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WCU strategic plan ‘thoughtful and ambitious’

Western Carolina University’s Board of Trustees unanimously approved a new strategic plan — the 2020 Vision — at its meeting two weeks ago.

The plan is designed to give the university a clear set of goals for the next decade.

The university wanted to create “a plan that inspires (and) is doable,” said Chancellor David Belcher. “We wanted this to be the overarching guiding document for the university.”

Starting this summer, university departments will begin drafting their own strategic plans, and officials will create a timeline for accomplishing the goals set out in the 2020 plan.

Trustees and other university officials lauded the plan, officially called “2020 Vision: Focusing Our Future.”

“This was an incredible report, and I would almost beg you to take time to review that,” said Trustee Teresa Williams.

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Trustee Joan MacNeill called the plan “thoughtful and ambitious.”

The broader goals within the plan include:

Offering high-quality academic programs at the undergraduate, graduate and professional levels with a specific focus on the areas of creative arts, education, environment, health, innovation and technology, and recreation and tourism.

More specifically, WCU wants to increase its first-year retention rate to 80 percent from its current 72 percent. Officials also hope to grow its six-year graduation rate to 60 percent of students. Its most recent rate was 50 percent.

The deadline for these goals is the year 2020.

Enrich the student experience through a mix of curricular and co-curricular elements, including programs in leadership, active citizenship, international experiences, diversity and intercollegiate athletics.

Offer greater access to a college education through community college partnerships and the Biltmore Park branch campus. Specifically, by 2020, WCU hopes to increase summer school enrollment by 25 percent and the number of camps and conferences that WCU offers by 50 percent.

Strengthen relationships and communication between the university and the community; position WCU as a leader in regional economic and community development efforts.

Advocating for improved compensation packages for faculty and staff; increasing opportunities for professional development; improving the work-life balance for WCU employees and fostering an inclusive university community. This goal was particular important to attracting and retaining quality faculty and staff, who in turn help draw students to the university.

“In some areas, we are hemorrhaging people,” said Melissa Canady Wargo, assistant vice chancellor for institutional planning and effectiveness.

Implement sustainable funding models to ensure fiscal stability; make the university’s operations more efficient; increasing information technology capabilities and capacity; and upgrading campus safety systems.

The final goal revolves around ensuring the success of the 2020 Vision by garnering both verbal and financial support for the plan.

WCU’s 2020 commission, which drafted the plan, is a 36-member committee that includes faculty, staff and students as well as alumni, donors, and business and community leaders.

“The external folks who served on the 2020 commission brought a wealth of knowledge. They were engaged,” Wargo said.

In addition to on-campus meetings, the commission solicited input from residents through a series of public hearings in Franklin, Sylva, Hendersonville, Asheville, Waynesville, Cherokee and Murphy.

“I am very proud of the process and of the final product,” Belcher said.

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