Leveraging localness in strategic planning: Little Priest Tribal College’s whole-community approach

In 2020, Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC) in Winnebago, Nebraska, began the intricate process of developing a new strategic plan centered around student success and inclusivity. Manoj Patil had recently become the college president and had a vision for the type of strategic plan that could best support the college’s student success efforts. From the beginning, the college embarked on an inclusive and rigorous process that would ensure the resulting plan reflected the needs and goals of the entire Little Priest community.

Patil said that while he mapped out the planning process, college employees at all levels were heavily involved from the beginning. That includes naming the strategic plan: Staff were invited to write their ideas down, and the name that received the most votes would be selected as the strategic plan title. “My vote was not picked,” Patil admitted, “but that shows the inclusivity of the whole process.”


Creating a plan shaped by the community

To ensure that all members of the community had a chance to be heard during the strategic planning process, the college set up a series of focus groups and used ten questions for each. “They had a lot of empowerment from the beginning. We really wanted to hear from them,” Patil said. Either President Patil or one of the colleges’ two vice presidents, Dr. Loretta Broberg and Mark Vasina, would lead each focus group, hearing directly from stakeholders who voiced concerns or offered suggestions.

After holding the focus group, senior management reviewed every response, using their findings to set goals for each strategic priority. To ensure that the strategic planning process continued to be inclusive, “we presented these findings to the employees. We closed the campus and had them critique our goals and objectives and come up with their own.”

LPTC staff meet with social distancing in place to discuss the strategic plan.
LPTC staff gather with social distancing measures in place to discuss the new strategic plan. Photo courtesy of Little Priest Tribal College.

Once they had a version of the strategic plan approved by the majority of staff, leadership created a budget and timeline for each objective and finally presented the plan to the college board.

The entire process took nine months. So far, feedback has been largely positive, particularly in regards to the intentional focus on community inclusion. “This is the first time a president has ever presented to the tribal council from our college,” Patil said.


Cultural heritage was a top priority

The name of the five-year strategic plan, “Pathway to Success,” reflects the focus on student success that runs through the whole document. The strategic plan’s title also includes a HoChunk translation — Raxurukše Nā̜gu — which reflects the college’s first strategic priority area: HoChunk Cultural Heritage.

Little Priest Tribal College shall promote the preservation of the HoChunk language and culture through the development of coursework and in collaboration with the Winnebago community, and the integration of HoChunk language and culture in all aspects of the college.

Specific initiatives outlined under this strategic priority include the creation of LPTC Elders’ Day, for students and staff to listen to and learn from tribal elders twice a year. The college also plans to share an annual cultural calendar, marking important HoChunk events and observances throughout the year, and to implement bilingual signage throughout the campus.

“You can see the clear statement in the strategic plan,” Patil said. “It says to include the entire community for culture and language preservation. It’s the community’s language and culture. So we’re bringing everybody to the table.”

LPTC leadership team members gather around a table to discuss strategic priorities.
Leadership team members review and discuss each strategic priority. Photo courtesy of Little Priest Tribal College.


Using data to inform strategy

While the strategic planning process included mass participation from across the community, it was also informed by data. One striking trend among TCUs that the college highlighted is a consistent decline of male enrollment — LPTC’s student body was 24 percent male and 76 percent female in fall 2020. Looking at national data, college leadership could see that male students tend to go into Associate of Applied Science (AAS) programs, which provide degrees or certificates that directly translate to workforce opportunities.

“Little Priest does not have any AAS courses right now,” Patil said, “So we used that data and decided to create three CTE [career and technical education] programs in plumbing, HVAC, and electrical.” The college hopes that these workforce-training programs will not only increase male enrollment, but will also support the community by training workers who can use their skills to serve the reservation.

LPTC also looked at student performance and gateway course completion. Eighty percent of new students of students who enrolled in LPTC after graduating from public school ended up taking a remedial math course in fall 2020 (of 32 new degree-seeking students, 24 enrolled in Math Pre-Algebra). To support student success — the second priority area in the strategic plan — the college will partner with Winnebago public schools in an effort to reduce the number of LPTC students in foundational math studies. Similarly, LPTC is expanding their free “summer bridge” reading and writing programs for K–12 students to strengthen college preparation.

“We’re going to see what we can do from eighth grade to twelfth grade,” Patil said. “You can’t change what students have already learned once they enter college, you have to reach them before they come to college.”

“This plan ... has touched every person on the reservation.”


The first steps on the Pathway to Success

To monitor the implementation and efficacy of the Pathway to Success strategic plan, each department will write an annual operating plan (AOP) and submit quarterly reports. Leadership will review these reports and see where objectives are being met and where initiatives may be falling short of their goals. Leadership will annually present their findings to the college board, outlining how they will adjust course in order to address any gaps in the following year.

When asked if there’s one piece of advice he would give to other college presidents beginning to undertake a new strategic plan, Patil said inclusivity is key. “Empower every employee and every community member, because it’s not your college. It’s the community’s college.”

The process is challenging, and demanding of everyone involved, but Patil says this inclusive process has been rewarding. “One of the things I feel proudest of about this plan is that is has touched every person on the reservation,” he said. “That’s the biggest achievement to me.”


Little Priest Tribal College (LPTC) was chartered by the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska in 1996. LPTC’s mission statement is “Be strong and educate my children,” inspired by the vision that its namesake Chief Little Priest had for his community.

ATD works with LPTC, as well as 32 other Tribal Colleges and Universities through Project Success, an initiative administered by Ascendium Education Group on behalf of its partners and the U.S. Department of Education.

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