University mission statements

Some background before discussing mission statements….

Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) is a university-wide initiative offered by the Graduate School at Virginia Tech. Through the implementation of unique programs and opportunities, TGE pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and aims to significantly change how graduate students prepare to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals.  One of these programs is the Future Professoriate graduate certificate.

Every semester for the past 15+ years, I’ve taught a graduate course entitled Preparing the Future Professoriate which is one of the required courses to earn the certificate. The purpose of the class is to provide graduate students the opportunity to learn about universities and especially the roles and responsibilities of faculty members.  Each semester 55+ master’s and doctoral students from our 8 different colleges (e.g., Engineering, Science, Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Business, Architecture and Urban Studies, Natural Resources and Environment, Agriculture and Life Sciences) enroll in the class.

One of the early assignments for the class is to find, share and blog about mission statements from two college or universities, U.S. or international. Over the years, I have found this assignment and the discussion that follows to be important in raising awareness about the various types of colleges and universities around the world and their different and yet sometimes similar mission statements. As a result, I have continued to reflect upon the purposes for mission statements, similarity in the words included in the mission statements, the audiences for mission statements, and changes that have occurred over time.  And in the past few years, I have used digital polling software (e.g. Mentimeter for interactive presentations) to share the results with the class for discussion.

The first question I ask for each to share three to four words that they found in the mission statements.  And the second question was for them to identify the type of institution they selected.  I was curious about the words contained in the mission statements and I wanted to learn how they would characterize the university they selected.

Below I’ve included word clouds from the mission statements as shared by the graduate students in the class for the past three semesters. (Please note that this is not intended as a scientific analysis but more of an observation). As you can see, there are some words like research, community, knowledge, service and more that seem to be found in many of the mission statements. Teaching (learning), diversity (access), and global also appear in many mission statements. None of these words are surprising.  But what is surprising is that the word “student” (students) doesn’t appear as often as one would think.  Student or learner (and teaching/learning) seems to be implied rather than directly mentioned. In the figures below, private universities, liberal arts colleges, community colleges were in the mix.  If we were to sort by higher education institution type (e.g.private universities, liberal arts colleges, HBCUs, and community colleges) the key words in the mission statements would reflect more about the specific mission of the institution.






In addition to the word clouds for the mission statements, the second question was about the type of college or university selected by these students.  Two examples of the word clouds are shown below.  As you can see, public research universities were common among the universities selected – not surprising because VT is a public research university and perhaps is the most familiar and of interest to the graduate students.   I found it interesting that “PWI” was used as a popular description for many of the entries but likely this was related to the recent in class conversation about PWI (predominately white institution), HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) and MSI (Minority serving institutions) institutions.




In January 2018, I was pleased to read a blog by Julian David Cortes-Sanchez entitled “What do universities want to be? A content analysis of mission and vision statements worldwide”.  Although this isn’t the only analysis completed on mission statements, I found his findings pertinent to the mission statement assignment for my graduate course.  Cortes-Sanchez did an analysis of mission and vision statements and found that the most frequently used terms were research, university, world, knowledge and education. These are very similar to the words identified through the class assignment; not surprisingly.  The terms of global or world seem to be newer addition to mission statements as universities strive for a more global presence.

Although there are some very similar words used in mission statements, close attention to the words used can provide a greater understanding of the unique mission of the institutions of higher education.