on New York City enrollments. FIT will complete a written strategic enrollment plan that specifies target enrollments per program and per geographic region. The plan will address specific segments of the student market, including high school students of New York City, New York State, regions of the U.S., international students, and non-traditional and returning students.
Take proactive steps to attract a greater number of students from New York City. The College will develop recruitment programs and strategies particularly for students from New York City and its neighboring counties. FIT will put in place a process that addresses the needs of all prospective and incoming students and families from initial contact through graduation. This process will specifically consider common needs of New York City students and identify the disincentives that might discourage New York City students from applying or matriculating. A series of actions can help ensure that FIT continues to serve this important cohort of students. They include: a fundraising initiative to create scholarships for residents of New York City; the exploration of a student admissions process and timeline that encourages New York City applicants; strategies to increase the availability of financial aid and its use as a recruitment tool; and strategies to increase the availability of on-campus housing as a recruitment tool for students from New York City and its neighboring counties.
Goal Five: Establish a Process for Administrative Support of the Plan
From the outset the College has recognized that successful implementation of the Strategic Plan would require strong and consistent administrative support at every level. While the most substantial work of carrying out a plan often occurs in individual schools, departments, and units, this work cannot go forward without palpable support from the institutions senior leadership at both the College and school levels. To make consistent and coherent progress on the Strategic Plan will require significant changes to some of the College's administrative processes.
Build an administrative structure and develop procedures that facilitate attainment of the Plans strategic goals. An early step in this process will be to explore models for best practices. This effort will yield a better understanding of the most effective ways to support FIT's strategic goals. The College will review its administrative processes and make appropriate changes in light of these best practices.
Many of FIT's strategic goals require a substantial increase in financial resources. Securing these funds will require sustained involvement of FIT's board of trustees, Educational Foundation for the Fashion Industries, and senior administration (president, vice presidents, and deans).
Institutional Advancement personnel recognize the value of having the College's volunteers, administrators, faculty and staff involved in the development process. This can include identifying potential prospects; obtaining introductions to individuals, corporations and foundations; preparing introductory letters and letters of support; and soliciting prospects.
The Office of Institutional Advancements Master Plan is being developed and executed to support FIT's expansion and future capital campaign. The plan is modeled on fundraising principles implemented at various colleges and universities. The plan includes operating policies and procedures for implementing fundraising programs. This plan will be modified accordingly to support the strategic plan as well.
Develop a communications system and strategy that connects all of the College's constituencies with one another: faculty, students, staff, alumni, and friends of the College. What is required is an enhanced sense of connectivity along with the development of specific channels of communication. A vital first step in this latter process will be to have the Vice Presidents for Student Affairs and Academic Affairs convene a joint informational meeting of the respective deans, directors and chairs on a monthly basis. More broadly, an effective communication system will make everyone more effective and in that special sense, more connected.
Implement a process to ensure steady progress toward the attainment of the Strategic Plans goals. Beyond the re-engineering of administrative structures, the College must put into place a process that takes account of the progress made in reaching strategic goals and makes possible the redeployment of effort and resources as circumstances warrant. FIT will initiate Continuing Process Improvement (CPI), a systematic approach for on-going review of college policies and procedures to ensure that they continue to optimally serve FIT's internal and external constituencies. The CPI process will help ensure that the College continues to be guided by best practice and internal control guidelines that allow it to be both effective and efficient in advancing the work of the Strategic Plan.
The Strategic Planning process has engaged members of the entire FIT community in the formulation of college-wide goals. At the same time, committees have worked to identify strategic goals of individual schools and divisions of the College. The goals of each school and division, all have a common format. For the most part these are statements of actions an individual school or division can accomplish on its own. At the same time, it is important to stress that these more specific goals have been identified in the context of the larger college-wide strategic planning process. As such, the actions in these plans may be conceived as working parts practical, on-the-ground steps that collectively advance the College as a whole toward the fulfillment of the FIT Challenge.
The core elements of the FIT Challenge are easy to describe. In the years ahead the College will focus its energy and resources toward the achievement of five strategic goals: to strengthen the academic core, become more student-centered, fulfill its potential to become a creative hub, engage in strategic recruitment, and align its administrative systems to support the achievement of its strategic vision. This Strategic Plan makes clear that the achievement of any one of these goals is a multi-faceted process requiring both coordination of effort and a continuing process of evaluating the impact of steps taken. The variety of actions proposed also makes clear that no single standard can be applied to account for progress made in accomplishing the Plan. The measures of success will be multiple and tailored to the specific purposes any given step seeks to advance.
The College will need a set of committees to oversee and power the implementation of the Strategic Plan in the months and years ahead. The planning committees naturally fall into two kinds: One set of committees or task forces will design the final implementation and accompanying metrics for the five college-wide initiatives. A second set of committees will complete the school and unit plans and begin the processes of implementation and evaluation.
The very act of engaging in strategic planning has opened channels of communication throughout the College. These exchanges are leading to a better understanding as to how best to describe the institution to itself and to others. What has emerged is a stronger sense of institutional identity, a more informed sense of the qualities that characterize the College as a whole, as well as its individual schools and departments. In engaging a strategic vision and formulating goals for the future, FIT is achieving a clearer, more universal understanding of its growth and development. In many respects this Strategic Plan provides a blueprint for strengthening through deliberate actions the qualities for which FIT has already earned a reputation. The Plan is itself a first answer to the question: What does it mean for an institution of higher education to evolve by design?
Many of the initiatives the Strategic Plan proposes have major resource implications. While the Strategic Plan in its current formulation does not address that dimension of FIT's future, everyone who participated in this process recognizes that substantial efforts will be required to fund the plan. Already there are resource deficits that present genuine obstacles to attaining the strategic vision outlined in this plan. Meeting the need for more full-time faculty or for expanded, appropriately configured space and facilities will require a substantial infusion of revenue beyond what the College currently receives. The very work of identifying major institutional priorities and understanding their costs will position FIT to address the resource questions more effectively. An important result of the Strategic Plan must be to strengthen FIT's ability to attract increased revenue in support of its goals.
The planning process has made clear that some steps are more operational than strategic in nature; they are tasks that FIT needs to undertake, even if it were not to pursue a strategic vision of the future. Some of the planning initiatives do not require more money. They are actions that require a change in culture, a willingness to rethink ways of working together to provide a heightened level of service to students and others across the College.
Finally, the planning exchanges have helped to identify a series of essential metrics to gauge FIT's progress in achieving its strategic goals. Among the questions to be asked between 2005 and 2020 are these: Has this action yielded students who exemplify a breadth of learning and a greater capacity for integrative thinking across fields of study? Has it yielded an FIT that is student- and learning-centered to a greater degree than at present? Has it advanced FIT in its goal of becoming a creative hub involving industry and the academy in shared pursuits at the edge of innovation? Has it resulted in a strategic recruitment process that attracts students of promise from New York City, the nation, and the world? Finally, has this step fostered an administrative process that supports FIT's ability to achieve its strategic goals, helping the College provide students with an education of highest quality in its associate, baccalaureate, and graduate degree programs?
The actual evaluation of the Strategic Plan will certainly entail more particular versions of these questions. In the broadest sense, however, each answer of yes to these five questions will constitute an important step in meeting the FIT Challenge.