Planning for success
Administrators gather feedback from campus community on five priorities that guide strategic plan
For all of the things college students might feel they don’t have a say in at Central Michigan University — parking, tuition, roommate assignments — the university has been reaching out to them to update its strategic plan.
Daily decisions are made by administrators under the guide of the university’s strategic plan, which includes a mission statement and five priorities.
The priorities are: student success; research and creative activity; quality faculty and staff; community partnerships; and infrastructure stewardship. A list of initiatives provides more detail on each priority, which are all measured to track the university’s success in carrying out its mission.
This semester, the university’s Strategic Planning Team is conducting open forums and reaching out to alumni to gather feedback from whoever is willing to voice their concerns. The goal of the committee is to present a draft of the new plan during the March 2017 Academic Senate meetings and to the Board of Trustees in April 2017, said Provost Michael Gealt.
Campus forums have concluded, but students and staff who wish to provide comment can leave comments at the university’s Strategic Planning website.
“I think it would be good for students to know that we really do take the strategic plan seriously and use it to help guide what we’re doing,” said Barrie Wilkes, vice president of Finance and Administrative Services.
When voting on action items during Board of Trustees meetings, trustees have a laminated strategic plan at their disposal to reference at any point in time, Wilkes said.
“Board members really do use it, and the administration uses it to help keep us focused on what our priorities are,” he said.
Wilkes was a co-chair of the committee that formed the current plan adopted in 2012.
“If strategic plans are to be useful, they need to be updated and reviewed,” Wilkes said. “You don’t want to do a strategic plan and put it on the shelf and never pay attention to it. Then it really doesn’t help or guide you at all.”
The current Strategic Planning committee, led by Gealt and Academic Senate Chair Melinda Kreth, is focusing on improving the metrics for each priority and initiative, Wilkes said, because some are difficult to measure.
“The No. 1 priority will remain student success,” Gealt wrote in a statement. “So (when) looking at new proposed projects, those that enhance the success of our students will be given a higher priority.”
Most strategic plans are broad, but they are designed to be that way. The first priority of the strategic plan can mean a lot of different things to different people, Wilkes, said.
“People debate the definition of student success all the time,” he said.
Wilkes added that he thinks everyone at the university finds common ground when using the strategic plan to make decisions, but it still holds different meaning depending on who you ask.
“Depending on the part you play, (the meaning) of an initiative changes depending on what your job is,” Wilkes said.
Lori Hella, associate vice president of Human Resources, said student success garnered the most feedback in the stakeholder forums she helped facilitate.
Although Hella said she couldn’t yet say that they reached a consensus, when people gave feedback on what student success meant to them, it was usually defined as more than just academic success.
“The one thing that’s been consistent is that it’s not just focused on securing a job, it’s that we’re preparing students not just academically, but growing as individuals,” Hella said.
Research and creative activity
The second priority is meant to capture the idea of academic activities outside of teaching, Wilkes said.
“Research is pretty easy to define, but creative activity is very broad,” he added.
Hella said something she’s noticed in the comments on this priority is a concern to not overlook scholarship and the importance of teaching and learning, and that “research and creativity” could be too narrow for some areas of study.
Initiatives under this priority include supporting “field-defining areas of research,” enhancing “efforts to promote the active involvement of students in research and creative activities,” and supporting “interdisciplinary, international and cross-cultural research and creative activities.”
Partnerships the university makes from a local to national level are included in this priority.
Most people noted the more obvious connections CMU had on a local level during the feedback forums Hella helped facilitate.
“It’s much broader than that,” she said.
Wilkes agreed, but added the local partnerships in the community are something the university values and works hard to protect.
“We have a wonderful relationship with the city, the Tribe and Union Township,” Wilkes said.
Quality faculty and staff
One of the priorities the current planning committee is looking to absorb into another priority is “quality faculty and staff,” Hella said.
“The needs of students constantly change,” she said. “We have a different demographic (in CMU’s student body) now, and different student needs as far as job placement.”
To Wilkes, even though this priority isn’t found in strategic plans at most other universities, it’s important to CMU’s overall mission.
“The people at CMU are what makes the university special,” he said.
One of the ways to measure quality faculty and staff tracks the percent of time CMU is able to hire their first-choice candidate when filling a position, as well as retention of quality faculty and staff.
With the Baby Boomer generation reaching retirement age, Wilkes said the university is in the process of “filling a lot of positions.”
“We’re seeing a lot of people leave the university with 20 to 40 years of experience,” Wilkes said. “That’s a lot of historical knowledge walking out the door, and that’s going to continue as the baby boomer group moves through.”
During the few forums she has witnessed, Hella said most feedback lent to keeping this as its own priority.
When referencing other university’s strategic plans, “Infrastructure Stewardship” was a priority Wilkes noticed didn’t occur often when he was on strategic planning committee.
“A university is (like) a good-sized city,” Wilkes said. “We’ve got lots of buildings and infrastructure. So for students and researchers to be successful, we have to, in my opinion, have a priority that takes care of those things.”
Beyond maintenance of CMU’s physical infrastructure, this priority also extends to the financial stability of the university.