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Trustees Approve New Strategic Plan for Southwestern

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    Donald Tetto

Focus on academic mission is at the center of new 10-year plan

What will Southwestern be like in the year 2020?

For one thing, it will probably have more students – 250 of them. It also will have a new science building. And the vacant land east of campus may be developed.

These are among the goals set forth in the University’s new strategic plan, which will cover the period from 2010-2020.

The plan was developed throughout 2009 by a 19-member Commission on Planning and Action that included faculty, staff and student representatives along with representatives from The Association of Southwestern University Alumni and the Board of Trustees. It was approved by the Board of Trustees March 26 following approval from the University Council, the Staff Affairs Committee and the faculty, and endorsements from the Student Congress and the Alumni Council.

The plan begins with an “overarching vision” for Southwestern that states: “Over the next decade, Southwestern University will position itself as a top-tier national liberal arts and sciences college by building upon its greatest strength – providing a transformational, residential, liberal arts and sciences education that empowers an increasingly diverse range of students to lead fulfilling lives in a global community.”

The plan affirms that Southwestern will achieve this overarching vision by “focusing on what is truly important: our academic mission.” Three “supporting strategies” will help make this possible: Enhancing the campus experience and residence life, building far-reaching visibility and recognition, and ensuring the financial vitality and overall sustainability of the institution.

Factors that were identified as being critical to advancing the University’s academic mission included providing up-to-date facilities (particularly the renovation of Fondren-Jones Science Hall), implementing a new curriculum in fall 2010, recruiting a more diverse student body, providing for continued faculty development, and creating more opportunities for students to study abroad.

Plans to enhance the campus experience and residence life include increasing the student body by 250 students, expanding the intercollegiate athletics and intramural programs, enhancing the university’s recreational facilities, developing special interest housing, enriching religious activities, and creating a gathering place for students who are over 21.

Plans to build far-reaching visibility and recognition include a visibility campaign, market research on whether the University’s name is a hindrance when it comes to visibility, building on the visibility Southwestern has gained by becoming the home of the National Institute for Technology and Liberal Education (NITLE), and partnering with other organizations such as Georgetown’s Senior University.

Plans to ensure the financial vitality and overall sustainability of the institution include growing the endowment by $100 million over the next 10 years and developing the East Campus in a way that will generate revenue for the University. To raise the money for the endowment as well as other priority projects, the University plans to extend its Thinking Ahead fundraising campaign, which was originally scheduled to conclude in 2010.

“I believe this plan is both ambitious and realistic, and provides the framework for meeting our aspirations over the next decade,” said President Jake B. Schrum.

More than 700 people participated in a series of sessions that were designed to gather feedback on the plan. Members of the Commission considered that input before presenting a final plan to the Trustees in March.

“We were very pleased with participation in the process,” said Ron Swain, senior advisor to the president for strategic planning and assessment. Swain’s office guided the strategic planning process on campus.

Among the items that generated the most discussion were developing a single strategic direction focused on the academic mission, the University’s name, and whether football should be added as a component of strengthening the athletic program. A football pre-feasibility study was commissioned as part of the strategic planning process and the consultants who conducted that study said it would take at least $10-12 million to start a football program.

Tom Oliver, vice president for enrollment management services, said some of the growth in the student body could come through improved retention efforts, which are much more cost-effective than recruiting new students. He, Provost Jim Hunt, and Jerry Brody, vice president for student life, comprise a new task force on student retention. Brody, who chairs the task force, said one key to keeping more students is to deepen the connections they make with faculty or students that are meaningful to them.

Dr. Bob Karr, a 1971 Southwestern graduate who served as chair of the Trustee Strategic Plan Committee, said the plan lays the groundwork for Southwestern to continue to thrive in challenging times.

“The world is in desperate need of college graduates with a depth of intellect, an understanding of our global connectedness and a passion for improving the human condition. That is the very kind of student that Southwestern has long excelled in graduating. Shaping Our Future: The Strategic Plan for Southwestern University 2010-2020 ensures that this ethos will continue for generations to come.”

A second document containing an implementation plan for the new strategic plan will be developed by December 2010.