What a quality conversation this was! There were 16 in attendance including the facilitator and note taker. The makeup of the group was quite diverse representing a broad range of divisions, departments, and stakeholders. Given that diversity, there certainly seemed to be common themes that resonated throughout the conversation. Quite honestly this group could have strategically conversed for at least another hour. The majority of the hour was spent on SWOT-related dialog even though prompted to incorporate the other two themes. I was proud of our staff for their faith that their comments would actually matter and their willingness to share them!
Among the primary points of discussion related to strengths and opportunities was WCU’s location and a variety of aspects related to our general area, our proximity to natural parks and the natural resources available for both study and recreation, our size and small school feel, and the quality of life that most feel accompanies all the above. Beyond the overarching comments related to location, size, etc., recent improvements in campus facilities, the strength of particular academic and particular support programs, and institutional affordability for students, are also seen as WCU’s strengths.
Among the primary themes surfacing as weaknesses was the lack of funding and/or perception that our past leadership was unwilling to use our resources more efficiently and effectively to better position this institution for success. Funding and/or funding decisions were obviously a topic that most seemed to acknowledge as critical; however, they seemed to feel even more strongly about the need for our institution to build better working relationships across both divisional and departmental lines. This theme of teambuilding seemed focused on perceptions of a lack of communication and/or an unwillingness to communicate by faculty/staff and especially upper administration. Our perceived lack of Alumni development, our perceived inability to “tell our story” to the state and especially our region, our inability to significantly impact retention rates, overall parking/transportation issues, a perception that scholarship funding has been neglected and is now severely lacking, and the continuing poorly performing football program are all seen as major weaknesses and detrimental to both short and long term success.
The conversation related to opportunities focused on all of the above strengths and weaknesses since those were all viewed as being critical factors in our future, especially better Alumni relations. In addition, the group felt strongly about Chancellor Belcher’s arrival and the opportunities for relationship building and/or mending with the local/regional communities, our current and potential business partners, General Administration, and our Alumni. Furthermore, our relationship with the Arboretum and our presence in Asheville was seen as opportunities if rational, strategic moves are made to best maximize their potential. Streamlining our programs and reallocating resources and funding to our best and most populated programs are seen as an opportunity.
The primary theme running throughout most discussion on perceived threats was related to funding. This included cuts in financial aid, overall budget cuts, a lack of pay raises and the concern that this will result in the loss of quality faculty and staff, the rising costs of construction/renovation which will impact our future capability to modernize aging facilities or build new ones, and a great concern that our campus infrastructure, including IT, is in critical need of upgrades. Other threats focused on competition from community colleges, fellow UNC institutions, as well as the global market. Our lack of overall communication to all constituents was also seen as threat. The desire for “intranet-type” functions for better communication of campus events and non-formal faculty-to-staff-to-students-to-community interaction was supported.
The group did have about 7-10 minutes for discussion related to the #1 Future Priority and WCU in 5-10 years. From that discussion came the overall acknowledgement that this strategic planning process must guide all future WCU moves. WCU must decide what it is, what size it wants to be, the programs that are important, and most critically, be willing to make the hard choices necessary to add/drop programs and support as needed to pursue our strategic plan. There were no opinions voiced on size preference, just that we need to pick our goals and then put the resources in place to reach them, unlike past practices.
Thanks for the opportunity to participate in this process!