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UNC system hears from WCU on developing strategic plan, shaping institutional goals

As the Board of Governors of the University of North Carolina works to develop a system-level strategic plan, Western Carolina University is making recommendations to guide those decisions.

“We want to be ready to take clear and measureable goals to the Legislature,” said Lou Bissette, board chair, while meeting with student, staff and faculty leadership at a campus forum Wednesday, Oct. 5. “If we do our jobs, we need to get out front and drive the agenda for higher education. Who better knows the needs and goals of education better than the people in this room?” Bissette was joined by fellow board members Roger Aiken, vice chair, and Joan MacNeill for the forum held in the A.K. Hinds University Center theater.

WCU student Coleman Leopard, a Chancellor's Ambassador, shakes hands with UNC Board of Governors Chairman W. Louis Bissette Jr. as Roger Aiken, vice chairman, looks on.

WCU student Coleman Leopard, a Chancellor’s Ambassador, shakes hands with UNC Board of Governors Chairman W. Louis Bissette Jr. as Roger Aiken, vice chairman, looks on.

Bissette said North Carolina’s institutions of higher learning face new challenges, such as economic demands and an increasingly diverse population. To continue to meet the state’s needs into the future, universities must find new ways to keep college affordable, help more students succeed and enhance the social and economic contributions made to communities across the state, he said.

The strategic planning process is designed to focus the university system on a new set of system-level goals, provide the means to measure progress toward those goals and identify the strategies that can help achieve them, Bissette said.

Speakers during the WCU forum engaged in a dialogue with board representatives, with as many questions asked as thoughts and opinions expressed, on the five central themes of the process: accessibility, student success, affordability and efficiency, excellent and diverse institutions, and economic impact.

Aiken asked WCU Student Government Association members about fees charged to enhance amenities for students and about how they view amenities as a factor for attracting students compared to course offerings, degrees available and institutional standards and reputation. SGA President Baron Crawford said that he thinks, from first-hand knowledge and conversations with fellow students, the two really go hand-in-hand. “I don’t think it has so much to do with a student coming to a particular university, but staying at that university,” Crawford said.

Fees, funding and meeting staffing and resource needs emerged as key topics. “My concerns are really about the budgets – specifically, performance-based funding versus an enrollment growth budget – and how it might impact the overall institution budget,” said Alison Joseph, a business analyst technician in the Office of Institutional Planning and Effectiveness.

“We’re not there yet, but we are looking into performance-based funding … It is sort of a buzzword now, but I think we all understand it is a much more complicated matter than we thought,” Bissette said.

Fees and funding are among the many complex issues facing UNC system leaders, said MacNeill, a former WCU trustee. “This is a very complicated exercise we are involved in, and I was very encouraged to hear the major themes that faculty and those of you on this campus want to do,” she said. “We are finding there are no simple answers, no simple metrics for every goal you want to accomplish. So this is an aspirational process to be the best we can be and what we come up with will be a living document.”

Especially important to attendees was the potential for unintended consequences that could result from setting strategic goals and processes used to reach them, another point brought up repeatedly. Individual campuses have their own strengths, goals and needs, and a “one-size-fits-all” approach would not be advantageous. What works for a UNC-Chapel Hill is not necessarily what will work for WCU, speaker after speaker reiterated.

During the forum, WCU faculty and staff members presented potential goals to help meet the UNC system’s strategic priorities. To see these goals, along with context and possible metrics, click here.

The whole of the WCU community has an opportunity to be heard through an online survey (link no longer active) open until Sunday, Nov. 20. Additional information on the themes as well as the overall process is available at the UNC strategic planning website, www.northcarolina.edu/strategic-planning.

By Geoff Cantrell

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Photos | WCU News Services

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