WCU nearing the finish line on visioning processWritten by Quintin Ellison
A new strategic plan for Western Carolina University that will guide the institution's overall direction for the coming decade will be unveiled at a public forum next month.
WCU Chancellor David Belcher appointed a 36-member committee last fall to develop the plan. The group has regularly met since and is made up of representatives from within the university community and from the broader region. The planning process has included additional university and community members on various subcommittees.
The university's last strategic plan was implemented in 2008. This was prior to the economic downturn and before the state made massive cuts to its budget.
Belcher told members of WCU's board of trustees last week that he intends to bring them the plan for review in June.
But the public will get a first crack at the plan in a forum on Tuesday, April 17.
"We'll put the final draft of the plan out for consumption and invite final feedback from all quarters," said Melissa Wargo, an assistant vice chancellor in institutional research and effective planning who has led the strategic planning process.
Wargo said the planning group developed six strategic directions. These were:
• Fulfilling the educational needs of the state and region.
• Enriching the total student experience.
• Enhancing community partnerships.
• Investing in faculty and staff.
• Investing in core resources.
• Garnering support for this vision.
"These are the things that guide and inspire us, and as an institution in general," she said to the board of trustees.
Among the ideas for enhancing community partnerships is to assist in community revitalization efforts, identify and assist in economic development activities, and support local governments and schools.
"One of the things we heard strongly from the community ... was that we need to do a better job of enhancing our community partnership," Wargo said.
Paige Roberson is a member of that subcommittee. She works in planning for Jackson County and on downtown and economic development issues for Sylva. Roberson said the vision and desires of WCU to be inclusive are still much stronger than the reality. Roberson, a WCU graduate, said that she was the only Sylva community member on that community subcommittee. The others, she said, were affiliated with WCU.
"I am glad to see efforts taking place," Roberson said. "I did appreciate the interest and that they included me in it. But they need more people from the community involved if they really want community involvement."
Wargo said that one major difficulty for members of the community wanting to interact with WCU is an inability to easily communicate with the university.
"They often don't know what's going on here on campus," she said, suggesting that there might be a need for a single office with an executive level position "to support and coordinate community partnerships."
Also important, she said, is that WCU recognize and understand that "we are an arts and cultural resource for this region, and that we need to deliver on that promise."
Assumptions for WCU's strategic plan
• WCU will pursue strategically controlled enrollment growth.
• The quality of the student body will increase.
• The economic instability within the state will continue.
• The university's role in, and focus on, Western North Carolina will remain strong while its influence grows across the state and region.
• Fundraising and alternative revenue streams will become more important.
• State funding will be tied to performance.