Executive Summary

Lehigh University is embarking on our first formal strategic planning process and comprehensive strategic plan to be developed since 2009. President Joseph Helble requested a study of the progress achieved as part of the 2009 plan to identify any lessons learned and inform our future efforts. Called Phase 0, this effort was conducted largely by members of Lehigh faculty and staff who were involved in the 2009 plan. 

The 2009 Strategic Plan, “Advancing Our Intellectual Footprint,” challenged Lehigh to deliver best-in-class experiences for students; invest in faculty and staff; partner with the Bethlehem community; and respond to the grand challenges of health, globalization and energy, environment and infrastructure. These pillars focused resources toward addressing challenges for society and bettering our global, local and campus communities.

Examples of actions taken to advance the goals of the 2009 plan can be found in trend and comparison data (unless otherwise specified, references below compare 2009 to 2021 data), and across the campus in the establishment of several new services and offices.

The Office of International Affairs celebrates globalization through programs and the support of our international scholars; more students have taken advantage of international experiences than ever before (609 students in 2009 compared to 764 students in 2021). The Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning fosters pedagogical innovation, promotes high-impact educational practices and supports academic technology adoption. The Baker Institute provides for the incubation of innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities for our students. The Office of Creative Inquiry supports a wide range of interdisciplinary initiatives that help students and faculty pursue new intellectual, creative, and artistic pathways that lead to transformative innovations, expressions and questions.

While staff hiring growth remained flat, diversity increased (URM1: 6% to 9%). Lehigh’s investment in cluster hiring, in part to diversify the faculty, was negated by low retention, leading to little or no increase in the diversity of full-time faculty. Innovation in teaching pedagogy was reflected in improved rankings for “Best Undergraduate Teaching” (currently No. 13). The creation of a College of Health (COH), the first new college in 50 years, advanced the breadth of academic offerings and expanded opportunities for Lehigh alumni to make a difference in the world. 

Research expenditures have held relatively flat; however, competitive funding increased by 30%, with notable growth in Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Defense (DOD), and National Science Foundation (NSF) funding, as well as nearly quadrupled growth for National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding ($4M compared to $14.9M). 

Student post-graduate placement rates continue to be among the best in the nation (97% for the class of 2021), reflecting a strong return on investment for our alumni. The newly built Singleton, Hitch and Maida residence halls enrich the residential experience for our students, and the SouthSide Commons apartments offer alternative housing options as well as a meaningful connection to the Bethlehem community through outreach programs. 

A Deputy Provost for Graduate Education position was created in 2019 and emphasizes the need to support our graduate student community and coordinate efforts to expand and enhance our graduate student academic programs. Several new master’s programs have emerged; Ph.D. graduate enrollment has recently trended upward (735 to 744).

Finally, our student body, both undergraduate and graduate, is more diverse and international than ever and is poised to continue in that direction. Our undergraduate student population grew from 4,809 to 5,451—with the percentage of underrepresented undergraduate students increasing from 10% to 15%, the percentage of female undergraduates increasing from 41% to 46%, and the number of international students increasing from 4% to 8.3%. While we have not seen growth in our graduate population (2,187 compared to 1,812), there is greater diversity (underrepresented graduate students increased from 3.8% to 8.5% and international graduate students increased from 25% to 29.2%).

Since the 2009 plan was conceived, Lehigh has made three leadership transitions and the world has undergone significant changes, including a global pandemic. Lehigh’s fiscal health and nimble infrastructure responded well to these challenges; the endowment grew significantly through investment efforts and the great generosity of our donors. The full report outlines many, although not an exhaustive list, of the accomplishments and progress made during this time. 

The report analyzes our progress toward the original goals articulated in the 2009 plan and identifies gaps and lessons learned. Several common themes emerged. First, some elements of the original strategic plan lacked clearly defined measures of institutional progress or referenced metrics that were untracked or not transparently communicated to the community. Future strategic planning efforts will benefit from a clear articulation of key initiatives. Additionally, it was noted that Lehigh will better serve its ambitions by identifying ongoing resources and developing the necessary operational infrastructure and processes to support and sustain new programs, including through enhancing the administrative support of new initiatives and identifying individuals who are charged with leading their development. Some topics are better served through the development of a discrete plan to address a specific scope; for example, reviewing efforts to diversify faculty, staff and students is a measure of progress in the 2021 DI&E strategic plan.

To that end, Lehigh must commit to setting goals that are effective in achieving the desired outcomes; clearly, consistently and transparently communicating measures of success for key initiatives; and assessing the efficacy of our efforts to ensure our community has a path for progress throughout the implementation phase of the new plan. The goals of our strategic plan must connect to and result in actionable and purposeful change. Finally, integrating new or existing strategic plans (i.e. DI&E 2021 Strategic Plan) to the key initiatives of the new plan will better enable success and broaden Lehigh’s ability to address issues that warrant a full-scale approach. 

In short, we have made significant progress. Now it falls to us to build on our foundation, recognizing where we are strong and where we must improve. We also must recognize how the world has changed and how higher education must respond. It is incumbent upon us that Lehigh develops a vision that will allow us not only to keep pace but also to lead.

We thank those involved in developing this report.

 A few words about words

Please note that for clarity, this report references language that was originally used in the 2009 strategic planning documents; however, moving forward, some language and terms have been updated for inclusivity and accuracy of description. For example, Lehigh has adopted the term “Underrepresented Racial/Ethnic Groups (UREG)” in place of the term “Underrepresented Minority (URM),” which uses deficit language. Similarly, the term “renaissance” once referred to changes in the local community and has negative connotations associated with gentrification that do not reflect Lehigh’s practices or beliefs. There may be other terms that have been similarly used in past contexts and are referenced in the plan but will be updated moving forward.