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WNEC President Caprio Writes the Book on Strategic Planning
Dr. Anthony Caprio

Dr. Anthony Caprio said careful planning has long been part of the WNEC business model.

When Anthony Caprio took the reins at Western New England College, he found a school that some would say had peaked in terms of programs, facilities, and national reputation. But he thought otherwise. And through a series of strategic planning initiatives, he has helped take the school and its acronym to new heights in terms of recognition and respect.

Anthony Caprio, president of Springfield’s Western New England College, said he remembers many times when, in academic, professional, or even social circles, mention of the college he has now led for a decade was greeted with quizzical looks.

“At conferences or other events across the country, I’ve heard ‘WNEC’ with a question mark after it plenty of times,” he said of the school’s once-only locally known acronym. “But today there is much less confusion about us. I don’t hear the question mark as much; I hear, ‘oh, yes, WNEC.’ It’s very refreshing.”

This surge in recognition and respect isn’t a coincidence, he said. Rather, it’s one result of a series of strategic planning initiatives that has involved WNEC administrators, faculty members, students, and alumni. The work, which constitutes what amounts to two five-year plans, with a third due to start in 2008, has manifested itself in everything from new facilities and programs to a stronger focus on development.

It all started with a white paper Caprio drafted soon after arriving on the Wilbraham Road campus. It detailed his many positive first impressions of the school, but focused much more on where the school could go, than where it was or had been.

“I wanted to capture what I thought I saw those first few months,” he said, noting that he saw an enthusiastic staff, a solid physical campus, and a strong curriculum. “One had the impression that we’d reached our height. The college was financially stable; we had happy alums and a good reputation. It struck me that an institution with such a solid base had so much potential.”

To realize that potential, he convinced the WNEC community to embrace the concept of strategic planning, and, working with several constituencies, went about setting some ambitious goals involving everything from enrollment to the endowment — and crafting methodologies for meeting them.

The result has been a distinct cultural change at the 88-year-old school, one grounded in the notion of continuous improvement.

“We essentially redefined our mission,” said Caprio. “We focused on the unique things of the school, like the integration of professional and liberal arts learning.”

The college includes four schools, three of which offer undergraduate degrees in the areas of arts and sciences, engineering, and business. Graduate degrees in engineering and business administration are also offered, and WNEC’s law school offers a juris doctor as well as an LL.M program in estate planning and elder law.

In order to create a better overall college experience, Caprio said he and his team continue to create opportunities for students to cross over from the school of their major into other areas, through co-curricular programs and integrated education initiatives. In addition, WNEC’s strategic planning process also includes physical growth and change, as well as improvements to many of its outreach efforts, including development.

It’s all geared, says Caprio, toward educating “the total human being.”

School of Thought

As part of that first strategic planning initiative, for instance, Caprio focused on the college’s fundraising efforts. While WNEC was and remains financially stable, he said, years of fiscal prudence are more the reason than robust development. Its endowment, for example, is modest at about $43 million.

“We’ve always operated in a fiscally prudent way, with hard work and careful budgeting,” he said, “but we hadn’t cultivated that stability.”

To spur growth, an annual giving program was instituted, drawing on the strength of the college’s alumni base, which at the time numbered about 28,000. Today, that number is about 37,000.

And on campus, operations at many of the college’s buildings, such as the campus health and wellness center, were re-examined, so the student body at large could better utilize them. Caprio said a team of exercise and athletics professionals from across the country volunteered their time to consult on the wellness center improvement project, making recommendations to improve the facility’s accessibility and the college’s overall athletic presence.

Physically, many expansion projects began, including construction of a new welcome center new dormitories, the Golden Bear multi-use stadium, and other projects. The college also purchased 23 acres of land from the Springfield Diocese on Plumtree Road which has yet to be developed, but brought the campus’ physical presence up to 215 acres.

There are plans on the drawing board for continued expansion, said Caprio, including moving the Western New England College Law and Business Center for Advancing Entrepreneurship, now located in STCC’s Technology Park, on campus in conjunction with construction of an addition to the law school.

The entrepreneurship center, created in 2005, provides graduate business and law students with an opportunity to provide practical consultation to entrepreneurs starting new ventures or taking businesses to the next level, and is an example of how the college is using outreach to help the community (in this case, the business community) while creating real-life learning experiences for students.

“There are a lot of plans in development,” said Caprio, “which we’ll move forward with in the same way as we have in the past. We moved forward with a five-year plan, and gradually checked everything off the list.”

WNEC is now in the midst of a second round of strategic initiatives, launched in 2003 and slated for completion in 2008. One goal within that plan — increasing enrollment to 2,500 — already has been met.

“In turn, faculty continues to grow, and physical improvements will be made in keeping with the needs of the growing enrollment,” said Caprio. “We suspect that in the next year, we’ll bring that number up again, and focus on a new enrollment goal.”

To make that growth possible, a comprehensive capital campaign, dubbed ‘Transformations,’ was launched the same year the plan was unveiled. The campaign went public in 2006, and will conclude this year; its objective is to raise $20 million for a wide array of improvements, including:

  • a boost to the financial aid endowment (a $5 million goal);
  • academic quality initiatives, including an additions to the S. Prestley Blake Law Center and the D’Amour Library, and new classrooms facilities;
  • student enrichment, including renovations to the St. Germain Campus Center; and
  • the Fund for Western New England College ($2.5 million), a flexible account for improvements in such areas as educational technology, faculty enhancement, and community outreach.

Degrees of Change

Meanwhile, work continues on the overall strategic plan, including projects to further integrate liberal and professional learning, by putting into place, for instance, a ‘learning beyond the classroom’ general education requirement for all students, which includes internship programs.

“It’s a program that is meant to create reflective experiences and opportunities to apply theory,” said Caprio, “and an ongoing goal is to break down the silos between the college’s schools.

“We started to do that in areas like law and business,” he continued, “where courses were developed as well as the center for advancing entrepreneurship.”

Initiatives to further involve alumni, improve campus technology, and increase the college’s national presence are also ongoing.

“We really went full steam with technology innovations,” Caprio added, noting that it’s another area where existing strengths are being augmented. WNEC was the developing campus for the Manhattan online learning system, for instance, now in use on many college campuses and in high schools across the region and the country.

Caprio said that as the second five-year strategic plan winds down, there are still some questions as to specific objectives and game plans to be included in the third. But he said the college’s direction remains clearly defined, as well as the areas where continued improvement will be directed.

“We’ll start again by looking at existing challenges and implementing goals,” he said, “such as providing more international education opportunities for our students in this increasingly global climate.”

WNEC will also introduce its first doctoral program this year, a highly specific degree in applied behavioral analysis, often used in work with the autistic.

“It’s a natural expansion of our already strong psychology program, and it is a highly focused program, but we’ll be one of only five in the country.

“We are looking very seriously at other curricular developments like the applied behavioral analysis degree,” he added. “We’re always looking at ways to be more innovative, and we have some very interesting ideas, some of which I expect will come to fruition soon.”

Asked, and Answered

Caprio said development programs aimed at increasing enrollment and broadening and enhancing students’ overall learning experience will bring long-term benefits for the college. There will be a larger group of alumni, for example, and, therefore, more potential contributors to the college’s mission.

“Many of our graduates will move on to do great things, and as our school becomes more well-known because of that, in turn our graduates’ diplomas will be of more value,” he said, adding that a positive side effect of that will be fewer people raising their eyebrows when WNEC is mentioned.

“I think, more and more often, people know exactly what kind of school this is.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]