Planned revisions to ‘2020 Vision’ strategic plan among highlights of campus forum

A newly assembled 16-member committee will spend the next eight months conducting a holistic review and revision of Western Carolina University’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan, tweaking the plan to address changes that have occurred since the document was approved by the Board of Trustees five years ago.

A review of progress made toward achieving goals of the strategic plan and announcement of the upcoming re-examination were among topics discussed during an open campus forum Monday, April 24. The session also included updates about the recent visit by a Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges review team and the latest information regarding campus construction projects.

Provost Alison Morrison-Shetlar opened the forum, announcing that Carol Burton, associate provost for undergraduate studies, will lead the steering committee that will guide the process of updating the strategic plan, a document designed to guide WCU’s direction and development while strengthening relationships with the communities and region it serves.

“To be clear, this is not the development of a new strategic plan, but rather an activity that will allow us to move forward in a few focused areas as well as factor in new opportunities that we have been given by the legislators and the University of North Carolina Board of Governors,” Morrison-Shetlar said.

In the past year alone, legislative action has presented the university with opportunities, including implementing the N.C. Promise Tuition Plan by fall 2018 and launching a laboratory school in partnership with the Jackson County Public Schools system by this August, she said.

“The strategic plan update committee also will align the UNC system strategic initiatives with our plan, a process that will not be difficult, as they already align very well,” Morrison-Shetlar told the group of faculty, staff and students assembled at the forum. “We will include the areas of distinction that you were asked to provide feedback on earlier this spring.”

The UNC Board of Governors in January approved a new systemwide strategic plan built around five strategic directions – access, student success, affordability and efficiency, economic impact and community engagement, and excellent and diverse institutions. As part of the plan, each institution of the UNC system will identity mission-focused academic areas of distinction by May, then work to achieve significant regional or national recognition within those areas by the 2021-22 academic year.

A draft of WCU’s updated strategic plan is expected to be completed by December 2017. Serving on the committee are Jane Adams-Dunford, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs; Anne Aldrich, assistant to the provost; Larry Arbaugh, associate athletics director for administration; Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance; Yue Cai, associate professor of management; Wes Chancey, associate general counsel; Deidre Hopkins, administrative support specialist for undergraduate studies; Doug Keskula, dean of the College of Health and Human Sciences; Annette Littrell, director of academic engagement and IT governance; David McCord, professor of psychology; Kellie Monteith, assistant vice chancellor for student affairs; Chris Parrish, associate director of undergraduate admissions systems and planning; Brian Railsback, professor of English and chair elect of Faculty Senate; Jamie Raynor, assistant vice chancellor for development and alumni engagement; Bill Studenc, director of communications and public relations; and Joe Walker, associate vice chancellor of facilities management.

Tim Metz, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness, delivered his annual update on progress toward meeting goals of WCU’s existing strategic plan, reporting that 18 of the plan’s 116 strategic initiatives are 100 percent complete, 64 percent are at least 75 percent complete and 100 are at least 50 percent complete, with only eight initiatives 20 percent or less complete.

“We have made excellent progress over the last five years and have completed much of the work laid out by our strategic plan,” Metz said.

Among the completed initiatives are increasing WCU’s freshman-to-sophomore retention rate to 80 percent by 2020, making endowed merit- and need-based financial aid a philanthropic priority, establishing an annual leadership tour of Western North Carolina, developing a comprehensive master plan and creating an integrated communications and marketing plan.

Initiatives reporting less than 20 percent progress include increasing the number of WCU graduates by 25 percent by 2020, developing faculty-led mentoring programs for students, expanding summer school offerings, increasing WCU’s six-year graduation rate to 60 percent by 2020 and facilitating a network of opportunities for affordable child care, health care and housing options.

SACSCOC UPDATE

Arthur Salido, director of WCU’s SACSCOC accreditation reaffirmation effort, provided new information about the review team’s April visit and next steps in the process. Salido reminded the audience that the external review team approved the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan, titled DegreePlus, and requested additional work in a few compliance-related areas.

A search committee is in the process of reviewing applications for the position of associate director of DegreePlus. That person will work in the Career and Professional Development and report to director Theresa Cruz Paul, Salido said.

Regarding the review team’s examination of WCU’s compliance with the more than 90 standards in its Principles of Accreditation that institutions must meet in order to gain or maintain accreditation, the university must still address six issues, including two that are administrative in nature, he said. The university still most address four issues — four of which deal with the assessment of aspects of the university’s operations and two that have to do with WCU’s instructional sites.

Although the review team, which departed April 6, had up to five weeks to complete its report, WCU already has received that document, Salido said. WCU officials may review the report for factual areas but cannot challenge any of the findings, he said. The report next goes to the Commission on Colleges, which will then send the final report to the university, which must issue a formal response and its QEP to the commission office in Atlanta by Sept. 5. The commission’s standing Compliance and Reports Committee will review WCU’s response and make a recommendation to the SACSCOC Board of Trustees.

“The bottom line is that we will be publicly reaffirmed next December because we do not have any core or federal compliance issues,” Salido said. “We may have follow-up work to do over the next six months to two years, depending on the Compliance and Reports Committee, but until then, our public status will be that we are accredited.”

An ad hoc task force assembled to develop a course of action to address the assessment-related compliance issues has made recommendations that fit into a broader Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness plan developed by Steve Wallace, director of assessment, who has presented the plan and other ideas along with Metz, to the university’s Executive Council.

CAMPUS CONSTRUCTION UPDATE

Mike Byers, vice chancellor for administration and finance, shared an update on current campus construction projects, including renovations and expansions to the old Brown Cafeteria that are expected to be complete by fall semester.

The master plan is a “living document” that can evolve over time, and many recommendations from the plan adopted in 2013 have been accomplished or seen progress, while others are being adjusted as circumstances change, Byers said.

Major projects on the immediate horizon include a replacement for WCU’s 1970s-era Natural Sciences Building. That $110 million facility was approved by voters as part of the 2016 Connect N.C. bond referendum. “The project will be designed over the next year. It will take three years to construct, and at the end of it we will demolish the existing Natural Sciences Building,” Byers said.

The science building project also will entail closure of Memorial Drive during construction, with a distinct possibility that the road will remain offline for “thru-traffic” permanently, he said. Plans call for alterations to Memorial Drive and adjacent parking areas to be completed by fall semester, with a net gain in the total number of parking spaces in the vicinity, he said.

A privately developed medical office complex project on the West Campus near the Health and Human Sciences Building has moved more slowly than anticipated as developers work with a potential tenant to identify the total amount of space that would be occupied by that anchor partner. Construction could now get underway in January, Byers said.

A new upper campus residence hall slated for construction near the soon-to-open and renamed Brown Hall represents a change from previous plans, which called for additions and renovations to the existing Buchanan Residence Hall.

“Our plan now is to build as many beds as possible somewhere on that site. Since the master plan was developed, Residential Living has done a study and determined that we have some really aging facilities that need some attention,” Byers said. “To get that done, it starts with providing some new beds now so we can take some older facilities down later, some of them possibly permanently.” Design on the upper campus residence hall project will take place over the next year, with construction to commence in summer of 2018, he said.

Potential long-range projects in the works include another new residence hall for the lower campus, a replacement for the university’s aging steam plant, an indoor athletics practice facility to be located near Jordan-Phillips Field House and to be funded entirely through private contributions, and a parking garage.