Strategic plan outlines university ten-year goals

The Board of Visitors will vote on a final draft of the strategic plan in December 2013 (photo by John Irwin).
The Board of Visitors will vote on a final draft of the strategic plan in December 2013 (photo by John Irwin).

Mason’s new strategic plan lays out the university’s goals for the next ten years, showcasing the priorities of the university and where resources, including funding, should be allocated.

“It’s a structured approach to anticipating our future,” said Michelle Marks, chair of the strategic planning committee. “It will help us concentrate our resources in areas in highest priority to key stakeholders which include students, number one, also faculty, staff, also our community, our region and also the world.”

The purpose of the strategic plan is to create a blueprint for Mason that will allow the university to grow in parallel to projections of the future of higher education and of workforce need.

Several of the key areas of the plan include focus on global initiatives, distance education, diversity, innovative learning, student success, research and well-being.

The plan in still in draft form and will receive revisions from town hall meetings about the strategic plan goals.

“[We] thought a lot about what kind of university northern Virginia needs, what kind of university Washington D.C. area needs, what kind of university does the world need and will the world need ten years from now,” Marks said. “That’s a really hard exercise to go though because we’re not futurists and it’s really hard to predict the future.”

According to the Oct. 10 draft published on the strategic plan website, the plan is broken up into four categories, for students, for the community, for faculty and staff and for the world.

The four areas stem from the Mason IDEA and the Mason Graduate constructed by President Ángel Cabrera.

The Mason IDEA focuses on innovation, diversity, entrepreneurship and accessibility. The Mason Graduate highlights that a graduate from the university “is an engaged citizen, a well-rounded scholar and is prepared to act.”

The strategic plan notes the several ways that the university will invest in students, faculty and the community.

One goal is to make students’ investments in their education yield a high financial result that will not lead to insurmountable debt.

According to a report by the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia on in-state tuition, Mason’s in-state tuition for 2013 is lower than the state average for 4-year institutions and the dollar increase over 2011-2012 is $354 - $30 lower than the state average increase.

“Every time the state pulls back a dollar universities have, unfortunately, had to raise tuition and put that on the backs of parents and of students,” Marks said.

The strategic plan goal is to insure that the money students spend on tuition is worth the education and will pay back with success stories.

“We don’t want to be the cheapest university, we want to be affordable and accessible,” Marks said. “We want to be the best return on investment for our students. We want them to think about not only what they’re investing in, not only being the cheapest, we want to be an investment that pays dividends when they finish.”

Another investment goal is to work with community businesses by providing resources for the community to continue their education.

Current initiatives include the Mason Enterprise Center, which serves Fairfax, Prince William County and a partnership in Leesburg with development programs for international and small businesses, platforms to create partnerships with organizations such as the Department of Defense and access to other networking.

“We have faculty members who are in our school of management, in our school of public policy for example, that work with business people in the area, again to incubate and further develop companies but we so far haven’t created a coordinated institutional effort in this area and we think we can do more,” Marks said.

Marks emphasized the high educational level of the Washington metropolitan area and how Mason wants to create non-degree programs for businesses and organizations in the area.

The goal includes that revenue from these programs will account for more than 10 percent of the Education and General budget.

According to the strategic plan, in ten years the university wants to reach Carnegie “very high research activity,” which would mean a significant increase in research expenditures.

Currently, Mason is ranked as having “high research activity” according to Carnegie Classification.

According to the Carnegie Foundation, the median amount of expenditures on science and engineering projects for institutions classified as “very high research activity” was about $250 million. Currently, Mason spends about $80 million on similar projects.

“In order to get to very high, we would have to think about tripling the sponsored research dollars we bring in over the next decade and continue to increase Ph.D. productivity and the amount of research faculty that are on our staff,” Marks said. “It’s an ambitious goal and it’s going to take some investment in infrastructure, but we have ten years. It’s not a goal that we’ll meet next year or the year after or even in five years, but I think as we think about organizing ourselves into interdisciplinary centers, research excellence, there’s a way to harness the power of collaboration across disciplines in some key areas and we’re going to try for it.”

For faculty and staff, the strategic plan promotes increasing salaries to increase competition.

According to statistics by the Office of Budget and Planning, in the 2012 fiscal year, Mason’s average salary was $92,523, in the 27.4th percentile compared to peer salaries. The strategic plan goal is to match the number or higher of the median salary for the peer group. In the 2012 fiscal year, the 60th percentile of peer salaries was $100,399.

“To be able to recruit and retain the best professors we can get and the best staff at the university that we can get and the best graduate students,” Marks said. “We want to have a compensation system that pays them at levels that are at least sort of average to where we ought to be in our peer group. We’re not there yet.”

Other concrete goals include increasing the number of study abroad ventures, creating a collaboration of international universities called the “U8,” increasing diversity of faculty, doubling the current amount of cultural and athletic activities, graduating 100,000 students and creating a unique learning experience for every student.

Leaders in the university have been put into nine committees to help shape the final form of the strategic plan that will be approved by the Board of Visitors in December.

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