MillsNext: A Bridge Strategic Plan, 2018–22

Making global learning and real-world skills affordable and accessible through inclusive academic excellence

January 2019 Update

Mills has been breaking barriers since 1852. MillsNext embraces that legacy by envisioning a creative, collaborative, student-centered college rooted in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area. It offers an accessible, transformative education consistent with Mills’ history of opening its doors to those not always well-served at less welcoming institutions. Gender and racial justice matter at Mills, and MillsNext moves both ahead.

Mills was the first women’s college west of the Mississippi (1885), the first to have a laboratory school for aspiring teachers (1926), the first to offer a computer science major (1974), and the first to adopt a transgender-inclusive undergraduate admissions policy (2014). Mills focused on educating women when they were denied entrance to most institutions, and it welcomed Jewish refugees from the Holocaust in Europe when others did not.[1]

MillsNext adopts the same welcoming approach to gifted first-generation and underserved college students, as well as students who seek a diverse, equity-oriented community. At Mills, the energy and ideas of those students meet top-ranked faculty who embrace learning and celebrate students’ desire to make an impact. MillsNext aims to make global learning and real-world skills affordable and accessible by focusing on inclusive academic excellence. Our commitment to inclusive excellence means that every student at Mills will have access to a high-quality, practical education characterized by individualized attention and rich faculty-mentored experiences.[2] Our undergraduates are exposed to the transformative power of the liberal arts, providing them with the tools and confidence to become leaders, innovators, and creative problem solvers. Our graduate students participate in critical inquiry and self reflection, hands-on professional experiences, and opportunities to create, educate, and innovate alongside faculty who are active and recognized in their disciplines, their communities, and the world.

First articulated in 2017, the blueprint for MillsNext continues to be refined and extended, building on Mills’ historic strengths across academic disciplines and leveraging the potential of strategic partnerships and new opportunities. Mills’ five-year strategic plan (2013–18) focused on six imperatives, each of which remains relevant.[3]MillsNext foregrounds student success within a collaborative and innovative network of faculty, staff, and students, celebrating Mills as a lodestone of progressive education. Linking student success to Mills’ visionary legacy brings the potential for greater prominence and a sustainable economic foundation for Mills’ educational mission.

Distinguishing Mills’ transformative education is a determination to make global learning, acquisition of real-world skills, and academic excellence affordable and accessible across the historic barriers of race, class, and gender. This determination responds to rising concerns about both the value of higher education in a society of increasing economic inequality and the impact of technological and social change on how we learn, live, and work. Those concerns have changed the playing field for small colleges and large universities alike.

MillsNext initiatives include engaging with strategic partners like UC Berkeley, California community colleges, and performing arts organizations in the Bay Area. They also include reorganizing and reinvesting in academics and providing essential co-curricular and administrative support. Launched in 2018, MPOWER is Mills’ signature undergraduate experience, and it reflects the MillsNext priority of integrated support of student success. At the graduate level, Mills is investing in new programs, revising existing programs to better meet the needs of our students, and embracing the opportunities for pedagogical innovation offered by digital learning modalities.

Another MillsNext initiative involves assessing the functions and uses of Mills’ building and grounds and the needs of the communities around the campus to create dynamic forms of engagement between neighbors, public and private entities, and students. This engagement will improve Mills’ infrastructure and environmental sustainability, create new revenue sources, and expand learning opportunities for students. Projects like LAMMPS (Laurel Access to Mills, Maxwell Park, and Seminary), a publicly funded, neighborhood improvement effort with an initial phase slated for completion in 2019, and the Lokey School’s Center for Transformative Action, a hub of research and consulting for local government agencies and non-governmental organizations, model the community engagement that MillsNext’s campus planning will follow.

MillsNext also looks inside Mills for ideas and innovation. A dozen projects brought forward by Mills faculty, staff, and students were funded through a MillsNext innovation fund. Many formed the basis of creative shifts in Mills’ academic and co-curricular programs. For example, alternative spring break and J-term courses in Ecuador, Honduras, and Mexico were proposed, funded, and carried out in 2018 and 2019 to add global learning opportunities to Mills’ curriculum in economically sustainable and accessible ways. New iterations of existing programs, along with more programs for adult learners through Bachelor’s Degree Completion (BDC), are underway through deepening strategic partnerships and creative educational consortia. Measuring the success of these efforts, and then adapting to support student success, will help Mills students become the critical thinkers, problem solvers, and change agents that the world, the Bay Area, and the City of Oakland, needs.

MillsNext will ensure that the legacy of excellence, inclusion, and experimentation at the core of Mills’ past remains at the center of Mills’ future. Look for updates as MillsNext evolves, and see below for all that’s already happening under MillsNext.

Global Initiatives

  • Focusing on equity and student success, with a concentration on student retention and graduation rates, as MPOWER principles are integrated throughout undergraduate and transfer student groups and graduate programs are reimagined and refocused
  • Optimizing the campus through re-envisioning land use, development, and partnerships
  • Connecting to K-12, community colleges, and community organizations to raise Mills’ visibility and expand educational opportunities
  • Using digital technology to create accessible learning pathways for students and build more online graduate programs and hybrid undergraduate courses
  • Using data effectively to inform administrative and academic decision making, program review, and improvement

Specific Initiatives

Focusing on Equity and Student Success

  • Launching a historic tuition reset reduced costs for students and brought our sticker price down by 36%
  • Becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), a federal designation that reflects our commitment to the education and leadership development of Latinx students, and expands eligibility for grants and awards
  • Deepening outreach and expanding on-campus opportunities for girls’ and women’s leadership organizations, including the GE Girls, Girl Scouts, Girls Leadership, Go Girls, and Techbridge Girls
  • Inaugurating MPOWER, Mills’ signature undergraduate experience
  • Reorganizing advising, careers, and global learning services
  • Hiring and integrating academic navigators

Celebrating Oakland

  • Completing the renovation of Lisser Hall, which led to the creation of a performing arts center dedicated to promoting local performing arts, student opportunities, and cultural equity, as well as an artist-in-residence program in dance and theater
  • Elevating Mills’ support of the Oakland Promise by doubling the number of students from the Oakland Unified School District enrolled at Mills and adding scholarship and programmatic support for Oakland Promise students
  • Initiating a campus planning process to identify environmentally and economically sustainable uses and partners for Mills’ beautiful 135-acre, East Oakland campus

Developing Partnerships

  • Initiating a 3+2 Engineering Program with UC Berkeley that allows Mills students to earn a BA from Mills in three years and a BS in engineering from UC Berkeley in two additional years, with guaranteed admission to UC Berkeley’s program for qualified students
  • Joining a California-wide effort to increase transfers from community colleges to independent colleges and universities with more pathways to community colleges
  • Developing partnerships and scholarship opportunities with Oakland, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Berkeley unified school districts
  • Launching the Center for Transformative Action in the Lokey School to connect local businesses, community organizations, and government agencies

Leveraging the Impact of Tech

  • Launching Mills’ first-ever online degree program, an MA in educational leadership
  • Developing and hosting an annual conference for women of color in tech, TechIntersections
  • Hosting and integrating Google’s intensive pilot course in applied machine learning
  • Piloting the use of iPads in summer bridge programs, digital humanities, and athletics, physical education, and recreation programs

[1] For example, an endowed chair, a concert series, and a street on campus are named in honor of Professor Darius Milhaud, a brilliant composer and beloved teacher who served on the Mills faculty for decades after fleeing Europe in 1940 because of persecution against Jews.

[2] The Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) has articulated the value of inclusive excellence in a series of important reports highlighting the importance of equity and inclusion in preserving civic life and democratic culture and promoting academic and career success.

[3] Those six goals: Developing a curriculum with a purpose in a changing world; Creating more flexible ways to obtain a Mills education; Strengthening our commitment to inclusion, social justice, and sustainability; Internationalizing Mills; Promoting a vibrant and inclusive campus life; and Developing and sustaining partnerships. See Mills College Strategic Plan 2013–18: Preparing Students for the 21st Century and the summary of progress toward its goals prepared in 2018.