One of my first priorities after becoming chancellor in 2011 was to initiate the development of a robust and focused strategic plan for Western Carolina University. That ambitious roadmap, our “2020 Vision,” was designed to steer our university’s direction and development over the ensuing decade while strengthening relationships with the communities and region we serve. It’s hard to believe that more than five years have passed since the Board of Trustees endorsed the plan and even harder to believe that less than three remain before we hit the year 2020.

The “2020 Vision” plan has guided our university in dynamic fashion, strengthening the institution in many ways. Since the plan’s onset, WCU certainly has grown at a record-breaking pace, but we have done more than simply become larger. We also have matured, and our metrics of success have improved. Our students, faculty and staff have done amazing things, many of which you will read about in the pages that follow. But this is no time to rest on our laurels. Instead, this is a time to recalibrate, to review and to update our plan. Academic year 2017-18 will be a time of reflection and renewal and a time to recommit to our strategic vision and priorities as we move forward. Three primary factors necessitate this activity at this juncture.

First, we have accomplished and, in a number of areas, exceeded many of the goals and initiatives articulated in the plan. There is much of which all university stakeholders should be rightfully proud. Conversely, however, we should consider whether initiatives that we have not yet addressed are as important as they were when the plan was endorsed in 2012. In addition, new priorities have emerged in the last few years that should be incorporated into our strategic plan. The legislative actions that resulted in the NC Promise tuition plan and the launching of a new laboratory school effort this fall are but two examples of priorities unimagined when the “2020 Vision” plan was formulated.

Second, the process of undergoing reaffirmation of the university’s accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges has revealed some opportunities for improvement that we should consider in our revised strategic plan. For instance, our team of external reviewers has recommended that we focus on more consistent assessment processes across the university, a recommendation that we must integrate into the plan.

Finally, the recently approved University of North Carolina strategic plan, “Higher Expectations,” has clear implications for the work of individual UNC institutions, including WCU. Our strategic plan update must align with system goals, which are centered on the areas of access, affordability and efficiency, student success, economic impact and community engagement, and excellent and diverse institutions. The good news is that, in many ways, the essence of the UNC system plan is right in WCU’s wheelhouse.

We have assembled a 16-member committee, under the leadership of Carol Burton ’87 MAEd ’89, associate provost for undergraduate studies, which is in the midst of an eight-month process of reviewing and revising the “2020 Vision” plan. This truly is an updating, not a from-the-ground-up comprehensive planning process. When the committee’s work is done by the year’s end, we should have a refreshed strategic plan that is grounded in our university’s mission and budgetary realities, albeit with an eye toward enhancing our fiscal resources; that reaffirms our commitment to excellence, student success, and external focus and engagement; that represents a shared, comprehensive vision; and that aligns with regional and state priorities, state and federal regulations, best practices and an intensifying demand for accountability.

The revised “2020 Vision” plan will be truly strategic, beginning with the end goal in mind – our vision of where WCU will be several years hence – rather than starting where we are today. While the latter approach can result in incremental progress, the former – the future perspective – is where transformative change begins.

There will be ample opportunity for input from all university stakeholders – students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors, friends and residents of the region the university serves. Among those opportunities to help shape our university is through an online survey at the website I encourage you to participate. We want to hear from you!

This is an exciting time for Western Carolina University, a place that is changing lives. I welcome your continuing involvement with your university by contributing to the process of revising our strategic plan. Together, we can chart the path to a bright future, one that capitalizes on our present momentum and that is grounded in our tradition of serving the people of Western North Carolina and meeting the needs of our region, state, nation and world.

Go Cats!

David O. Belcher