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Centennial Plan helps guide current decision-making, future planning

| Judy Berthiaume

Walk through UW-Eau Claire’s central campus and you see stunning new or renovated buildings, beautiful open spaces, and students using the restored Little Niagara Creek as an outdoor science classroom.

Listen in on conversations as you wander through campus and you’re likely to hear about community partnerships, cultural immersions, new student learning opportunities and professional development for faculty and staff.

By all sorts of measures, UW-Eau Claire is a university that — despite significant budget challenges — continues to be an innovative and dynamic institution that provides its students with the quality experiences that prepare them for future success.

Credit goes to the many dedicated faculty, staff, student leaders and campus administrators who have worked tirelessly over the past year to provide students with a quality education despite far fewer resources. Part of their efforts grew from the seeds for change planted nearly eight years ago by those who embraced UW-Eau Claire’s long-term strategic plan.

The 2008-2016 Centennial Plan laid out an ambitious vision as well as seven specific goals that were intended to transform student learning and transform the university.

That plan has helped guide decision-making and priority setting across UW-Eau Claire’s campus, including during these times of historic budget cuts.

“As I look across campus today, I see a beautiful new campus mall, renovation of the historic Schofield Hall and construction of Centennial Hall,” says Dr. Robert Hooper, a member of the University Planning Committee that oversaw the strategic planning process in 2008. “What a change from the worn-out look of central campus just eight years ago. Would the Confluence Project — now a model for public-private partnerships — have been envisioned without a long-range plan?

“Managing is important but planning is critical. You need to know where you want to end up or you’ll never get to the intended destination. That’s what planning does for an organization.”

The members of this year’s University Planning Committee have been assessing the university’s progress against the goals of the Centennial Plan.

Dr. Rose Battalio, who has served on the committee for four years, says faculty and staff may be surprised by the changes that have been made.

“We have looked at a whole range of success measures, from our four-year graduation rate to percentage of faculty of color, to our energy use,” says Battalio. “In so many ways, our campus has made real progress on the very things we collectively said were important to us. CETL— the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning — for example, was formed from a recommendation in our strategic plan. The changes to liberal education resulted from goals developed by faculty who worked on the plan.And we now have nine living-learning communities, another idea from our planning efforts.”

According to data compiled by Institutional Research and available on the strategic planning website, progress has been made on goals set in 2008, including those focused on transforming learning.

UW-Eau Claire’s four-year graduation rate, for example, climbed from 26.6 percent in 2007 to 34.2 percent last year. The university’s goal to increase the number of student immersion experiences has helped propel the number of students participating in at least one high impact practice from 71 percent in 2009 to almost 83 percent in 2014.

While the campus should celebrate these successes, it’s also now time to look ahead to 2020, Battalio says.

This month, planning will begin in earnest for the next strategic plan, starting with an all-campus meeting on Jan. 20 to begin the discussion.

The Jan. 20 meeting will ask faculty and staff to describe what kind of university the campus community envisions for future Blugolds.

Planning for the future is even more critical during times of fiscal crisis, as has been the case on campus in recent years, Hooper says.

“In times of decreasing budgets, like we’ve experienced the last few years, having a plan is almost more important than when new resources are available,” Hooper says. “When you need to make campus reductions, the plan can help us figure out what we want to preserve above all else. Across-the-board cuts are easy to manage but lead to an overall reduction in quality. In the most recent budget cuts, this campus chose to preserve the student experience; to shelter the students from the impact of the budget cuts. That’s what we said we valued in the Centennial strategic plan.”

The current Centennial Plan’s focus on transforming learning for students also guided the creation of Chancellor James Schmidt’s four guidepost goals.

Those guideposts are: 100 percent student participation in high-impact practices; 90 percent second-year retention rate; 50 percent four-year graduation rate; and 20 percent enrollment of students of color and eliminating the opportunity gap.

The upcoming planning process will be guided by those goals as well as by several sets of data and documents that have been created by faculty and staff, including the facilities master plan, the equity, diversity and inclusivity plans, and the enrollment management plan.

The academic master plan, currently being developed by an implementation team, also will help inform UW-Eau Claire’s new strategic plan.

“This year when I sat on a rapid-action task force appointed in response to the budget cuts, I pulled out the strategic plan and used it as my blueprint for recommending change,” Hooper says. “I found the strategic plan from 2008 to be very helpful in terms of developing guiding principles. By following the plan, this campus has continued to offer great student opportunities.”

Hooper expects the next strategic plan to play a similar role in future decision-making.

“Moving forward with a plan is better than staying in place and reacting to external pressures by managing the present,” Hooper says. “Having spent 33 years on our campus, I can truthfully say that we are great at managing the day-to-day operations of our campus. We tend to be very responsible and good stewards of our limited state resources.

“However, management can only take a campus so far. Moving forward requires a coherent plan so that decisions can be made not just with a focus on management of existing campus functions but with an eye toward real strategic improvement.”

 Participating in the last strategic planning exercise in 2008 remains one of his best campus experiences, Hooper says.

“I learned so much from my colleagues in other parts of the institution,” Hooper says. “It really was a time to both look forward and to celebrate some of our past accomplishments. I think planning made us a better campus, even in a time of declining state support for higher education.”