In 2009, USI embarked on a journey to create its first ever strategic plan. The year-long process resulted in a simple but powerful strategic plan with six goals, as well as new mission and vision statements. The six goals included:
- Increase the graduation rate
- Enhance experiential learning opportunities
- Increase the diversity of faculty, staff and student body
- Become a 24 x 7 campus
- Preserve and nurture our campus community
- Provide leadership to Indiana and the region
Much progress was made toward each of the six goals, as is shown in the data dashboards. To better understand the progress made, as well as the impact having a strategic plan had on the campus community, interviews were conducted with 47 individuals including faculty, staff, students and the Board of Trustees president, representing 27 departments across campus. The following is an executive summary of the 2010- 2015 strategic plan progress and synopsis of the interview results.
The goal of increasing the graduation rate received the most attention across campus and several major initiatives were implemented to impact this goal. These included the creation of academic advising centers in all four colleges, the purchase and implementation of DegreeWorks software to assist students with degree planning, the revision of the core curriculum and better communication to students about their academic standing throughout their time at USI. The four-year graduation rate has increased from 16 percent for the incoming freshmen class of 2006 to 19 percent for the incoming class of 2010.
Preservation and nurturing of the campus community has been facilitated through expanded benefits for employees, better support of student organizations and engagement activities by faculty, staff and students on and off campus. Volunteer USI continues to see a rise in active volunteers as well. The students, faculty and staff interviewed reported that continued improvements in internal communication of information and accomplishments will be beneficial in creating an even more positive campus atmosphere.
Just over half of the departments interviewed indicated they had developed at least one program or initiative as a direct effort to help create a "24 x 7 Campus." Housing and Residence Life, the Recreation Fitness and Wellness Center and the Rice Library made the most changes to increase activity options by expanding programming and hours. Despite the improvements, many of those interviewed feel there is progress yet to be made. In addition to still relatively limited campus activity on evenings and weekends, those interviewed also expressed concerns about the continued limited food options on weekends, breaks and throughout the summer months.
The strategic goal to increase experiential learning opportunities was viewed as being a very successful initiative across campus and many of those interviewed felt progress towards this increase was already being made prior to the implementation of the strategic plan. Efforts to expand study abroad partnerships has been one of the more visible activities.
The goal of providing leadership to the region has also been well-received, and progress is thought of highly. The process of transforming from a regionally responsive university to a nationally recognized institution has begun, and almost all interviewees agreed that the University’s local reputation has substantially improved over the course of the strategic plan. The perception is that USI is now taking on the role of leading the region rather than just responding to its needs. USI’s recent national award for the development of an Innovation Index is just one example of such leadership.
The sixth and final goal was to increase the diversity of students, faculty and staff. The least amount of effort and progress was made toward this goal as only a third of the departments interviewed reported having specific initiatives designed to impact this goal. Barriers frequently mentioned by interviewees include the difficulty of changing the applicant pool and of promoting a homogeneous region to diverse groups. Students, faculty and staff alike indicated, although they felt strongly encouraged to increase diversity, they were not provided the tools or ideas on how to accomplish it. It is encouraging, however, that student diversity has climbed at least marginally in the face of a decreasing number of incoming students.
It is also positive to note that many departments created for the first time or altered current strategic plans to better align with the goals of the University. Almost 60 percent of the departments interviewed indicate they have their own strategic plans, up from just 22 percent in 2009. These departments also reported more significant progress on impacting the strategic plan goals than those departments that do not have their own strategic plan in place.
Overall, USI's first ever strategic plan has been a success and viewed with much positivity by faculty, staff and students. The majority of interviewees agreed that the plan furthered progress by creating a focus and a common ground upon which all departments could stand. The University-level plan assisted with the prioritization of departmental goals, initiatives and ideas. Suggestions for the next iteration of the strategic plan include standardized metrics to measure progress, more frequent communication regarding progress on plan goals and the importance of having strategic plans at the department and vice presidential level, as well as the overall University plan.