Staff governance representatives joined UA chancellors, community campus directors, administrators and other leadership for a pivotal meeting on February 20 to help shape the next phase of the Strategic Direction Initiative (SDI). Two years ago come July, UA President Pat Gamble launched SDI, an effort to evaluate the University of Alaska to identify problem areas, inefficient processes and common sources of frustrations so that they can be improved upon or eliminated in order to better position UA as a modern, relevant and highly desirable university for Alaska’s students. The evaluation effort included outside consultants and eighty listening sessions held with students, staff, faculty and community members throughout Alaska.
The results of the information gathering helped guide UA leadership in the development of five major themes which act as guidelines for focused efforts to improve the University of Alaska. Those five themes are: 1) Student Achievement and Attainment; 2) Productive Partnerships With Alaska’s Schools; 3) Productive Partnerships with Alaska’s Public and Private Industries; 4) Research and Development to Sustain Alaska’s Communities and Economic Growth; and 5) Accountability to The People of Alaska.
The purpose of the meeting on February 20 was to refine the lists of actions and focus points under each of the five themes to help steer the actual work of making change. For example, under theme one, Student Achievement and Attainment, focus areas include high quality programs and placement, and developmental education; action items under those include developing a system to assess the quality of programs, and developing common placement practices throughout the system. All told there are nine pages of points organized under the five themes representing problems that the university wants to focus on and improve. The process is still under refinement, and discussions on February 20 will lead to additional edits, but for the curious, this is the handout shared with participants in the meeting. (SDI Themes, Topics, Statements DRAFT)
During the meeting, discussion facilitated by consultant Terry MacTaggart lead to the identification of top priorities to be focused upon throughout the system. The priorities identified were:
- Increasing the number of Alaskans receiving certificates, licenses, degrees and program completions
- Accelerating remedial/developmental education for students
- Establishing a common set of General Educational Requirements (GER’s)
- Raising the profile of research and development to advance Alaska’s communities and our economy
Action on some of these areas has already begun in many parts of the system. All three universities are already strengthening academic advising programs and are working to align learning outcomes to guide the creation of common education requirements. Also, significant work has been made to improve credit transfer processes throughout the system. In addition UAF and UAA have both created offices of intellectual property and commercialization to help leverage economic value from patents and discoveries made through UA research.
The last step before the system launches into action on the rest of the issues identified by the SDI process to date, is to establish clearly-defined outcomes, or effect statements, that can be measured and verified in order to show SDI success. For example a successful outcome of theme three, Productive Partnerships with Alaska’s Public and Private Industries, will be providing qualified graduates to fill the state’s highest employment needs and greater collaboration with industry leaders to determine those needs.
Draft effect statements provided by Vice President of Academic Affairs Dana Thomas prompted intense discussion regarding the need to address the root causes of problems in the system. Meeting participants thought the effect statements need to be written in a positive and inspiring manner in order to encourage participation by all key players within and outside the university. Participants also wanted to make sure that the desired results of SDI are attainable in a timely manner, utilizing available resources. Thomas and the three chancellors will be meeting together to reword the effect statements based on the feedback and discussion. (Click HERE to see a working draft.) A separate task force will be appointed to design a system of metrics for recording and evaluating SDI successes. UA leaders have been charged with providing an update to the Board of Regents, including clear effect statements and focus areas and plans for the coming year by the June meeting.
Governance leaders will continue to play a part in this process and will communicate with constituents as much as possible while this important work progresses and the university embarks on the path of continuous improvement.