Strategic Plan check-in

By Ariana Portalatin, Managing Editor

As Columbia nears the end of the Strategic Plan’s third year of implementation, the college has undergone transformation while working to achieve goals in the 41-page document. While some goals have been completed, the college has more to look forward to and areas in need of improvement, administrators say.

The Strategic Plan was approved by the Board of Trustees in May 2015 and includes six key sections: Student Success; 21st-Century Curriculum; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Engaging Difference; Community Engagement; Optimizing Enrollment; and Aligning Resources with Goals. While each section includes specific objectives, the plan itself is flexible, according to the administration, and can change as work progresses.

“The idea here is to take Columbia to the next level,” Senior Vice President and Provost Stan Wearden said in a Feb. 13 interview with The Chronicle. “We’re laying the groundwork now. As we move into years four and five, we can begin to start assessing the impact of the changes we’ve made and then in all likelihood still making some adjustments. We don’t want to assume we’ve got everything right.”

During a Feb. 7 Presidential Update event, President and CEO Kwang-Wu Kim updated faculty and staff on the college’s progress while also encouraging the college to continue improving graduation rates and post-graduation employment for students, as reported Feb. 12 by The Chronicle.

Wearden told faculty and staff in a Feb. 19 email about the college’s accomplishments for the 21st-Century Curriculum goal, including the recent establishment of the new Columbia Core Curriculum and modifications of many majors, minors and degree programs.

Wearden said he was grateful for faculty and staff’s work in these areas, which he said has contributed to the implementation’s success.

“Change is hard, and it’s a little frightening,” Wearden said. “It can feel threatening to take on change, but the faculty and staff here have not been that way. They’ve been creative and excited about it and they’ve made a lot happen very fast and I’m grateful to faculty and staff for that.”

Goal 1: Student Success

A major component of student success at the college is the move toward more selective enrollment and away from open enrollment, which was abandoned in 2012.

Kim discussed during the Feb. 7 event how open enrollment has not benefited the college because admitted students included those who would not succeed here. To combat this, Wearden has begun analyzing data and communicating with faculty to determine the best students to admit to help stabilize the college’s declining enrollment.

Wearden said the traditional practice of measuring a student’s ability to succeed at Columbia, including GPA, class rank and test scores, is not the most efficient because it does not always allow the college to identify a successful student.

“Students who are interested in creative industries, communications, media, sometimes find themselves feeling isolated in those high school environments, and as a consequence, they don’t always do as well academically,” Wearden said. “We want to be able to identify those students, too. We’re digging deeper into high school transcripts to see what else besides overall high school GPA is correlated with the students who succeed here.”

Progress toward completing the first goal has also included curricular changes to majors and degree programs, which also fulfills objectives for the 21st Century Curriculum goal.

As reported Feb. 20 by The Chronicle, the new core curriculum includes two new courses titled “Creative World,” which would be required for transfer students, and “Business, Technology and Communication,” which would be required for all upperclassmen. Students will also be required to take 15 credit hours of 2000 level or higher courses, replacing the current six, and six credit hours that fall under a new diversity, equity and inclusion category.

During the 2016–2017 academic year, the college introduced several new majors and minors, including undergraduate degrees in communication, creative writing and fashion studies and minors in creative writing, graphic design and hip-hop dance.

Wearden said the curriculum changes, which include the Universal Learning Outcomes and roadmaps to graduation, are important so students are clear on their degree requirements and better prepared for their post-graduation careers.

“If students are learning what we intend to teach, that’s great,” Wearden said. “If they’re not, that means we need to improve the courses.”

The construction of the student center at the corner of Wabash Avenue and 8th Street, scheduled to be completed by fall 2019, has become a key focus of the college. A first look at the $50 million center was released to the campus community May 2, 2017, and the college officially broke ground on the center last fall, as reported Nov. 20, 2017, by The Chronicle.

Goal 2: 21st-Century Success

Many of the objectives for Student Success intertwine with establishing a 21st-Century Curriculum, including new programs and department mergers.

In the Spring 2017 Semester, four departments merged into two, which resulted in the creation of the English and Creative Writing Department and the Cinema and Television Arts Department.

The college created the Digital Learning Office, led by Vice Provost for Digital Learning Robert Green, in spring 2017. Green was appointed by Wearden April 12, 2016, to improve online education programs intended to increase enrollment and generate revenue. The new office is also overseeing the college’s switch from the Moodle Learning Management System to Canvas, which is set to be fully in place by the Fall 2018 Semester.

Courses were offered in summer 2017 to introduce the new platform to campus. These courses included “American Sign Language I,” “Foundations of Creative Writing,” “Introduction to Game Development,” “Introduction to Social Media and Digital Strategies” and “Self-Management and Freelancing.”

Goal 3: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion: Engaging Difference

Professor in English and Creative Writing Department Matthew Shenoda was appointed to the new position of dean of Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and special adviser to the president during the Spring 2017 Semester. Shenoda also became chair of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee, which is focused on increasing diversity at the college.

The office points to two primary accomplishments, including the recently introduced Undoing Racism workshops and faculty hires, Shenoda said.

Columbia hired The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond to host 15 Undoing Racism workshops for faculty and staff during the Fall 2017 Semester to continue until May 15, as reported Oct. 23, 2017, by The Chronicle.

Shenoda added that his office has begun a cluster hire of four tenure-track faculty members focused in teaching about diversity and would like to have those hires completed before the end of spring semester, to begin teaching next fall.

Shenoda said these two initiatives are great feats for the college that will improve its diversity. He added that he has also begun work with multiple departments to create DEI plans for curriculum and setting goals for the department faculty to implement DEI into the new Columbia Core.

The new Student Diversity and Inclusion Office was also created during the Fall 2017 Semester to replace the former Multicultural Affairs Office, as reported Sept. 11, 2017, by The Chronicle.

Implementing DEI initiatives has not been much of a challenge for Shenoda’s office, he said, because DEI is such an integral part of the college’s mission.

 “They’re significant undertakings by any institution to hire four faculty focused in these areas, as well as the extensiveness of the Undoing Racism workshops, are pretty major feats to accomplish in the first year of a position like this,” Shenoda said.

Goal 4: Community Engagement

Accomplishments in the fourth Strategic Plan goal included changes to internships to promote industry participation.

Wearden said every major at the college will soon include an internship requirement or some form of experiential learning to prepare students for employment after graduation.

 “It’s connecting with the professional work environment so students get that opportunity as part of their curriculum before they graduate,” Wearden said. “Faculty and staff have been really involved in looking at what employers want, comparing their curriculum to similar curricula around the country, especially the top programs—the ones we want to be as good as or better than.”

Vice President of Student Affairs Sharon Wilson-Taylor said the Career Center, 618 S. Michigan Ave., has allowed the college to centralize internships into one location and create relationships with industry professionals. Online internship courses have also been added to increase career readiness.

Wilson-Taylor added that the Student Affairs Office’s main goal is to prepare students for graduation and engage them within their fields with internships.

 “It’s always about getting the students experiential learning and when the students come in the front door, how do you engage them so they feel like they’re a part of the college,” Wilson-Taylor said.

Goal 5: Optimizing enrollment

The college’s continuously declining enrollment has been an annual issue as the college searches for ways to become stable and retain students.

Columbia experienced a 10 percent overall student body loss from fall 2016 to fall 2017, leaving the college with 7,312 total students for its eighth consecutive year of enrollment decline. The falling enrollment has also led to annual tuition increases dating back to before 2010.

While the college is working to improve overall enrollment, it is also focused on including transfer and international students. Chief of Staff Laurent Pernot said the college has seen an increase in these groups, as well as a net gain in new students for the Spring 2018 Semester.

Pernot added that while implementing change can be challenging, recent enrollment numbers are “heartening.”

“We’re seeing some signs of improvement, however modest, but signs that are heartening on the enrollment front,” Pernot said. “That’s not to say we’ve arrived by any means and we certainly have a ways to go.”

Goal 6: Aligning Resources with Goals: 

Vice President of Business Affairs and CFO Jerry Tarrer said he is working with Wearden to craft a new budget model, which will be used to allocate resources collegewide.

“My predecessor, Michelle Gates, had started down the path of developing a budget model, but with her departure, it got put on the back burner, so since I’ve been here, the provost and I have been rekindling the discussion around a budget model because it is a key aspect of what’s called out in goal six,” Tarrer said. “You’ll see numerous references to resource allocation, aligning resources with our goals and incentivizing behavior, all those things are accomplished through a new budget model, so he and I have been working on that in hope of rolling something out this spring or later in the summer.”

Along with the Digital Learning Office, Wearden said the college has made progress improving systems and infrastructure, including Wi-Fi accessibility, phone systems and moving all servers to a secure off-campus location monitored 24/7 to protect data. Despite these changes, Wearden said these areas still need improvement.

“We need to make sure our students have access to technologies that are current in their fields and can really use those technologies and get to know them. In most cases we have them; it’s often the case we don’t we enough of them,” Wearden said.

The college has also increased its focus on alumni engagement, which has improved its funding with recent donations.

Shawn Wax was appointed vice president for Development and Alumni Relations March 13, 2017, at a time of low alumni donations and a high turnover rate for the position since 2013.

The college’s donation revenue has continuously declined, according to several of the college’s fiscal year budgets. For the 2014–2015 fiscal year, the college reported $7.7 million in gifts, contracts and other income—which includes donations. That number fell to $1.4 million for 2015–2016 and again to $1.2 million for 2016–2017.

Columbia received a $1 million challenge grant Jan. 17 from the Efroymson Family Fund to support the new student center’s construction and fund student programs, as reported Jan. 27 by The Chronicle. The Museum of Contemporary Photography, 624 S. Michigan Ave., was also awarded $1 million Feb. 1 from The David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Arts Foundation.

Malik Woolfork, Student Government Association president and senior business and entrepreneurship major, said a highlight of the Strategic Plan implementation is the increase in alumni engagement on campus.

“Starting at Columbia in 2014, we had this thing where we would see [and] hear about alumni, but never recent alumni. It would be alumni that graduated 30, 40 years ago that are either well off in their careers, or they’re retired,” Woolfork said. “Now we’re starting to see current alumni that are breaking into their industries. That’s one of the biggest highlights that we’ve seen so far, seeing our alumni give back to the school.”

Tarrer said Columbia’s commitment to implementing the Strategic Plan is what drove him to the college, adding that the college is succeeding in following through with its goals.

 “I came here because we have a plan and we’re serious about implementing this plan,” Tarrer said. “I’ve been at a number of institutions that have developed plans but one of the things that guarantees the success of executing any plan you have is the commitment from the community, but also putting your money where your mouth is and Columbia’s done a great job of doing that.”