New strategic plan to drive budget priorities

MSU’s new strategic plan, approved this month, outlines the university’s goals for the next seven years, setting the institution’s course and articulating budget priorities. One particular focus will be student retention through increased support for student success and an emphasis on providing students with meaningful opportunities.

Specific goals include increasing total enrollment to 16,350 students, raising faculty pay to 80 percent of national averages and ensuring that every student has an “engagement experience” while at MSU.

Interim Planning and Analysis Director Chris Fastnow explained that the plan represents high-level goals for the university and deliberately omits items applying to specific colleges or departments. Over the course of the current school year, organizations within the university will work to develop their own plans which align with the overarching guideline.

As budget proposals are presented in coming years, administration will approve or deny them based on how well they fit into the plan.

The plan emphasizes specific numerical targets to make it easier to tell whether the university is meeting its goals. For example, it outlines increasing MSU’s graduate student population by 20 percent, to approximately 2,350.

“If we can’t track our progress, we don’t know whether we’re making progress,” Fastnow explained. “We want to measure success.”

Jim Rimpau, currently the Vice President for Student Success and one of the key administrators involved in the plan’s development, said the document represents the university’s land-grant mission, which emphasizes “three pillars” of learning, discovery and engagement. It also emphasizes a commitment to making university attendance accessible, and effectively stewarding natural resources and taxpayer dollars.

Rimpau said the university’s primary focus is the integration of those three pillars into the student experience. One way to integrate is to emphasize service learning programs where students apply their academic study to real-world problems. He pointed to MSU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter, which works to develop water and sanitation infrastructure in western Kenya, and the Towne’s Harvest Garden Program, which promotes sustainable agricultural practices, as examples the university hopes to emulate.

Fastnow explained that taking the time to develop a plan allows the university to be proactive instead of reactive to issues as they occur, particularly when it comes to setting budgets.

She added that the process of crafting a strategic plan also serves as a “community-building exercise” in helping the campus develop a shared vision. The plan’s title, “Mountains & Minds: Learners and Leaders,” was chosen through a poll featured in the Monday Morning Memo.

“If you don’t have a plan, you don’t have a direction,” Rimpau explained. “If you want to get better, you’ve got to be [deliberate] about how you spend your resources.”

The plan was developed over the 2011-12 school year by a strategic planning committee composed of representatives from across campus including students, faculty and administrators, and was chaired by President Waded Cruzado.

“President Cruzado gave us a year to dream big and make plans for the future of the university,” Dean of Students Matt Caires said.

The full plan is available at montana.edu/strategicplan.