Frequently-Asked Questions About Salem's Distinctive Focus on Health Leadership

Q1. Why is Salem making this change now?

A. The landscape of American higher education is shifting dramatically with rising costs, changing demographics, flat or decreasing enrollment levels, and the effects of technology. Especially for small private colleges, the need to offer a truly distinctive and valuable experience that demonstrates the return on investment in a college education is no longer optional: it is a matter of survival. While these changes were on the radar as early as 2013, today they are amplified by the impacts of coronavirus

Entering the planning process, Salem’s faculty, staff and trustees recognized that for the institution to survive and thrive, we had to change. Salem needed to look deeply and analytically at our position and undertake innovations congruent with our core values and relevant to the future.  We needed to reassess how we could best prepare Salem women for leadership and careers of the future, and where we needed to update our approach.

Research confirms that health-related fields are growing rapidly and that women’s leadership is critically needed in them.  Salem College can educate young women to become the leaders who define and improve health in the future; and, in doing so, we secure our own institutional future as a leader in women’s education. We can do this by developing an innovative and distinctive focus on health leadership.

Q2. What does health leadership mean?

A. Health leadership focus at Salem College will develop women who profoundly improve the health trajectory of our world. Our graduates will modernize laws and policies, revolutionize research, and practice and transform clinical care in ways that improve health for everyone.

Health-related issues and questions will form the lens through which women will learn.  We will foster innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit in an experiential approach to learning, preparing women for professions in health policy, health law, bioethics, health advocacy, pre-medicine, health administration, epidemiology and other health-related fields.  Every Salem graduate will be ready to lead change by drawing on a comprehensive, fully integrated program of academics, intentional leadership development, international engagement, experiential learning, and life-long networks with women leaders who share a passion to create a healthier world.

Q3. What kind of research was used to make this decision?

A. The strategic planning process engaged almost 200 stakeholders--faculty, staff, alumnae-- in focus groups, town hall meetings, a retreat, and an Innovation Forum.  Vision, Values, and Strategic Directions  were approved by the Board of Trustees and endorsed by the faculty in the summer of 2018. 

In 2019, the Board of Trustees formed task forces to work on future planning for both the College and Academy and also engaged CREDO, a nationally-recognized higher education consulting firm to support Salem’s research and scenario planning.  We evaluated extensive national data and literature on student interests and employment trends, including many articles from academic journals, as well as proprietary data and other sources. 

Studies indicate that young women of today are interested in careers where they can make a difference in the world particularly through health, and that the health sector will continue to be a source of future employment. Salem’s geographic proximity to several leading health-related entities was also considered. 

Q4. Is the focus on health leadership too narrow?

A. Our vision is broad: that Salem College will be recognized as a global leader in undergraduate education preparing women to create a better world through health leadership. This is not about limiting our scope to future doctors or nurses, although our strong pre-medical program is certainly part of the plan.   Salem graduates will lead global health organizations; fulfill their civic responsibility by developing health policies that improve lives; advocate for those who need a voice; innovate and deliver treatment solutions for catastrophic diseases; and inspire others to relentlessly search for solutions to the world’s most formidable health challenges.

Students today seek programs that match their personal interests and goals. With our distinctive focus and broad vision, Salem’s curriculum will be truly different, setting us apart from other colleges. The focus on health leadership is narrow enough to be distinctive, but balanced by our liberal arts curriculum, Salem will be able to continue to attract women interested in changing the world-- joining the generations of courageous, ambitious Salem women who came before them.

Q5. Will Salem still be a liberal arts college?

A. Yes.  Health leadership requires the skills gained through liberal arts learning, such as critical thinking, written and oral communication, and analytical thinking.  Colleges and universities desiring to thrive will have to connect the dots between liberal arts and the workplace more diligently than in

the past, and Salem will be at the forefront of this innovation. We will ensure balance between academics and co-curricular programs through problem-solving pedagogy and experiential learning.

Q6. What will many of our future graduates be doing after they leave Salem?

A. The career opportunities are vast and evolving quickly. Click Health Careers to see a sample of those in need of leadership right now. 

Q7. How will the curriculum change?  Will our majors change?

A. We will intensify the classroom experience with teaching and learning that focuses on problem-solving.  Details of specific courses and co-curricular enrichment experiences will be planned by a faculty and staff group, assisted by a national curriculum developer whom we will engage this summer.  We will keep you informed about this process.

Q8. Don’t many schools already focus on health care?

A. Our plan does not focus on health care, which is a more narrowly-defined segment that primarily focuses on clinical care.  Salem will focus on health leadership, preparing women to lead health-related organizations and professions, a much broader area.   Certainly, we will continue our strong pre-medical curricula; but we will be adding courses that expand the view of health, such as on global policy, community health, epidemiology, entrepreneurship and administration, environmental health and preventative medicine. 

While some schools that offer health-care training or hospital administration, for example, we have identified no colleges or universities that are so thoroughly infusing all their courses and co-curricular programs with the knowledge and skills that health leadership requires.

Q9. Do we think this plan will attract more students to Salem?  Why?

A. Yes, we do.  We know that today’s college-bound high school students have high interest levels in health-related careers. (Already, 34% of our students are STEM majors.)  We know that women’s voices are greatly needed in these fields.  Research tells us that more than 50% of women are interested in health-related fields, and there are not comprehensive programs to prepare them.  We are confident that the first women’s school in the nation--with an already strong academic reputation--is the absolute best place to nurture and educate women to be the future leaders who will shape these critical careers.  A unique focus, differentiating Salem from other colleges actually decreases our number of competitors!

Q10. What about current College students and those who will enroll this fall--2020?

A. Their requirements will not change because of the focus on health leadership. They may be able to enroll in newly added or revised courses--based on capacity and majors; and they will benefit from other programming such as guest speakers. And we will welcome them into the Salem alumnae body with admiration and enthusiasm!

We will begin implementing the new initiative for students entering in fall, 2021.

Q11. How will this change Salem’s culture?

A. We expect it to make our culture even stronger, with more students to participate in Salem’s traditions and extra-curricular activities.  We will be conscientious about preserving our rich heritage and celebrating what we have nurtured for nearly 250 years.

Q12. What will the new plan mean for Salem Academy?

A. The Board, along with Academy staff and alumnae leaders, have been simultaneously working on a separate strategic plan for Salem Academy.  The first step was announced in March, 2020--the Academy’s move to the original campus.  Additional academic plans appropriate to high school students are underway and will be shared later this year.  We know that a strong Academy and a strong College reinforce one another and reflect the principles that have always kept Salem strong.

Q13. How will future students be different from Salem’s current college students?

A. We expect our future students to possess the same love of learning and appreciation for Salem’s educational mission as past and current students; and they will be drawn here because they are interested in health leadership.  We expect to maintain the diversity that has enriched our campus in recent years.  We expect to attract students regionally, nationally and internationally.  And we expect the core values of Salem to endure and inform their education. This initiative grows from Salem’s institutional DNA.

Q14. How long will it take to implement this plan?

A. Our curriculum development will begin early this summer, and we will begin implementing the plan with students entering in fall, 2021.  Recruitment efforts for those students will be underway soon.  The plan will unfold in phases as that class progresses through four years. 

Q15. Where will the money come from to implement this plan?

A. Our plan will be implemented in phases, and as the curriculum and co-curriculum details of each phase are developed, we will continue to project costs and determine how to raise funds to pay for them.   We are confident that our distinctive focus will open new sources of funding--those underwriting on many aspects of health--- that have not been accessible to Salem in the past.  Our focus will also allow us to form new partnerships with health-related organizations and businesses, leading to internships, mentoring programs and prospective job offers. The Board of Trustees is committed to the principle that our new model be perfectly aligned with our pillar of financial stability, and our future sustainability. 

Q16.  How does this initiative affect the recruitment of Salem’s next president?

A. The Presidential Search Committee will seek a president who is passionate about leading this initiative and whose experience is an asset to our health-leadership focus.

Q17. What is the impact of this plan on faculty and staff?

A. Representatives of both groups have been active participants in strategic planning.  College faculty and staff will be engaged in planning the new and revised courses and in co-curricular planning.  We expect the initiative to attract talented professionals who can contribute to the quality of all our programs. Recruitment of faculty and staff will evolve to reflect the pedagogy of the initiative.