Faculty, students, administrators, alumni, trustees and friends of the University congregated March 15 for an all-day Strategic Planning Retreat designed to gather input and prepare for the upcoming Western Association of Schools and Colleges Review.
“We need to be able to project an image of success, caring and learning and the strategic planning process does that,” said Aghop Der-Karabetian, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and a member of the WASC Accreditation Committee.
WASC is the western regional accrediting agency that accredits the University of La Verne.
Although accreditation is not required, it provides countless benefits; it aids institutions in developing and sustaining effective educational programs and assures the educational community that the accredited institution has met certain quality standards.
The commission comes every 10 years to review an institution.
The criteria for WASC accreditation has changed in the last 10 years, now examining an institution for two components: input variables and learning outcomes. The University of La Verne was one of the last institutions to be visited under the old system.
“We need to demonstrate that we have shifted our focus to learning outcomes rather than input variable or factors – it’s now less important to talk about how many books we have or how many rooms and so on – now they want to know what is being learned and are students learning what they are supposed to,” Der-Karabetian said.
In preparation for WASC’s team visit for Preparatory Review in 2010 and Educational Effectiveness Review in 2011, the University hoped to gather opinions, criticism, kudos and aspirations to take into consideration and implement while building their Strategic Plan.
The plan will guide the University over the next decade serving as the framework for ongoing financial, physical and academic improvements.
“The whole process is ?intended to make us better. We continue to grow and we have grown a lot in the last few years,” Der-Karabetian said. “We need to decide how we want to grow, what do we want to become as an institution, and how do we want to be recognized by the area that we serve – Southern California and beyond.”
Though definitely not the University’s first planning retreat, Vice President of Academic Affairs Al Clark said it was the first to invite students and alumni to join in the process.
University President Stephen Morgan called the retreat’s purpose “a vision of where we want to go,” during his opening address in the Sports Science and Athletics Pavilion.
Complementing his PowerPoint presentation with quotes from Yogi Berra and former University President Leland Newcomer, Morgan outlined the University’s history of growth and transitioned to his goals for the future and the importance of WASC accreditation.
The University gathered comments from breakout sessions on strategic planning throughout the day at the Main Campus retreat event.
The morning session topic was “Vision, Mission, Values and Proposed Strategic Goals No. 1-No. 2.”
This session separated students, faculty, staff and administrators, with scattered trustees sitting in, into different groups to discuss the aspects that strengthen and threaten the University, as well as the strategic goals.
The afternoon session addressed “Proposed Strategic Goals No. 3-No. 8.” In this session, mixed members of the University’s community combined to discuss and improve the goals.
Faculty and students, who could not make the Main Campus retreat from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., were invited to participate later in the day at 4:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Also, off-campus sites held classroom discussions from March 1 to March 15.
“What came through loudly in these sessions is the strength in the quality in teaching, and the challenge that the facilities need to be maintained,” Morgan said.
In between the breakout sessions, Robert Neher, interim provost and vice president for academic affairs, and the deans from every ULV college presented a panel addressing the audience on their present and future outlook and plan for their specific college.
“We want to continue refining strategic objectives by asking each college to develop a plan within goals useful to review, strengthen and improve the future,” Morgan said.
Implementing the ideas from the retreat into the strategic plan will require a multi-step process including summarizing data from two sources—the data that came out of the breakout sessions and classroom discussions, and the quantitative data from the survey.
After summarizing the data, the committee plans to look back at the strategic goals and revise them as necessary.
After the goals are set up, the University will begin implementation plan.
The committee will be going through each goal and assessing how to implement the goal, how much money to achieve the goal, who will carry out the goal, and propose a timeline for completion.
The biggest challenge for the University, and any institution, is attaching the budget to the planning, Der-Karabetian said. The planning and implementation of the strategic plan is tied to assessment and the budget.
Clark, who is also the University’s WASC liaison and head of the committee that organized and staged the retreat, said he came up with the idea last summer, around the time of the departure of then-Provost Richard McDowell.
Other ULV administrators liked the idea, provided it could procure its own separate funding, and the original target date was set for Nov. 2.
When it became clear that that date wouldn’t allow adequate time for preparation, the retreat was re-scheduled for March 15.
“Instead of holding it on the Day of the Dead, we wound up holding it on the Ides of March,” Clark said half-jokingly.
Early indications were of a literally overwhelming level of response.
An impressive 466 people completed the online survey prepared for attendees, Clark said, prompting the committee to consider purchasing special software to sort through all of the typed responses. The report on the retreat itself and the surveys is due to be completed on April 15.
The University is also currently creating a Web page, or an “institutional portfolio of assessment” according to Der-Karabetian, for assessment and institutional research results to be posted with hopes of it running in the next six to eight months.
“I thought it [the retreat] went splendidly in many respects,” Clark said, despite the fact he had only managed two hours of sleep the night before. “I think that we captured a lot of valuable data.”
“The retreat provided a variety of ideas…and gave everyone a chance to reflect on their experiences in their own unique way, and as result of that we made an opportunity for creative ideas and gained a sense of how to project ourselves,” Der-Karabetian said.
Clark said the University might hold another retreat shortly before the WASC committee comes for its 2010 visit.
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