NKU president releases first draft of five-year strategic plan

Five goals outline the future of the university

The NKU Strategic Planning Committee released the first draft of the NKU 2013-18 Strategic Plan which included student success, talent development, academic innovation, community engagement and institutional excellence as its main goals.

University President Geoffrey Mearns released this first draft of the strategic plan Aug. 30 via a message on the strategic planning website and through an email blast to the NKU community.

“The new strategic plan”, according to Mearns’ message, “will guide us [NKU] toward our 50th anniversary and lay the foundation for the next 50 years for the university.”

But what exactly does this plan mean? How will its goals lead NKU through these next five years? And of all times, why now?

The Effort

This overall draft was a culmination of a year’s work for Mearns, starting with the commencement of his listening tour during his first semester as the fifth president of the university back in August 2012.

In January 2013, Mearns put together a strategic planning committee made up of one student member, two external members, three faculty members, two staff members, a department chair, a college dean and two ex-officio members.

With representation from across the university present on the committee, the facilitation of various open forum sessions for input, tailored towards all walks of life at the university, the distribution of campus-wide surveys, the formation of working groups to tackle NKU’s view on today’s big issues and more. Mearns said it has been a communal effort to develop the plan.

The reason the new strategic plan is being composed in the first place, is due to the former strategic plan expiring after its five-year lifespan from 2007-2012, under the leadership of former NKU President James Votruba.

The new plan will lead the university from 2013 until NKU’s 50th anniversary in 2018.


The original concept of using this sort of “strategic planning” process for a university first caught on in America in the early 1980’s, according to a study released by The Journal of Higher Education in 1981.

“Only a few schools presently seem to be effectively using long-range planning in their organization,” the study said. “Strategic planning should not be confused with any of the planning levels currently used in higher education [in 1981]. It takes a long-run approach, but the focus is much more comprehensive and strategic than traditional long-range planning.”

In general, “a strategic plan is defined as the process of developing and maintaining a strategic fit between the organization and its changing marketing opportunities,” according to the study from The Journal of Higher Education.

The study says using this type of planning system is important because it “utilizes both quantitative and qualitative assessments of the external environment to determine institutional priorities and strategies.

Specifically, devising the school’s mission and deciding about long-range program additions or deletion.”
However, in more recent years, the idea of taking the time and work effort to establish a strategic plan has received some criticism.

In his book from 2011, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Benjamin Ginsberg, a professor of political science and director of the Washington Center for the Study of American Government at the Johns Hopkins University, argues that the development of a strategic plan is moreso a means for a new university administrator to lay their administrative claims to the institution than anything else. He even once called his university’s own strategic plan “a waste of paper.”

Regardless, strategic plans are major foundations for the future of institutions of higher education across the country, as can be seen by some of the top public universities, according to US New and World Report. Around the area, the University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky and Ohio State University have “strategic plans”.

And while all these schools may have strategic plans, the ideas and focuses in each differ according to each institution’s situation and needs.

NKU’s plan

Mearns explained the specific points in NKU’s new draft of the strategic plan through breaking it down into each of its five goals, and comparing the structure of those goals to that of a building or a house.

“If you think about goal number one [student success] as the paramount goal and number five [institutional excellence] as the foundation for the whole plan, then what you have in the middle are goals two through four which all serve as pillars to support that paramount goal.”

“Student success [goal number one] is our paramount goal,” Mearns said. “But, that doesn’t mean goal number five [institutional excellence] is less important. It is the institutional foundation to support all of the goals.”

The three goals Mearns referred to as the three middle goals are talent development, academic innovation and community engagement.

To the right are each of the five main goals for the 2013-2018 strategic plan broken down in more detail. Check them out for more information on what each goal is, what it means to you, and what it will mean for the future of the NKU community as a whole.

Moving Forward

The next step in the strategic planning process, according to Mearns, is to allow the NKU community to make comments through open forums and meeting with different “major constituent groups” around campus such as Student Government Association, various deans, Faculty Senate, etc.

NKU will also be holding several open forums in order to receive feedback on the draft.

All forums are open to students, with one being specifically tailored toward the student population.

All in all, Mearns said September will be the month of accepting recommendations, with October serving as the month to “assimilate the information”.

The final draft of the plan is set to be presented to the NKU Board of Regents at a meeting on Nov. 13.

Once a draft of the strategic plan is passed, Mearns said every area of the university will be asked to revise individual plans and align them with the newly established plan of the university as a whole.

Mearns also reiterated the importance of measuring the success of the implementation of this plan.

“We need to develop a menu of metrics by which we will assess our progress,” he said. “We are in the process of organizing a team which will make recommendations as to what those metrics will be.”

The team to determine these details will be established this fall, according to Mearns. He will also ask that same group to recommend target goals for the implementation of the plan as well, after deciding on the metrics.

For a full listing of the Strategic Planning Committee Members, updates on the strategic planning process, or to see a copy of the first draft of the plan and more, visit the strategic planning website at http://strategicplanning.nku.edu/

1.Student success is the first and “paramount goal” of the five main goals for the strategic plan, according to Mearns.

However, student success means much more than that broad and generic phrase.

Mearns described this new vision of student success as more than just including factors such as retention rates and graduation rates, but more about students being able to obtain a lifelong career and live a “meaningful life.”

“A career is not a job,” Means said. “A career is a lifetime of employment opportunities and rewards. We aren’t here just to make you happy on the day of commencement, but to give you the tools to make a meaningful contribution and to be a well-rounded and fully realized person.”

Other main points under this “broader vision” of student success include to “design and strengthen integrative support services for our diverse student body”; “promote global and multicultural perspectives through curricular and co-curricular programs”; “promote financial access and affordability for students”

Some specific examples that fall under these main objects are strengthening academic advising, mentoring, career counseling, student programming and wellness activities. In addition the university plans to advocate for sufficient state support to moderate the need for tuition rate increases.

According to the draft of the strategic plan, the university will expand residential learning communities and international educational experiences to help further support student success.

2.Goal two of the strategic plan is Talent Development. A portion of the goal is having students be work-ready when they leave NKU and embark on their career paths.

Career services will be one venue working within the confine of the plan to better prepare those students.

“[Career Services] have been moving forward the past couple of years, with our new space, and website, to really reflect what we do,” said Bill Froude, director of Career Services.

Froude stresses that a key portion in preparing students for the workforce is uploading their resumes onto Norse Recruiting, so that they are out there for employers to find them.

Goal two also includes assisting graduates in the transition from college to work. Froude hopes that they can continue to play a significant role in assisting students with that future transition through their various co-op opportunities, advising sessions, career fairs and other career resources.

“This [strategic plan goal] will be a continuation of our momentum and improvements moving forward,” Froude said.

Froude believes “all students should be well prepared for the next step in their lives.”

Talent development also includes using strategic marketing to strengthen student recruitment of both traditional and post-traditional students as well as recruiting more transfer students from two-year institutions.

Talent development in addition will focus on improving college readiness across the state. Tasks including sustaining P-12 outreach programs and offering an expanded variety of dual credit courses in more high schools in the region.

The final objective of the talent development goal, according to NKU President Geoffrey Mearns, is to inspire a passion for lifelong learning into students.

“We will emphasize the importance of lifelong learning. It is not sufficient if we simply enable our students to get a job right after graduation,” he said while giving a preview of the new strategic plan at this year’s Fall Convocation.

This objective will mean encouraging undergraduates to continue their education beyond a bachelors degree, expanding professional development opportunities and fostering participation between all members of the NKU community at campus activities.

3.The third main goal of the strategic plan is academic innovation: “Advance academic programs that are innovative, distinctive, experiential and transdisciplinary,” reads the NKU 2013-18 Strategic Plan.

Zach Hart, chair of the communications department and member of the strategic planning committee, said one of the main outcomes he’d like to see from this goal is more transdisciplinary learning.

Hart gave the College of Informatics as an example of transdisciplinary learning.

“[The College of Informatics has] our three departments [of communication, computer science and business informatics], but we are all centered around this idea of information… Our disciplinary boundaries are kind of blurred, and can even be transformed,” Hart said.

Denise Robinson, dean of the College of Health Professions, member of the strategic planning committee and the liaison between the strategic planning committee and the technology trends work group, said academic innovation has a lot to do with embracing technology.

“There’s more and more [technology] being integrated into our courses and programs, and students expect that,” Robinson said. “You always have to grow with the technology, as it improves and gets faster.”

One of the parts of the goal aims to “develop the capacity and expertise for competency-based learning…”

Robinson described competency-based learning as a way to ensure students don’t repeatedly learn material they already know.

“If you come in and you bring specific areas of expertise [to a subject matter],…we don’t [want to] make you repeat what you’ve done,” Robinson said. “You show us that you’re competent, and then you go forward from that point.”

One potential side-effect of competency-based learning, Robinson said, is losing the traditional semesters college students are used to: “If [students] come in and get rid of five weeks of content [by demonstrating their competency in the material], and then you move on, then you’re not going to start until later.”

4.While trying to develop a university, the community surrounding the school can potentially have heavy influence on the campus. That is why the strategic plan draft, recently released by Mearns, has community engagement listed as the fourth out of five main goals.

The three main objectives of the community engagement goal are to expand NKU’s “business, industry, government, education and civic agency partnerships,” to “support regional economic growth and job creation” and to “provide leadership, coordination and support for public engagement activities.”

The first objective is based on looking to expand sponsored research and projects.

The Scripps Howard Center for Civic Engagement has launched “Project Hope: The 505 Initiative,” which is an effort to focus a broad range of civic engagement activities in Census Tract 505, an area in Newport where economic and social needs are great, according to Mark Neikirk, executive director of the center.

Between this semester and the last, more than 25 classes have been involved so far, working on service learning, applied research and experiential learning activities in and around the 505 area.

“This kind of civic engagement transforms the community into a classroom for NKU students,” Neikirk said. “While also providing projects and services of value to the neighborhood.”

Neikirk said that a university is a public investment, and engaging in the community is good for education.

“The community becomes a classroom, a learning lab if you will,” Neikirk said. “The learning is deeper, more interesting and more lasting. If you want students to succeed, community engagement needs to be a tool in the toolbox.”

5.The fifth main goal and “foundation for the whole [strategic] plan” is institutional excellence, according to Mearns.

The aim of this fifth goal is to “strengthen the capacity of the university to fulfill its mission and achieve its vision,” according to the draft of the strategic plan.

Under the institutional excellence goal, there are seven main objectives which are set up to help lay the foundation for the rest of the strategic plan: “recruit, retain and develop outstanding faculty and staff”; “secure our financial future through strategic investments, partnerships and resource management”; “improve organizational effectiveness”; “generate new resources from public funds, private giving and other revenue streams”; “increase public awareness of NKU’s strengths and contributions to the region and state”; “provide technology that supports effectiveness and innovation across campus”; “expand and maintain facilities to meet the growing needs of the campus.”

The focus of this goal is to strengthen the university internally which will further allow it to support the execution of the other goals.

Some specifics of these goals stated in the draft are to attract and support talented and passionate “teacher-scholars”, improve internal transparency, foster innovation and to enhance campus to “maximize the continued usefulness of facilities.”

Mearns considers this to be the foundational goal because “it allows us to achieve all of those goals.”

“All of those other [goals] are lofty aspirations. In order to achieve them, we need to have a very strong institutional capacity.”


September 5 – 5-6:15 p.m., AC 506
September 6 – 1-2:15 p.m., LA 506
September 18 – 5-6:15 p.m., SU 104 (Students will be welcomed at any of the open forums, but this session is specifically for students.)
September 25 – 10-11:15 a.m., SU 104
September 26 – 3-4:15 p.m., LA 506