From staff reports
A draft of the first year of Ohio University's Five Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan, complete with approaches for measuring progress and assigning accountability, is ready for presentation to the Board of Trustees this month.
"Having a strategic plan is important, particularly in challenging fiscal times," President Roderick J. McDavis said. "The draft of year one reflects a growing partnership between students, faculty, staff and administrators around the plan. This partnership will allow the plan to strengthen our university."
Incorporating significant updates from earlier versions, the new draft reflects extensive input from people across the institution and advances the university's ability to align with the University System of Ohio.
Year one of the plan consists of 21 objectives tied to six overarching goals. Following each objective are notations of the strategies, outcomes, metrics/progress indicators and university units responsible for achieving that objective. A copy of the plan is posted online.
The Vision Ohio Steering Committee and executive staff-deans group, with contributions from the Budget Planning Council (BPC), have worked for the past 10 weeks to ready the document for presentation to the Board of Trustees April 17 and 18. The board will be asked to endorse year one, which will begin with the 2008-09 academic year (fiscal year 2009).
In sync with the state
Trustees requested last June that the university community formulate a five-year plan for Vision Ohio's implementation.
Large-scale university planning was not only on the trustees' minds. In early August, Gov. Ted Strickland announced the formation of the University System of Ohio and called on Ohio Board of Regents Chancellor Eric Fingerhut to draft a 10-year strategic plan for higher education in the state.
"Having the two planning ventures on the same timetable made it possible for us to connect our plan with the emerging goals of the USO master plan," Executive Vice President and Provost Kathy A. Krendl said. "As a result, year one of the plan encompasses 14 of the USO's 20 accountability measures, putting us in a very good position to assist in the goal of raising educational attainment in Ohio.
"At the same time, we're poised to strengthen our own institution in the areas of undergraduate education, graduate education and research, and student recruitment and retention."
A collaborative process
An expanded Vision Ohio Steering Committee (VOSC) undertook the task of fleshing out the strategies, outcomes and metrics of year one. New members were appointed to ensure that representatives of all colleges, the regional campuses, the research office and libraries were at the table.
David Descutner, who chairs the committee as interim executive vice provost, believes enlarging the group added significant advantages. "There is a diversity of experience and expertise among members that promotes pragmatic decision-making informed by the priority of what's best for the university," he said.
While the VOSC considered suggestions sent to the committee for revisions and new strategies and outcomes, the executive staff-deans group began working on financing for the plan, consulting with the BPC.
"In fiscal year 2006, we invested $1.5 million of one-time-only money to support specific Vision Ohio college priorities. As a result, we have seen improvements in retention, curricular offerings, numbers of grants submitted and recruitment activities," Krendl said.
She anticipates similar results from the proposed $2.205 million in one-time investments for year one of the plan.
The one-time funding will come from $1.5 million in revenues from new degree programs established through University Outreach and $705,000 in contributions from planning units' current fiscal year budgets. Of the latter amount, academic support units will contribute $405,810, while academic units will provide $299,190.
"The willingness of all parties to make contributions," Descutner said, "underscores the trust, ownership and responsibility that has developed between deans and members of the executive staff over the importance of the plan."
An eye on economic realities
The need for contingency strategies in the face of unexpected economic challenges has continually been part of budget planning -- and a consideration in discussion of the five-year plan.
On Friday, the BPC passed a motion that recommends delaying two expenditures until state and 2008-09 enrollment revenues are better known. The proposed delays would include annual salary increases for faculty and staff who are not bargaining-unit members and base-budget investments for year one of the five-year plan.
In January, Strickland announced a $733 million state budget cut. While that cut exempted higher education, BPC members were concerned that universities may not avoid a second cut if state revenue falls further.
In addition, the university is keeping a close watch on how the state's economy may affect enrollment.
"Institutions across the state are seeing a slow-down in confirmed enrollments and are fielding increasing numbers of phone calls from parents who are worried about their ability to pay college costs in the current economic environment and tightening credit markets," Krendl said. "Our financial aid offers were recently sent out, and we hope to see an increase in final admits as a result. But for the time being, erring on the side of caution makes sense."
Those same considerations were at the heart of the BPC's recommendation, said Krendl and Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Decatur, who co-chair the committee.
"Given the uncertainties that we face, BPC wanted to hold down expenditures until the picture becomes clearer," Decatur said. "Putting compensation and base-budget five-year plan investments on hold will allow us to monitor the situation month by month while keeping all of our options open. A delay does not mean we are abandoning the investments; it means we are waiting to make sure we have resources committed before expending them."
In selecting compensation and base-budgeted five year plan investments for delay, the BPC was departing from the past practice of relying on planning unit cuts to meet budget shortfalls.
"One of the strongest points of consensus about the plan was that it should not be funded from unit budgets," Decatur said. "All of our planning units have endured seven years of cuts. BPC wanted to find another means in building a contingency budget."
While BPC suggested delaying base-budget investments in year one of the five-year plan, it endorsed moving forward with one-time-only investments. The latter provide the flexibility to launch initiatives and evaluate their performance before allocating resources long term. This strategy has been useful in the past two years for jumpstarting elements of college Vision Ohio plans.
BPC's recommendations will be discussed this week at a meeting of the deans and executive staff members, who will forward their recommendation to McDavis.
Improved by feedback
Those familiar with the January draft of the Five Year Vision Ohio Implementation Plan will find a number of changes in year one. Regional campus strategies with corresponding outcomes are now incorporated; metrics and progress indicators exist for each outcome; accountable units are identified; and new objectives and strategies are included as a result of suggestions from the university community.
Honors Tutorial College Dean Ann Fidler, who has coordinated the review of campus feedback, noted that there were more than 20 requests for changes to the implementation plan.
"The Vision Ohio Steering Committee reviewed the feedback and made recommendations, and the executive staff-deans group followed up with its approval," Fidler said. "As a result, new strategies and outcomes -- including items such as the hiring of underrepresented faculty, campus accessibility and employee health and wellness -- were inserted in the plan."
The latest draft also identifies where year one of the university plan aligns with the accountability measures in the USO plan.
"Whenever there is a strategy or outcome that replicates or overlaps with a USO measure, we clearly indicated that in the document," Fidler said. "Year one puts an emphasis on enrollment, recruitment, retention, graduation issues and affordability; likewise, over half of the USO accountability measures relate to these areas."
Although the timing, nature and amount of year one investments remain to be determined, McDavis said he believes the process of revising the plan with the broad participation has been successful and will allow the university to make progress in important areas.
"I'm pleased with the draft of year one of the plan that we will present to the trustees and look forward to working on the next phase of our strategic planning, which will involve taking a closer look at years two through five," McDavis said.
A draft of those years will go to the Board of Trustees in June.