January 14, 2005
Arkansas State University - Jonesboro
Welcome to the First Friday of the spring 2005 semester, and to this report about the conclusion of the Strategic Planning Initiative and the beginning of the biennial legislative funding process in the Arkansas General Assembly.
Previous First Friday reports, dating to the fall 2003, have addressed the strategic planning process on the Jonesboro campus. We have seen the participation of many persons in the development of the strategic plan. Most recently work was completed on the mission statement, expression of core values and vision, and a set of institutional priorities including comments and suggestions about the plan received from the campus and external communities.
Over the last several months, the vice presidents have taken the final drafts of the plan and have “fleshed out” how the respective units of the university will interpret and apply the plan within the units. These documents are included as attachments to this report, and represent responses from Research and Academic Affairs, Finance and Administration, Student Affairs, University Advancement, Intercollegiate Athletics, and the President’s Office. Please refer to the attachments to see the breadth and detail of the unit objectives.
I am impressed with the number of different applications that have been made within the general framework of the plan’s institutional priorities. That there is so much variety and texture in the applications would seem to indicate that the planners hit upon those things that resonate so clearly with many respondents across campus. Universality of the central concepts of the plan demonstrate that these issues are of common concern to all of us.
Another strength of the plan is adaptability of its parts to fit the interests and needs of many areas of the university. For example, the general goal of improved communications has been developed in many ways by different units. Respondents plan to work within a particular unit, or to better communicate between several different units, or perhaps to express something from a unit to a broad, external audience. In any event, many adaptations of the plan have been incorporated into unit-based responses, and have been “personalized” through these interpretations, which was an early goal of the planning initiative.
What will become of the plan now? The primary reason the plan and unit adaptations are posted here is to give you a chance to see these pieces and to respond to them. You are invited to question, to criticize, to commend or to respond in any way to these attachments. I invite your reactions to be addressed to me. I will take them and determine how the plan or its pieces may be improved with your suggestions as they are received by February 1.
After consideration of your suggestions, the final plan will be submitted for review and adoption by the Board of Trustees at the next meeting of the Board on February 25, 2005. If the Board approves the plan, it will be finally edited and placed on a permanent link on the ASU website to be available to any reader on or off campus. This written strategic plan of institutional goals and ambitions will be a complement to the physical facilities master plan, also to be posted on the ASU website.
The strategic plan website also will be available to external evaluation groups, such as the Higher Learning Commission. As the HLC visitation team returns to the Jonesboro campus in 2006, they will be able to review the plan and, by referring to the progress reports in First Friday and other sources, will be able to verify that the plan is a product of the campus constituencies, as encouraged by HLC and other evaluative and accreditation agencies.
At the operational level, the strategic plan also will inform and animate the budgeting process of the university. This activity will begin immediately as we build budgets for the near future, in conjunction with the biennial appropriation definition by the Arkansas General Assembly.
The strategic plan, and the various unit level activities described in it to address institutional priorities, will cause all of us to consider our current budget distributions differently in the future. This reconsideration is consistent with the priority that ASU “strategically manage resources among divisions and colleges based on institutional priorities” and that we “define and implement an institutional allocation and reallocation process.”
Put another way, the plan suggests that we take money from some areas of activity in order to give it to other areas. We will begin this effort at the next University Planning Committee meeting, and will bring news of progress in subsequent First Friday reports.
Legislative Funding Process
Previous First Friday reports also have described the efforts to develop a recognized and accepted formula to guide the distribution of appropriated public funds to institutions of higher education. Arkansas State University has had a vested interest in this process because, by any objective measure of comparison, we are under funded in comparison to peer institutions, and in consideration of the role and scope of the ASU teaching, research, and service.
We have explained that the consequence of under funding is felt each year, but the more significant effects are cumulative: Library collections are not built; technologies are not acquired; salary growth is stymied; support budgets are constrained; equipment is not bought or even properly maintained; and so forth.
ASU has had remarkable success, especially considering such budget limitations. But we would be more successful, more productive, more influential and significant as an institution if we had more money.
The funding formula, developed by the Department of Higher Education with input, review, and approval by the colleges and universities across the state, is a good presentation of the extent of need for additional funding. But the formula does not actually appropriate funds, nor does it define a source of revenues to be directed toward these funding needs, nor should the formula do these things.
The challenge of appropriating public funds and defining their origin in revenue policy falls to the elected Representatives who compose the Arkansas Legislature. The 85th General Assembly convened this week, and will make decisions on funding policies and appropriations over the next months. Theirs is a difficult task, as demands from all agencies, including higher education, will outstrip the public funds available to support myriad and deserving needs.
We reported earlier that the Governor had adopted and supported the higher education funding formula at the levels that were advanced by the universities. In an early decision, the Legislative Budget Committee passed out a Bill that only continues higher education budgets at the current 2005 levels of appropriation. In a sense, this is good news, as the appropriations were not reduced.
In reality, however, appropriations will need to be increased if only to keep pace with the rising costs of the public higher education system in Arkansas. To pass these costs to the students and their families will price many participants out of the college market. The state must now realize its opportunity and obligation to insure the growth and survival of the economic future of Arkansas through the support of its higher education programs.
Further information about the development of higher education funding will be reported in the popular press, and in subsequent First Friday reports. Your comments about the planning process and appropriations developments are welcome. These comments and any other observations about the university may be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for reading First Friday.