As the beginning of the fall semester approaches, Western Carolina University is in the midst of the process of sharpening its focus. It is no coincidence that the university’s “2020 Vision” strategic plan is subtitled “Focusing Our Future.” Those who worked on the plan – and there were many from across the campus and the broader external community – realized the importance of a well-defined institutional focus in order for the university to move forward and continue to meet the needs of students and the region we serve.
Perhaps the most significant “focusing” activity in which we are engaged is academic program prioritization. Through this rigorous and inclusive process, we have examined all programs in our academic mix, assessing their quality, productivity and connection to mission. Academic program prioritization was a direct outcome of the “2020 Vision” plan, and it was called for by the first initiative of the first goal of the first strategic direction. Academic program prioritization will become a regular activity, ensuring that we have the proper array of programs to enable us to meet our institutional mission and position us for the opportunities and challenges ahead.
We also have thoroughly reviewed the structure of our administrative and other non-academic areas. As a result, we have made several organizational shifts designed to meet the “2020 Vision” goals of improving the effectiveness and efficiencies of campus business processes and ensuring the appropriate leadership and organizational structure necessary in order to fulfill our mission. We have eliminated a vice chancellor position, combined several units and functions, streamlined procedures and practices, and created operational synergies that make the university a more nimble organization.
In addition, we are in the final stages of a comprehensive master planning process that will guide the development and improvements of campus over the next several decades. Through this effort, we are addressing issues such as new building needs, use of existing space, parking and transportation, technology and other infrastructure, sustainability, safety and security, preservation of our unique heritage, and integration of campus with the surrounding community. Master planning will help clarify how we will develop our campus and its infrastructure to meet the changing needs of our growing student body.
These activities are occurring against the backdrop of challenging times. The university has absorbed more than $32 million in cuts to state funding since 2008-09. As I write this, our elected officials are debating the budget for the 2013-15 biennium, with further reductions anticipated. Simply put, we do not have the resources to do everything we would like to do or to be all things to all people. We never have. That is why we are taking a hard look at all of our functions in order to make informed decisions about how to use limited resources toward the goal of maintaining the growth, vitality and excellence of the university and WCU’s ability to serve students and the people of North Carolina.
That said, harsh fiscal realities alone are not driving this need to sharpen our focus. Institutions of higher education – like any organization – should engage in a systematic process of review and prioritization of all of its functions as a normal order of business. And we will do just that. Regular examination of what we do and how we do it will be an ongoing initiative of this forward-looking university in its pursuit of distinction. As good stewards of the resources and trust granted us by the people and the state, we must constantly evaluate our operations toward the goal of continuous improvement. Doing so will make us more efficient and will leave us a stronger institution. In fact, these efforts already are producing results. Enrollment continues to climb, and a higher percentage of students who come to WCU are staying to complete their degrees. We expect the trend of record enrollment to continue this fall.
Western Carolina is a university with a proud tradition and a future of extraordinary possibilities. By sharpening our focus, we are better positioned to live up to the legacy of our past, meet the challenges of our present and embrace the opportunities of our future.
You are part of Western Carolina, and I trust that you share my pride and belief in the future of our university.
David O. Belcher, Chancellor