Strategic plan used to plot UI's future course
The UI has released its 2010 Strategic Plan Progress Report, which discusses the five-year progress of the Urbana campus and serves as a blueprint for its future.
“It’s an objective assessment of where we need to make some improvements,” said Stig Lanesskog, associate dean of the master’s of business administration program and associate provost for strategic planning and assessment. “There is a lot of rich data that we’re using proactively.”
Lanesskog leads the development of the report for the offices of the Provost and of Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs, using data from the UI’s Division of Management Information.
“The data comes from a variety of sources,” he said.
It’s the fourth year campus administrators have prepared the detailed report, each version tracking progress within the window of the last strategic plan update, which occurred in 2006.
“It’s to show people the methods we’re using to assess the overall health of the university,” he said.
The report points out challenges facing the Urbana campus. But it also points out enough positives to illustrate that the university continues to move forward.
“It’s really an objective, data-driven approach,” he said.
The report is divided into five categories, each based on the university’s overriding strategic goals for academics, and research and outreach: leadership for the 21st century; academic excellence; breakthrough knowledge and innovation; transformative learning environment; access to the Illinois Experience.
According to the report, last year’s 84 percent undergraduate student graduation rate exceeded the 2013 goal of 83 percent. This year’s rate meets that goal.
Lanesskog said the most-recent freshman class was among the largest and academically qualified in the country, an indicator the university still has a strong base from which to work.
Likewise, the university also showed significant gains last year in the graduation rates of underrepresented groups – with the gap between the overall student population and that of African-American students, for example, narrowing from 16 percent to 9 percent, and the rate for Hispanic students improving by 3 percent.
The overall rates continue to lag behind the general student population, and according to the report, “Given this is a single-year improvement, it is difficult to determine whether there is a sustainable trend.”
“We’re trying to close that gap for some of the underrepresented groups,” Lanesskog said.
The report also cites the university’s improved financial foothold, pointing out that, despite continued volatility with state-funding sources, units have increased cash balances by $62 million and reduced deficits by 23 percent.
“The recent voluntary separation and early retirement program reduced headcount on state funds this year, also giving the units more financial flexibility,” the report concluded.
Reducing energy consumption continues to be high on the list of financial goals. Several energy-conscious programs already have been initiated in hopes of building on an early statistical victory noted in the report showing overall campus reductions in square-foot energy consumption.
While rising energy costs receive much of the blame, “a key driver of the increasing costs may be the addition of assignable square footage,” the report notes.
Instructional units generated from online courses are up 166 percent since 2006 and have surpassed the 2013 target, and license and patent revenue have increased for two straight years, the report states.
Areas of improvement include the “nearly stagnant” undergraduate research and student study abroad rates, the rising student-to-faculty ratio, and a “modest” 8 percent growth rate shown in sponsored research expenditures since fiscal year 2003-04.
Lanesskog said in many instances, problems being faced by the university are already being met head-on. The Stewarding Excellence @ Illinois initiative has led to cost savings and better structures, and similar administrative and in-house unit reviews are numerous and ongoing.
“We want to make sure we’re aligning our efforts and doing it together,” he said. “Now more than ever we need to make sure we’ve got the right activities and initiatives to address all of these areas of improvement.”
He said the report has already undergone review by campus leadership at a recent strategic planning retreat, where it was used to help set campus priorities.
Bob Easter, vice president and interim chancellor, said the process has been invaluable.
“This annual update reminds us just how useful it is to have meaningful and measurable goals in place,” he said. “We’ve achieved many of our goals over the past year, and we have a roadmap for continuing to build on those accomplishments. All of us were pleased with the progress we’ve made on the metrics established in the strategic plan.”
Richard Wheeler, interim vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, said the plan will help university leaders focus on the most important goals, even as times change.
“The Strategic Planning process has helped us learn important lessons that will enable the university not just to cope but to thrive in the dramatically changing circumstances that shape our economic and social environments,” he said. “Our continued success in moving the university forward depends on sustaining a creative mix of strategic thinking, time-honored values, and entrepreneurial drive.”