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Reviewing WCSU’s Strategic Vision, Plan and Progress, 2011-2013


Rationale:  Since 2005, WCSU has been guided by the strategic vision and plan developed out the “Values and Vision” process. (76 focus groups engaging more than 650 stakeholders).  This vision has been adopted and internalized by the university community.  It appears in operating procedures, departmental annual reports, performance appraisals, and financial planning.  Especially, the six strategic themes of our vision have directed us in the difficult financial decision making we have faced over the past three years.

However, today different realities, both external and internal, shape our development.  Since 2005, WCSU’s enrollment has increased more than 25%; our physical plant has been altered by four significant capital projects; our economic footprint on the greater Danbury community has grown substantially.
In addition, we face today unprecedented financial challenges; direct state support of higher education has continued to decline and no observer suggests that downward momentum will be reversed.  Our faculty are increasingly engaged in scholarly contributions to their fields and the enhancement of the quality of our academic programs is demonstrated by increases in the number of such programs achieving accreditation.  The landscape of public higher education governance in Connecticut has also been changing, providing both opportunity and challenge for us in determining and communicating WCSU’s comparative advantages relative to other institutions. 

These changes mandate that we step back to evaluate our strategic vision and progress.  In addition, our upcoming NEASC self study provides an ideal opportunity to tie this evaluation to a broader review of all university operations.  These are inherently tied to our strategic intent.

Questions to Consider:  Given realities of staffing and institutional will, a complete jettisoning of our current vision and plan is not feasible.  In addition, the progress and university-wide consensus on goals WCSU has experienced over the past years suggest that such a total change may not be necessary.  However, a serious examination of our progress is in order.   To accomplish that, I suggest we focus on the six themes that have already been identified for the NEASC Self-Study.  Answering the questions that these themes pose will provide a platform to launch the next phase of Western’s strategic direction.

Themes:   “To what extent have we adhered to/implemented the goals of the Strategic Plan and how has it driven the progress of the university?

  1.  How real is the university’s public/private focus?
  2. Are we really taking advantage of our location?
  3. With the number of budget and contractual constraints we face, are we able to attract and retain outstanding faculty?
  4. How real is the university’s student-centered focus?
  5. Can we measure advances made in delivering quality academic programs?
  6. How can the university rebalance its financial model to achieve continuing success in times of state budget constraints and continue to deliver value to students?”

Process:  Given the demands of the NEASC process and the demanding workloads that many colleagues and departments face, the process for accomplishing this review must be bounded and efficient.  Complementarity with the NEASC Standards committees will be essential.  Thus I suggest the organization of teams to address each of the six questions above.  These teams should be small enough to work together efficiently, but should also be representative of stakeholder groups.  These teams will:

  1.  Review past research and organize public conversations/focus groups on each topic.  Substantial information exists in surveys and institutional research data that can inform these investigations.  Some basic research may be required, and I would expect teams to turn to our Office of Institutional Research for basic help.  The public conversations are meant to engage the university community in this endeavor.
  2. From these investigations, each team will collect impressions and conduct gap analysis to illuminate our progress in achieving strategic directions.
  3. From this analysis, teams will suggest alternatives/action steps, which might include further research, development of metrics and/or revisions in strategic goals and objectives.
  4. Develop timetables for implementation of alternatives/action steps.

Personnel:  I suggest the Vice Presidents Council identify possible leaders for each team and work with these individuals to staff the groups.  One possible source of interest is the roster of members of the Strategic Plan Implementation Teams that have been organized since 2007.  These groups should be disbanded, with our thanks, and members invited to join the review teams.  Other particular expertise may be relevant to some tasks and membership of external stakeholders at some level should also be considered.

Timetable:  This work should proceed in tandem with the NEASC self-study preparation and be completed by the end of FY13.  Ideally, teams would be organized during the current semester, begin question framing and information collection during the Spring Semester 2102 and proceed with focus groups/collective conversations no later than the Fall Semester 2012. 

James W. Schmotter
September, 29, 2011

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