“Moving Forward” is Georgia Southwestern State University’s (GSW) third strategic plan, but in many ways the first plan that clearly integrates the institution’s mission with operationally defined goals and objectives that can be assessed effectively at both the university-wide and the individual unit level. The foundation for this plan was laid during the 2006-2007 academic year, when a task force was charged by former GSW President Michael Hanes to propose a new strategic plan to take effect following the completion of the 2002-2007 plan. This task force arrived at six goals, based on the University System of Georgia’s Strategic Plan, and proposed some action objectives for GSW to meet these goals.
In 2008, President Kendall Blanchard and Vice President of Academic Affairs Brian Adler moved forward to develop a fully integrated strategic plan built on the existing foundation, yet distinctive to GSW. The first step was to revisit GSW’s Mission Statement, which had not been substantively revised since 2002. The revised mission statement, drafted in 2009 and approved by the faculty in 2010, is as follows:
Georgia Southwestern State University cultivates excellence in learning and teaching that encourages intellectual, personal, and social growth for students, faculty, staff, and the community. Georgia Southwestern State University is a comprehensive state university within the University System of Georgia that offers a full range of bachelor degree programs, along with selected master’s and specialist degree programs.
GSW’s current mission statement invokes the institution’s origins as an agricultural and normal school founded to meet the economic and cultural needs of its region and of the state of Georgia. With this revised mission in place, the next step of crafting a strategic plan distinctive to GSW could begin. This work resulted in three strategic goals each with multiple action objectives that relate directly to enacting GSW’s mission.
The Southwest Georgia region requires both GSW graduates and the economic impact of the institution itself to build and maintain its prosperity. Moreover, the number of individuals seeking a college education in Georgia continues to expand as does the need of the state economy for college graduates, trends that are mirrored nationally. However, increasing enrollment is only the beginning, since we must graduate as many students as possible if we are to do our part for our region, our state, and the nation.
While it is important that GSW expand its enrollment, the institution plans to do so deliberately in ordered stages. In the first stage, our target is an enrollment of 3000 students by 2010, and, in the second, an enrollment of 4000 by the completion of the current strategic plan in 2015. To reach these goals, GSW must expand its efforts in three principal areas. We must continue to expand our recruiting efforts for traditional freshmen beyond the immediate Southwest Georgia region, especially in metro Atlanta, Macon, and Columbus. We must aggressively recruit transfer students, especially from University System of Georgia two-year colleges and the Technical College System of Georgia. We must also expand our efforts to recruit and accommodate adult learners and military veterans.
Increasing the number of international students at GSW will not only contribute to enrollment growth, but also contribute to meeting the other strategic goals of cultivating excellence in learning and teaching, and cultivating partnerships. GSW will concentrate its efforts in areas, such as China, where demonstrable desire to place students in American higher education exists, and in areas, such as Nepal and India, where GSW faculty have local connections. The institution will also increase its efforts in areas, such as Japan and Korea, where its English Language Institute has traditionally operated.
Increasing online program offerings will make GSW degrees accessible to more students, especially to adult learners with job and family responsibilities, and potentially to military veterans nearing the end of active duty. For existing programs in business, computer science, and nursing, increasing online offerings, especially in general education courses, will make the programs more flexible and attractive to a greater number of students, while affording more scheduling flexibility to resident and commuter students.
Sustained enrollment growth that will provide the Southwest Georgia region, as well as the rest of the state, with well-prepared college graduates requires attending to retention and graduation rates. Towards this end, GSW’s Presidential Task Force on Retention and Graduation will monitor the institution’s progress in meeting our retention and graduation targets. The task force will also indentify and craft solutions to the obstacles students face on the way to graduation by exploring ways to keep GSW affordable, and by assessing our efforts to support student academic and social success, such as the First-Year Experience Program. In addition, the task force will review survey data from NSSE, FSSE, and the Adult Learner Focused Institution toolkit to identify further obstacles to student success.
Cultivating Excellence in Undergraduate Learning and Teaching continues the 2002-07 priority of promoting academic programs of distinction, but it refocuses the pursuit of excellence on learning and teaching rather than on academic programs. Certainly, effective academic programs are necessary to excellence, but learning and teaching take place in a variety of places on our campus both within and beyond the classroom, and between variety of campus constituents in addition to faculty and students. The placement of learning before teaching in GSW’s revised mission signifies the direction of focus not only on student learning, but on faculty, staff and community learning, as well. Seen in this way, excellence in teaching and learning results from an environment where intellectual, personal, and social growth can take place for all campus constituents throughout their lives.
It is well known that employers want college graduates who have a mix of broad general skills, such as communication, teamwork, and critical thinking skills, and an in-depth knowledge and skills in a specific area. Traditionally, the primary benefit of broad general knowledge and skills derived from comprehensive liberal education has been an intellectual agility that allows graduates to thrive whether they enter the specific area for which they prepared or not. In addition, such graduates have been considered prepared to participate fully in the democratic process, and to pursue happiness beyond simple material success. To insure that students are getting the broad general skills they need, GSW will undertake a revision of its Core Curriculum to establish consistent student learning outcomes for each area of general education and to establish a robust assessment plan for measuring these outcomes. The institution will also work to increase student awareness both of how the Core disciplines and skills connect to one another, and how this mix of broad general knowledge skills connects to in-depth knowledge and skills in a specific area.
While employers have generally expressed confidence that graduates of American colleges and universities are prepared to meet the demands of entry level positions in the workplace, they express considerably less confidence that these graduates are prepared to advance in the workplace. The most important concerns employers have are the ability of graduates to integrate the general and specific skills and knowledge from their degree programs to accomplish complex tasks and solve complex problems in a real world setting. Therefore, GSW proposes to enhance its degree programs by increasing the use of complex, problem-oriented assignments and projects that integrate skills and knowledge from the Core curriculum with discipline specific content and skills. This approach will also assure that the Core knowledge and skills continue to develop as students focus their attention on a specific discipline. The incorporation of more capstone experiences, internships, and undergraduate research are among the actions that all programs may pursue to meet this goal. Specific attention will be given to enhancing programs in the STEM disciplines to help meet the critical shortage of graduates in these areas across the state and the nation, and to increasing graduates with expertise in medicine, social work, P-12 education, and business and economic development to help meet the needs of the Southwest Georgia region. The University Honors Program will also be an area of attention and enhancement.
GSW cannot now meet some of the needs of its region and of the state, because it does not offer programs in specific areas, such as criminal justice, or because it does not offer the level of degree necessary to meet the need, such as a Masters in Nursing. In addition, changes in the culture and the nature of work, especially in areas affected by information technology, may demand the creation of new degree programs designed to prepare graduates for evolving types of work.
Since learning and teaching take place in a variety of places on our campus both beyond the classroom, and between variety of campus constituents in addition to faculty and students, GSW proposes to challenge all support units across campus to ways in which their operations cultivate learning for their staff, as well as for GSW students. All units, academic or support, will be challenged to find ways to cultivate the scholarly, creative, or professional development of the faculty, staff, and students.
Since its founding in 1906 when the city of Americus requested an institution of higher education be located here, GSW has been an important part of this community. As the institution moves forward into its second century, much has changed, but GSW’s importance to its community and to the Southwest Georgia region remains strong. Americus is, however, more than a college town, since it is home to two international organizations, Habitat for Humanity and the Fuller Center for Housing, that minister to the human need for decent, affordable housing. Sumter County is also home to two important national heritages: the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, Georgia, and the Andersonville National Historic Site that houses the National Prisoner of War Museum. GSW is part of a community with a tradition of ministry and service that begin at home, but also extend outward into the national and international spheres. The institution is also part of a community that remembers its past in order to work toward a better future. Cultivating partnerships within these community traditions will enable GSW to contribute to a better future both locally and globally.
GSW proposes to enhance its existing partnerships with the local community, including the City of Americus, Sumter County, The Americus-Sumter County Schools, South Georgia Technical College, the Lake Blackshear Regional Library, and Phoebe-Sumter Hospital. The emphasis of this enhancement will be to find ways that GSW and its partners can pool their assets to improve future prospects in Southwest Georgia.
In the region, GSW proposes to create partnerships of mutual interest with the Jimmy Carter and the Andersonville National Historic Sites by negotiating Memoranda of Understanding for joint educational ventures to benefit both the GSW’s students and the local community. In particular, GSW and the Andersonville National Historic Site will be presented with ample opportunities to collaborate during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War from 2011-15. GSW will explore other potential partnerships in Southwest Georgia with such entities as Fort Benning U.S. Army Base, Robins Air Force Base, Habitat of Humanity, and the Fuller Center for Housing among others. The institution further proposes to explore potential entrepreneurial partnerships through the School of Business Center for Business and Economic Development. Beyond the region, GSW will pursue partnerships of mutual interest with educational institutions both within the United State and beyond, and with other organizations representing stakeholders with an interest in the contributing to a better future for higher education both locally and globally.
During 2011, the Strategic Planning and Assessment Subcommittee of GSW’s Institutional Effectiveness Committee will take stock of what has been accomplished during the first three and one-half years of the plan, and inventory what yet needs to or can be done to accomplish GSW’s strategic goals, and enact our mission thereby.