August 3, 2015. The sun is still warm, birds are still feeding their young (though they are as big as the parents!), and my lawn keeps growing. And yet…and yet…there is a distinct, crispy something in the air.
Two weeks from today, we will welcome back our vacationing colleagues and new and continuing students. We will once again move to the rhythms of the academic calendar. And this year, we will begin to dig into the details of academic planning at WSU. On August 17 at our annual Welcome Week, President Olson will discuss the overall University Strategic Planning process and its accompanying approved University Strategic Framework Themes. Based on this document, we will briefly discuss how current and proposed plans across the campus will align with the WSU five Themes including Academic Affairs.
For Academic Affairs, this is the fun stuff, people! Really!
In the next few months we will have data sets available to all departments and colleges. We will have peer institutions and “aspirational” peer institutions identified to help us understand our current conditions, and help us stretch to the next levels of excellence. Colleges and departments and individual programs will co-create the details of the Academic Master Plan. We will seek input from many voices throughout the university no matter where their physical location may be (Winona, Rochester, Austin, and so on). We are blessed with time this year to really think about our future and lay a solid foundation for the next 157 years of Winona State University!
To give you a little background and to set the stage for our work together this year, take a look at the introduction to the Academic Master Plan. From this humble beginning based on Theme 1 of our WSU Strategic Themes Framework, we will co-create and set the academic directions for WSU for the next five years.
Introduction to the Academic Master Plan
Higher education in the United States is under attack. Critics make the case that our programming is out of touch with the needs of the 21st century. We are bogged down in regional, state, and local policies that often conflict. Some states have imposed major budget reductions resulting in seriously underfunded public education. Changing demographics in some areas have severely limited public universities to respond quickly enough to avoid catastrophic faculty and staff reductions, and terminated programs. We are accused of increasing the tuition burden on students thus limiting any tuition increases, yet no one seems to take into account the diminishing state funding that supports an educated citizenry in the public domain. Increasingly, there is an assumption that most state universities deliver an education that lacks relevance to today’s needs.
Despite these turbulent waves, Winona State University has enjoyed years of relatively calm waters compared to our state and regional colleagues. We have many accredited programs that help keep our accountability and quality high. We have a sound general education program and highly regarded liberal arts majors. We have a strong athletics program and an enviable array of student life opportunities. We enjoy the most beautiful campus in the MnSCU system thanks to dedicated employees. Enrollments and retention rates have varied somewhat but have not placed WSU in any catastrophic financial situation that required serious and harmful budget reductions. As a result, strategic and long-term planning on the campus have for years been low on the list of priorities for most administrative units, with the last university strategic plan expiring in 2011.
Historically, there has not been a coordinated effort to address academic strategic planning or academic direction-setting for the Winona or Rochester campuses. We have simply offered a full range of programming and have added or revised as needed or desired with no coordinated, mindful, or deliberate plan.
Why Academic Master Planning at WSU and Why Now?
Change for change’s sake is not a driver for planning on any level. What does drive our need to plan for the future is the rapidly changing nature of the present. Simply going along as we are and have been suggests complacency and stagnation. Refusing to look at what our data tell us today while we are healthy dooms us to eventual mediocrity and financial struggles: we cannot do everything we are doing and continue to add new things. The reality is, there will likely to be no new base money for state universities. At the same time, there is an expectation to keep costs down and debt at a minimum for students. There are expectations that students will be gainfully employed when they complete their degrees. These and other realities clearly point to a need for Winona State University to enter into an Academic Master Planning Process.
Does this mean that in future we will do more with less? Absolutely not!
The answer is doing what we do very well by developing a mindful, deliberate, and sustainable approach to academic planning. Rather than do everything we are currently doing plus more, we will mindfully determine our academic directions and priorities to focus our efforts. In short, we will develop an academic plan that supports the collectively identified university strategic directions and provide guidance for departments and colleges to determine how best to align their work with the overall strategic directions of the university. We will work in partnership with all units in the university, and in particular Student Life and Development, to create an even more rich and healthy learning, teaching, and working environment for the WSU community of learners.
See Theme 1 at: http://www.winona.edu/President/strategic-framework.asp
Academic Master Planning Assumptions
- There are no new state funds for at least the next five to ten years. Any new programming must be incorporated within current resources or alternative funding sources (Theme 1, Part A).
- The requirement to respond to external assessment and accountability pressures (state, accreditation bodies, MnSCU, legislators, citizens, donors) will increase rather than decrease in the next five to ten years (Theme 1, Part B, Part C).
- There is no such thing as maintaining the status quo in academic programming due to the rapidly changing needs of students, the workplace, national and international expectations for educated global citizens, etc. (Theme 1, Part A). Thus our academic program array must be reviewed for relevance, responsiveness, and sustainability.