Creating Effective Vision and Mission Statements for Online Education

Concurrent Session 10

Brief Abstract

As online education matures, the need to plan strategically for its growth and support has become urgent.  This workshop aimed at those responsible for creating, managing and developing online education will provide the tools needed to craft powerful vision and mission statements for online education programs nimbly and effectively. 


I am the chair of the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and co-founder of its M.A. in Emerging Media. I have been studying the impact of the Internet on Journalism and other issues related to information technology for the past 20 years and author of Free for All: The Internet's Transformation of Journalism and co-author of The Online Journalist.

Extended Abstract

Mission statements and vision statements are essential for strategic planning. According to the management-consulting firm Bain and Company, since the 1990s, mission statements have been ranked as one of the top ten management tools in the corporate world and the satisfaction rate for those invest the time and effort in developing and refining mission statements is high (Rigby 2015). A landmark study reported that the senior executives overwhelming believe that mission statements both helped to unify organizations and establish internal clarity and direction (Mullane 2002).

As colleges and universities have moved towards deploying contemporary corporate management techniques, strategic planning has become a regular and periodic planning exercise in the academic world. In the best-case scenarios, the mission statement and the vision statement of those plans serve as the rudders that guide the choices made in the remainder of the strategic planning process. Choices must be made and defended according to their fidelity to the mission and vision both in the planning process and in the implementation of the plan. 

Unfortunately, as with many other corporate management techniques generally, and strategic planning specifically, the model used for mission and vision statements in the private and the non-profit sectors has not fit comfortably within the organizational structure of the university. Nevertheless, crafting mission statements has become commonplace in the academic world generally and frequently come to serve as the benchmark by which the success or failure can be measured.  Moreover, as the use of mission statements has grown at the institutional level, their use has migrated to the departmental and administrative unit level as well.

As online education expands and matures in traditional, non-profit colleges and universities, the need to plan strategically for its growth and to develop strategies to support (or improve) its quality has become more urgent.  While over the past decade, online education in traditional non-profit often emerged in an ad hoc fashion, over the past five years the challenges in determining the role of online education within the context of the primary academic endeavor, as well as creating and executing online programs has risen on the overall academic agenda. (King and Alperstein 2014).

Understanding the concept and role of mission and vision statements is significant for planning strategically for online education. But crafting appropriate mission and vision statements face several challenges. First, given the loosely coupled nature of colleges and universities, any planning that takes place within individual units has to be justified within the context of the university’s overall strategic plan. Online education is no different.  Colleges and universities launch online educational programs for a variety of reasons but in most cases, those reasons will be justified in some way by the strategic plan. And on those campuses in which online education is a low priority, finding those aspects of the overall strategic plan that can be used to justify online education can be the difference between success and failure in new plans and initiatives. Moreover, planning strategically for online education is premised on the notion that part of the planning process is geared towards gathering the appropriate resources to achieve the desired objectives. Lodging those objectives within the context of the overall strategic plan is critical. Consequently, planning strategically requires an appropriate understanding of the overall mission and vision of the institution as a way to insure buy in and support from important decision-makers.

Secondly, a mission and vision are essential components for online education’s ongoing development. Done right, the mission and vision statements orient planners towards goals agreed upon by all or most of the stakeholders and easily communicated to other interested parties.  And as Lewis Carroll once remarked, “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  Without intentional choices, the end of the road for online education may not at all be what is desired. Settling on a mission and vision is no trivial task. It has to reflect the interests and goals of the those responsible for moving online education forward in a given setting, while, at the same time win support from those who influence the allocation of resources needed to achieve those goals, even when online education may not be a significant priority for them. Moreover, the mission statement may have to be used to defend online education from its detractors.

Finally, mission statements at the program and department level are essential tools for assessment (Hofstrand, 2016). The struggle to develop online education is ongoing. To compete for resources, leaders of online education in traditional colleges and university must demonstrate that some goal is being achieved and the investments are being well used. Clear mission and vision statements are essential to that process.

This workshop is geared to people responsible for creating, managing and developing online education in their institution. It will provide the tools needed to craft powerful vision and mission statements for their online education initiatives nimbly and effectively.  In it, participants will

1. Clarify why both mission and vision statements can be effective in planning for online education and the difference .between them

2.  Devise a strategy for crafting a mission and vision statement in their institution.

3.  Engage in a three-step technique that can lay the foundation for an effective mission statement.

4.  Draft a preliminary mission or vision statement for online educational initiative at their university.

            This workshop will be interactive and hands-on.  At the conclusion, participants will have the first draft of a useful mission or vision statement that they can take back to their institutions and share with their colleagues for further development and refinement.

            The responsibility for developing online educational programs often distributed among many departments at different institutions.  In many cases, an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary center for teaching and learning has primary responsibility for online programs. Sometimes individual academic departments or schools have assumed the lead in developing online education, at least for their own department or departments.  Sometimes the responsibility for online education lies in the Information Technology group, the Office of Academic Affairs or a dean’s office.  The techniques taught in this workshop can be applied regardless of the precise configuration for the management of online education in any given institution.


Rigby, D. (2015). Management Tools 2015: An Executive’s Guide. Bain and Company. Retrieved from:

Mullane, J. (2002). The mission statement is a strategic tool: when used properly. Management Decision, 40:5, pp. 448-455. Retrieved from:

King, Elliot and Neil Alperstein, Best Practices in Online Program Development, (London and New York: Routledge) 2014

Hofstrand, D. (2016). Mission and Vision Statements: A Roadmap of Where You Want to Go and How to Get There. Ag Decision Maker, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. (August). Retrieved from: