AU’s Board of Trustees approved a new five-year strategic plan in June that will position the university for success in its next century of service.
“It’s great that we have a 100 year history, but where are we going?” President John Pistole said of the need for the plan.
The strategic plan encompasses all areas of the university’s success, specifically focusing on the categories of outstanding student experience, forward thinking, fiscal strength and being an excellent place to work.
Provost Dr. Marie Morris said that the priority is to “focus on students first,” especially in terms of enrollment and student investment.
“We have recognized that enrollment rises to the top as job priority number one, for all of us—all the faculty, staff, administration and even current students,” Morris said. “When we are able to enroll students in a diverse student body, then that impacts the student experience. That helps us to have forward thinking and that strong reputation for excellence. That certainly helps us with our dollars and cents so that we can have the resources we need. And it helps us with our employees—being an outstanding place to work—because who doesn’t want to be part of an exciting, thriving, students-beating-down-the-doors to come to AU because it’s the place to be [community]?”
The vision statement of the plan is “Real Life. Transformed.” The statement is a bold proclamation of the university’s mission that Morris believes is integral to AU’s development in the coming years.
“I think it’s AU’s identity,” Morris said. “We take people where they’re at, and we recognize that real life is messy and bumpy, but we meet people where they are, and hopefully they will have a growing, changing, transformative experience.”
“Real life, transformed, resonated with me as a vision statement,” he said. “We all bring real life. I’ve had my issues in life, and we all continue to, but that’s real life. The question is how can we work together to allow the Holy Spirit to transform?”
The process of forging the strategic map began last year with two employee meetings, where the main themes of AU’s future were discussed and brainstormed. Employees, from academic faculty to dining staff, gave input about what they believed were the most important themes of creating a thriving institution.
The university then partnered with CREDO, a consulting firm that works with independent universities, to build the map that now stands as the “filing cabinet” or “house” for the themes that employees had decided upon.
The theme of “outstanding student experience” focuses on creating a ubiquitous learning experience. “Learning happens everywhere,” Morris said of the objective. Other objectives include increasing student engagement, as well as investing financially, academically and spiritually in student recruitment and retention. The ultimate goal of this theme is to create high impact graduates.
“Forward thinking” includes defining the university’s identity and developing a storytelling strategy.
“This one is really important because one of AU’s struggles has been that we’re not a public, secular institution, but we’re not like a number of faith-based institutions where every employee and student every year has to sign a doctrinal statement,” said Morris. “We’re not that. We are a place where you come as you are, and you’re going to have fabulous faculty and staff who walk alongside you and challenge you, push you, pray with you, and you’re going to grow and change. We have so many of those stories. How do you tell the story of AU? The powerful story is the students and what happens for them.”
Also under the theme of forward thinking is investing in marketing and engaging constituents.
Building revenue streams—be it through gaining more students, creating new programs in hot job markets, offering professional development for undereducated workers in Madison county and more—is a top priority under the umbrella of “fiscal strength.” Operational efficiency, as well as investments in systems and facilities (such as marketing software and other products like Canvas), and remaining a resourced mission also fall under this category.
The last main theme of the strategic plan, “creating an excellent place to work,” focuses on goals such as promoting professional development, enhancing worker engagement strategies, investing in employees and creating a thriving culture. Morris said that this theme especially focuses on creating an employee atmosphere that gives every employee a sense of being a “co-educator,” and that through their day-to-day tasks, they are improving the lives of students and actively educating them on what it means to live their real lives as transformed individuals.
“We are here solely because our students are here,” Morris said.
Of the strategic plan’s main mission, Pistole said: “The sense of belonging here, that’s what I think we should be about as a great Christian college. It’s about supporting and encouraging others. To me, that’s exactly what we should be about. For me to be a part of that, I just get goosebumps.”