The University’s Presidential transition and heightened global economic uncertainty over the past year made an assessment of the 2006-2011 Strategic Plan to determine progress and trajectory toward achieving the University’s Strategic Goals imperative. This assessment included an examination of the contextual changes within which Fairmont State operates; and, examination of these contextual changes revealed the following selected strategic challenges Fairmont State faces in the coming years.
The national and West Virginia economy are in the midst of a very severe recession. The outlook for the state is dependent upon on the economic trends of the national and global economies. West Virginia’s employment is expected to stabilize during the first half of 2010 and grow during the second half of the year. However, gains are likely to be slow and the state does not regain 2008 employment levels again until 2013 (WVU Research Corporation, 2009). Fairmont State University must be diligent in monitoring the situation and making the budgetary adjustments necessary to minimize the effect on our campus community.
The Governor asked all state colleges and universities to ‘freeze’ tuition for the next academic year. Complicating this tuition freeze is the likely continuation of declining state support due to the economic recession and competing demands for available state resources. According to the Governor’s Budget Director, fiscal year 2012 budgets will be established at fiscal 2009 funding levels and budget cycles thereafter will trend in a downward manner. Over the past ten years, Fairmont State University increased tuition and fees by 120.7%. One reason for this rate of increase was that the state’s contribution to Fairmont State was among the lowest of all West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC) institutions (West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission & Community And Technical College System, 2009) The average Fairmont State University student has nearly $20,000 of debt upon graduation. We must address the cost and quality of a degree from Fairmont State University in the strategic planning process.
The US Census ranked West Virginia last among all 50 states regarding the percentage of the population 25 years old and over with a bachelor’s degree. (U.S. Census Bureau, 2008) According to the West Virginia HEPC’s 2007-2012 Master Plan (West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission, ), more than 173,000 state residents have some college but no degree. Fairmont State University should work to improve access to higher education through innovative academic calendars or course schedules, regional initiatives or outreach affiliations.
The number of West Virginia high school graduates is expected to decline through 2018. (West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission & Community And Technical College System, 2009) Possible alternatives to address this declining student base include increasing the enrollment of distance education students, out-of-state students, and nontraditional students. According to data developed by the Office of Legislative Redistricting a large portion of the West Virginia population is located within a 25-mile radius of campus (West Virginia Legislative Auditor, 2010). Fairmont State should take appropriate steps to identify programs of distinction, capitalize on opportunities, and otherwise differentiate itself from the regional higher education market.
When originally developed, the 2006-2011 Strategic Plan reflected the combined institutional structure of Fairmont State and Pierpont Community & Technical College. On December 31, 2009, in response to legislative mandate, the two institutions entered into a Separation Agreement, making them fully independent while maintaining joint occupancy of the campus in Fairmont. The Separation Agreement contains a unique, explicit pledge by the two boards of governors to perpetually cooperate and collaborate. This approach should help both institutions weather the challenges which will continue to impact operations, finances, and enrollments.
In order to maintain regional accreditation, the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools will visit Fairmont State University and evaluate the following five (5) Criteria for Accreditation: 1) Mission and Integrity; 2) Preparing for the Future, 3) Student Learning and Effective Teaching, 4) Acquisition, Discovery, and Application of Knowledge, and 5) Engagement and Service.
All public colleges and universities have an obligation to be responsible and trusted guardians of the public’s resources and to communicate clearly and effectively about their stewardship of the public’s investment in them. Fairmont State University is committed to satisfying this greater degree of public scrutiny and becoming a leader in promoting improved data systems, greater transparency and increased focus on student learning outcomes.
Prior to the presentation of each major goal, a brief narrative is provided. This narrative provides the rationale and context of the discussions that took place before identifying the bulleted list of action items under each goal. Please note – the goals as presented have equal value and do not occur in a prioritized order.
Narrative: The faculty and staff of all post-secondary institutions value high-quality teaching and educational attainment which fosters responsible citizenship as well as personal and professional growth. An education from a post-secondary institution should enhance an individual’s ability to think creatively, actively participate in a democratic society, and achieve future employment. Faculty and staff need to constantly develop their ‘craft’ of teaching and assessment abilities in light of new teaching instructional methodologies, technological advances, and the changing needs of our students. The integration of experiential learning and community engagement were viewed as essential to demonstrating content relevancy while capitalizing on a student’s active participation and a desire to apply their learned knowledge and skills.
Narrative: All public institutions of higher learning are charged with assisting in the educational, economic and cultural well-being of their region. Fairmont State University has numerous opportunities to be more than just ‘the College on the Hill’ by taking a more active role in meeting the needs of our region. Utilizing expertise in selected program areas, faculty and staff could assist in providing educational experiences that enhance the employment and professional development opportunities to citizens of North Central West Virginia. These endeavors could take place in a variety of forms (e.g., delivery of occupationally-oriented baccalaureate study, assisting business, industrial, and public service agencies with specific research or training needs, or by offering continuing education programs for cultural enrichment or personal skill development). Experiential learning and community engagement were viewed as vitally important for distinguishing this institution from other regional universities. Many faculty and students are already actively engaged with these types of teaching and learning experiences, and they provide unique opportunities for students to connect their studies to current and future community or work-related endeavors. Experiential learning and community engagement allow for greater understanding of current problems, issues, or job-related skills and these experiences distinguish our students from those attending other institutions.
Narrative: One of the goals of Fairmont State University is to enhance the quality of life for the residents in our region and the State of West Virginia. This is accomplished by providing opportunities for nonprofit and profit organizations, governmental agencies, and citizens to access the services and programs of the University. Service learning as an educational strategy integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, to instill civic responsibility, and to strengthen our local and regional communities as well as their global connections.
Narrative: Fairmont State University currently offers a limited number of graduate degree programs. A review of educational trends indicates distance education, graduate degree programs, and professional development are among those qualities most desired by graduates and employers. Increased institutional support is needed to further develop graduate programs, support faculty and program development, and to foster the use of delivery systems that can meet these needs.
Narrative: Fairmont State University has a unique tradition of small class size, a caring and supportive faculty, and a sense of pride in inspiring student success. The faculty and staff of Fairmont State University can further assist in student recruitment, retention, graduation, and placement rates by fostering a culture of involvement in campus and community activities and by promoting positive messages which enhance our standing in the regional community. Improved and open communication systems such as MapWorks, as well as a Student Access and Support Center, devoted to timely evaluation of, and response to, student need, are viewed as essential elements for improving student retention and providing more opportunities to publicize the numerous accomplishments of faculty, staff, and students.
Narrative: The professional development of faculty and staff are essential to student success. Faculty and staff need opportunities to further their careers and move into roles which can benefit the University. Developing a customer focus with our many constituents further enhances the reputation of the University while fostering student success and increased retention.