The Associated Colleges of the South seeks to strengthen, promote and showcase liberal arts education through collaboration among its member institutions.
Our Guiding Values
As we do our work, the ACS holds central:
- Belief in collaboration as a value-added dimension to the unique character of each member institution and as an exemplary approach to improving the liberal arts educational experience.
- Commitment to high quality and rigor in all programming and services, including regular review and attention to fiscal and operational efficiencies.
- Promotion of diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging as essential assets in all environments and all that we do.
- Dedication to innovation, flexibility and responsiveness to institutional challenges, the external environment, and emerging opportunities.
- Commitment to sustainability in all programs.
These values inform our internal planning, thinking and operations as we address our goals.
- Build connections and collaboration for faculty, staff and students across our member colleges.
- Foster and support training and growth for current leadership of teams, departments and colleges. Encourage a diverse set of institutional staff to consider roles in leading teams, departments or colleges.
- Provide opportunities and resources for inter-institutional professional growth of faculty and staff to
- advance the frontiers of knowledge and creativity,
- enrich individual and institutional teaching and learning,
- disseminate new knowledge and pedagogical innovations
- Support member institutions in their collective and individual efforts to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging on their campuses and in their communities.
- Be a champion for residential liberal arts learning in the South.Look for inexpensive and natural opportunities to promote the Associated Colleges of the South and its member colleges to the broader public.
- Watch for and explore new opportunities that result from changes in the environment and interests of the members.
Strategies and Tactics
The fundamental strategy for ACS to achieve its goals is to be a listening organization, gathering and collecting the concerns, ideas and aspirations of our member colleges at all levels. We then seek to synthesize these ideas and to be a conduit and catalyst for discussion, action and change. In addition, we will listen to the broader higher education community for new and innovative ideas.
This strategy allows us to leverage the ACS consortium’s potential by:
- Structuring collaboration across ACS institutions,
- Deploying ACS staff in ways that facilitate and disseminate existing expertise and knowledge across ACS institutions, and
- Extending the vision and objectives of ACS institutions’ leadership teams.
We recognize that the missions and goals of our member colleges are varied and, as a result, not every program may be of interest or value to every member. But a significant number of members should support and participate in each activity or program. And every member should find value in the broad initiatives of ACS.
While ACS seeks grant funding opportunities as one strategy for advancing the consortium’s work, the consortium seeks a funding model that supports rather than directs the programming potential of the members themselves.
Delivery through programs and services
The key to executing our strategic plan is the creation and delivery of specific programs and services that incorporate our values, goals and strategies and provide value to the member schools of the consortium. To bring clarity to our thinking, we have organized existing and planned programs and services into the structure of our goals.
1. Connections and Collaboration
- Community Groups
For collaboration, networking, information sharing and discussion, the groups and community sites are organized to allow for overlapping participation and interest. Individuals can be members of one or more groups. Community group collaborate through virtual meetings, in real life meetings and through the private ACS Community Web Site.
Our current four types of groups are defined as follows:
- Leadership Groups (most restrictive membership). Membership in these groups is defined by a position on campus, such as the Chief Diversity Officers or the Chief Enrollment Officers for instance. To be a member of one of these groups, one must hold the corresponding position on your campus. If a member holds the position, they are a member by default. If a member does not have the position, they cannot be a member of one of these groups. Internally, we might use the listserv email addresses for these groups to send information to a particular leadership group. We do, however, restrict membership in the group itself to one or two staff members so that group discussions and document sharing can be confidential.
- Workshop Groups and Research Groups (moderately restrictive). Membership in these groups is determined by registration or invitation to participate in a workshop, working group or research group. Generally, there is a leader/principal of the group who defines the membership. As the result, the group is defined by either participation in the workshop or participation in the research.
- Interest Groups (least restrictive). Membership in these groups is more loosely defined by interest in a topic or broadly by position. It might be restricted to, for instance, faculty who teach accounting or staff who work in student affairs. An interest group can also be open to anyone interested (self-selected) in a topic, such as history of higher education, role of athletics, advising, student success, and retention, or diversity/equity/inclusion.
- Data Sharing
ACS assists with informal data sharing on topics of interest, including common practices, policies and key statistics. We are encouraging data sharing through use of the private ACS Community website that allows for confidential uploading and sharing of documents and data.
- Collaborative Projects
Groups will sometimes, through their own institutional interest and collective expertise, engage in developing and maintaining a collaborative project. Examples include the career collaborative, college counselor breakfast, or Student Life Leadership Academy.
2. Academic Leadership
- Enhance campus leadership and governance
- The ACS Mellon Academic Leadership Fellows Program Grant will fund 10 fellows in a two-year embedded academic leadership program. Fellows will be tenured faculty members in the humanities, and will be, either through scholarship, community engagement, or lived experiences, dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion. They will be named to a specific role and project within one of the departments on their own campuses and will also have access to senior leadership. They will engage with a virtual and In-person curriculum, be mentored by an internal and external mentor, and have access to an individualized professional development program including campus visits, reading, and attendance at conferences focused on higher education.
- Expand and improve co-curricular and administrative services
- Department Chairs – Beginning in the Spring of 2023, groups of academic affairs staff, diversity officers, and faculty development professionals from around our 16 campuses will begin the work of developing curriculum for a year-long virtual department chairs training to be initiated in Fall 2023.
- Student Life Leadership Academy – In Spring of 2022, the leadership group for chief student life officers noted that they wanted to provide a prestigious professional development for their mid-level Student Life professionals. Through interinstitutional conversations, they worked with ACS to develop the Student Life Leadership Academy. It launched in summer 2022, and 23 Student Life Leadership Fellows were named. This group attends 5 virtual panels (staffed by senior leadership in student life), 3 hours of mentoring by a VP in Student Life or Dean of Students, and monthly foundational mentoring groups. It will finish at the end of the 2022-2023 academic year. Books (Transformative Conversations) were purchased for each participant.
- Enhance student success
- ACS currently works through programs for faculty and staff to improve and enhance student success at our member campuses.
- We consciously explore potential programs for fostering student collaboration and interaction across consortium schools when doing so increases their learning opportunities beyond what a single campus provides.
3. Professional Growth
- Teaching & Learning Workshop – This workshop is in its 30th year at ACS. It is described as an opportunity for good teachers to gain even more expertise and insight into their teaching. ACS campuses are guaranteed one participant each year, but often are granted spaces for 2 or 3 (depending on demand). The program is cost neutral to ACS, and there is a fee to cover costs of housing and stipends for facilitators.
- Inclusive Pedagogy Institute – This workshop is in its 3rd year at ACS. As part of the ACS/Mellon 2016 grant, it provides participants an opportunity to gain more insight into creating and maintaining an inclusive classroom. The program is heavily subsidized through the ACS /Mellon 2016 grant, but in the future, could be run on a similar model as the ACS Teaching and Learning Workshop.
- Teaching Fellows – Each summer (through the ACS/Mellon 2016 grant) ACS has distributed 12 broad topics for faculty and staff to consider. Faculty and staff are then invited to either work with up to 4 individuals to develop and implement a workshop (related to one of the 12 topics) or work with up to 8 individuals to form a working group that will work throughout the summer to develop resources on one of the twelve topics. We would like to continue this opportunity beyond the Mellon 2016 grant.
- Faculty Grants – Through foundation funding, ACS has been able to offer subgrants to members in the areas of innovative instruction (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning), collaborative curriculum (shared academic or training courses), and diversity, equity and inclusion. Proposals must include collaborators from at least three institutions, and the topic must have broader interest among ACS institutions. ACS will continue to pursue future opportunities for funding of this kind of research.
4. Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- ACS Mellon Academic Leadership Fellows Program – While not explicitly placing fellows (described above) into the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Office on campus, this program seeks to diversify higher education administration and, in doing so, bring a DEI lens to all of our work.
- Diversity Advocates Workshops – This train-the-trainer workshop is designed to help equip campuses to build capacity for increased attention to diversity and inclusion issues in hiring processes.
- Annual Diversity Officers Institute – ACS supports the annual gathering of the 16 institutions chief diversity officers to network, collaborate, and help develop ACS programming.
- Learning Summit – Being held in September 2023, the summit is an opportunity to bring together faculty involved in research projects funded by the Mellon 2016 grant to examine lessons learned and help map a way forward for future programs. The Summit is also being held in conjunction with ACS Chief Academic Officers meeting and the ACS Chief Diversity Officers meeting, providing good opportunities for sharing and discussion.
5. Champion for residential liberal arts learning in the South
- ACS Tuition Exchange Program – The ACS Tuition Exchange Program encourages children of faculty and staff at our member schools to seriously consider attending one of our member schools by providing a full-tuition scholarship.
- Big Ideas in Higher Education – each year, we hope to develop programming on different big ideas in higher education. Currently we are working on ways to help students (and faculty and staff) to engage in difficult conversations. This is being funded as a pilot through our 2016 ACS/Mellon Grant. Going forward, we will spend time time and energy thinking more intentionally about what it means to be a national residential liberal arts college in the south, including our historical background, the demographics of college bound students, and opportunities for faculty, staff, and students.
- We will continue to use natural and inexpensive opportunities to make the broader public aware of the Associated Colleges of the South and its member colleges. This includes press releases when appropriate, ongoing visibility on social media and the promotion of the collaborative research projects and work supported by ACS.
We believe that these areas of focus and the initiatives related to them put the association in a strong position for future relevance and benefit. This round of planning has been unique because of the timing of the COVID pandemic. The pandemic forced us to innovate and pivot activity in interesting ways while in the planning process. As a result, portions of this strategic plan articulate changes already implemented or underway.
In addition, we expect that the following will continue to modify and inform the ways in which the organization lives out and enhances this plan:
- As we continue to gain experience with the technology we put into place over the last couple of years, we expect to find new ways in which ACS can enable and make easier the networking, learning and collaboration of our members.
- The creation of a private and secure ACS Community online is allowing us to better communicate directly with faculty and staff at each of our member colleges (over 1,300 ACS faculty and staff are part of the community). We continue to work strategically on how best to improve our ability to communicate broadly with the ACS community of faculty and staff.
- We expect that the discussions and conversation that are a part of the 2023 Learning Summit in September will contribute to the planning and direction of programs at ACS.
- Finally, the pandemic forced ACS to be nimble and responsive to changes in the higher education landscape. We expect further changes in the environment to keep ACS nimble in its ability to respond to the needs of its membership.