Mission Statements

Mission and Vision Statements describe a university’s purpose, goals, and values. This is an important because there are so many different higher-ed institutions, so providing a mission and/or vision statement serves to differentiate one institution from another. For this post, I pulled mission statements from Harvey Mudd College (small private liberal arts/engineering school) and Virginia Tech (large public university) to illustrate the similarities and differences between mission statements. Here is Harvey Mudd College’s mission statement:

“Harvey Mudd College seeks to educate engineers, scientists, and mathematicians well versed in all of these areas and in the humanities and the social sciences so that they may assume leadership in their fields with a clear understanding of the impact of their work on society.”

And Virginia Tech’s mission statement:
“Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life. “

Clearly, VT’s mission statement is much longer than HMC’s. VT also has a more “complete” mission statement; it’s easy to identify exactly what VT strives to accomplish. For instance, VT cites outreach and engagement as two goals. HMC does not mention either in their mission statement. Does this mean HMC is not committed to giving back to the community? Most likely not; public service is critical in today’s world and is performed by a vast majority (if not all) of the higher-ed institutions. Thus, I can reasonably speculate that graduates of HMC are well aware of the value of community service, even though it is not explicitly stated in the mission statement.

Length aside, the two mission statements outline different goals for their graduates. From digging deeper into HMC’s website, HMC classifies itself as a liberal arts school with a focus on engineering. This is reflected in the mission statement; HMC students learn not just their major (some STEM-related field), but are equally informed in humanities and social sciences so that they can fully understand the impact of their leadership on society. I highlighted “leadership” because this is a powerful term: HMC wants graduates to become not just fluent engineers, but leaders in their discipline. It’s clear that HMC puts a tremendous emphasis on grooming their students for the much-dreaded “real world.” This is consistent with their reputation: HMC is well-known for their stellar undergraduate teaching, leading to a 6+ figure mid-career salary.

On the other hand, VT’s mission statement focuses on creating and disseminating knowledge. While the mission statement certainly covers every facet expected of a large public land-grant university (teaching, research, outreach, etc.), it does not have the particular focus on students seen in HMC’s mission statement. This is acceptable, because VT was not designed to be a teaching-focused undergraduate-only institution like HMC. Although VT’s mission statement is more detailed, it seems too generic. It didn’t really tell me any specifics, such as the type of teaching focus (new pedagogy, technology-enabled, etc.), I was looking for. I was drawn more towards HMC’s statement because of its brevity and clarity. I could immediately tell what kinds of graduates HMC produces, just from reading the 1-sentence mission statement.

One of the suggested articles, What do universities want to be? A content analysis of mission and vision statements worldwide, found that virtually no mission statements included some sort of quantitative figure–which holds true for the two missions statements I selected. I suspect this is because including some number as a metric acts as a ceiling for the university. For example, if VT says that they want to “bring in $1 million in research grants this year,” $1 million acts as a “cap.” Why should VT be limited to just $1 million? What if they don’t achieve that metric in a given year? Should the Board of Visitors have to approve a new mission statement on a regular basis to accommodate economic trends, such as inflation ($1m now does not hold the same value as $1m ten years ago)? Although it would be nice to get a feel for the kinds of numbers VT (and other higher-ed institutions) hope to produce, I believe they don’t include such statements because it may inhibit the underlying purpose of the university.

One thought on “Mission Statements”

  1. I like your discussion. As you mentioned the mission statement is about the purpose and goal of a university and explains what the university wants and what is the delivery, simply saying. But I think the brevity of HMC’s mission statement and VT’s might be because of, as you said, the group of students that participate in both university’s. VT’s mission somehow includes both undergrad and graduate education, but HMC’s is briefed in undergraduate.
    However, it is mentioned in your post about how successful HMC has been to address its goals, but nothing mentioned about the public view of VT.


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