Building UNI's Future Together

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Long before the global health pandemic, higher education was immersed in a period of profound transformation. We are navigating an extremely competitive market for students, rapid demographic change, and innovation in the delivery of higher learning, among many other factors. As we work to maintain the health and safety of our campus community in the ongoing recovery from Covid-19, our underlying efforts to prepare for the long-term vitality and success of the university remain critical. Together, our work will continue in laying the foundation for the future of UNI. Several key initiatives are guiding us.

Future Visioning and Strategic Planning – Beginning in 2019, a broad cross-section of our faculty, staff, and students facilitated a comprehensive landscape analysis of drivers of change to society and the work of higher education. That effort produced a Future Vision for UNI that sets a framework for future strategic plans. We have also begun the process of ensuring that strategic planning is an integral part of the culture at the university by forming the University Strategic Plan Coordinating Committee, a campus-wide group charged with monitoring progress on university-wide goals and partnering with university leaders and shared governance groups to affirm strengths and identify areas of growth in delivering our mission. We are also in the process of forming the next strategic planning committee that will develop the goals, strategies, and metrics for the next five-year plan while revisiting the university's mission, vision, and values to ensure alignment with the needs of our students and the industries and communities we serve. These two videos here and here help explain the strategic planning process.

Academic Positioning – The university has a rich tradition of academic excellence because of faculty who continue to serve this campus, the community, their disciplines, and our students so well. Academic excellence will continue to be at the core of what we do at UNI. As we know, many of the forces driving change to higher education affirm our need to imagine and create new, innovative, and interdisciplinary approaches to scholarship, teaching, academic and student support program planning activities, community engagement initiatives, and so much other critical work we do to ensure our short- and long-term vitality. The Division of Academic Affairs, supported by the leadership of the Academic Positioning Project Management Team, is taking a proactive approach to prepare our future by facilitating a campus-wide Academic Positioning effort to generate ideas to build on UNI's rich tradition of academic excellence while positioning the university to continue meeting the needs of the students, industries, and communities we serve. The Project Management Team has thoughtfully and intentionally worked with our campus and surrounding community to reimagine higher education while affirming our core as an institution that is committed to the success of our students, faculty, and staff and upholding shared governance excellence. On April 29, the Academic Positioning Project Management Team will hand off their final report to the Office of the President and the Office of the Provost. Their report includes the emerging themes generated by the university community, along with an analysis of campus feedback. This work will remain an essential component to bringing the university's future vision and strategic plan to life now and in the years to come, and we will continue in this journey as a community committed to shared governance and the success of our students.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion – The President's Council for Inclusion, Transformative Social Justice, and Advocacy is doing important work to develop a strategic plan for our campus' approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion; identifying areas of strength and opportunities for growth in our policies and practices as they relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion; and developing proposed diversity, equity, and inclusion statements for adoption by the university. Furthermore, UNI hosted a community book read, co-sponsored the annual Economic Inclusion Summit, and is expanding its outreach efforts to grow our community's goals to promote a welcoming and inclusive living, learning, and working environment for all.

Enrollment Master Planning – As enrollment in higher education declined in recent years, it is extremely important that we focus our attention on building structures and processes to assure the long-term health of UNI. The university developed a revitalized, integrated marketing and recruitment plan that is data-informed, drives the allocation of resources, and guides University Relations and Enrollment Management in targeting outreach to prospective students across Iowa and the Midwest. Key to strengthening our enrollment is to ensure we protect access to a great education at an affordable price, and that we tell our story boldly and well.

Ensuring Access and Affordability - The university continues to work closely with the Iowa legislature, Governor's office, and Board of Regents to differentiate our tuition and fees from Iowa and Iowa State, ensuring our costs remain competitive among regional comprehensives. This effort is also essential in our work to protect access and affordability for students and their families. Prior to the pandemic, we successfully partnered with our key stakeholders to garner $4 million in new appropriations from the state for the 2019-20 academic year and avoid a mid-year rescission. While the pandemic has posed unique challenges to this effort, and despite a $1.5 million reduction this fiscal year, we have been able to hold tuition and fees flat for the 2020-21 academic year while our state recovers from Covid-19. We are working with the Board of Regents and our elected leaders to return to this part of our broader effort to protect access to a high quality UNI education for students.

Marketing and Branding – UNI completed a comprehensive rebranding effort this year, capping a two-year project that included extensive research and feedback from nearly 4,000 constituents. In the coming year, you will see us tell the UNI story of helping students unlock their unrealized potential in new ways.

HLC Reaffirmation – Earlier this month, UNI submitted our Assurance Argument to the Higher Learning Commission, a critical step in the process to gain reaffirmation by our regional accrediting body. The site visit will occur March 29-30, and the two-day virtual visit process caps off a multi-year, campus-wide effort that engaged more than 100 members of the university community. HLC reaffirmation is critical to our functioning as a university, and the process helps us ensure we remain in a strong position to serve our students, steward resources, and deliver mission excellence.

UNI has been a positive force in society for 145 years, and those who served this special place before us laid important groundwork for our success. It is our moment to set the stage for the continued excellence of our students, employees, and alumni for years and generations to come. The continuation of this work, coupled with the passion, talent, and hard work each of you bring to this campus each day is essential for the long-term vitality of our university.

Panther Proud!

Mark A. Nook