FORT SMITH -- The University of Arkansas at Fort Smith is moving toward implementing its plan for what it hopes to accomplish during the next five years.
The University of Arkansas' Board of Trustees approved the university's 2023-28 strategic plan May 25, according to a university news release. 2028 will also mark the 100-year anniversary of UAFS' original establishment.
Shadow Robinson, provost and vice chancellor of academic affairs at UAFS, said putting together the plan was a way for the university to determine both the best future for itself and the best way it can serve the River Valley area as a regional public institute.
This involved creating mission and vision statements with input from a variety of stakeholders, as well as strategic priorities on which the university can focus to achieve those statements.
"The way I've often heard it described is you think of mission is, in a way, of who you are, why do you exist; vision is that direction, where do we want to get to; and the strategic plan is really laying out the map of how you're going to try to cover that ground, what's the journey going to look like, what do you have to focus on, where are you going put your resources and what will you be trying to accomplish so that you achieve the reason for existing that's in your mission and you achieve the aspirational nature of your vision," Robinson said.
Chancellor Terisa Riley said in the news release the plan and the initiatives the university will take to implement it will usher in "an exciting new era at UAFS."
"We see this plan as the embodiment of our shared ambition to empower students, strengthen our community ties, uphold our culture of integrity, innovation and inclusivity, and truly shift the boundaries of what's possible in higher education," Riley said in the release.
New mission, vision, strategies
Per the plan, the university's new mission statement is: UAFS empowers the social mobility of its students and the economic growth of the River Valley through exceptional educational opportunities and robust community partnerships.
The new vision statement is: Through dynamic academic programs, innovative research opportunities and transformational centers of intellectual and economic development, UAFS will advance its community and become an institution renowned for educating and inspiring the ambitious students who call it home.
The university's previous plan ran from 2017 through 2022 and was created under the leadership of former Chancellor Paul Beran prior to him leaving UAFS in 2018. It identified four initiatives for the university to achieve, along with strategies for doing so. The initiatives included:
Increase the enrollment, retention and graduation rates of students.
Provide an "innovative and holistic" educational experience for students with a focus on academic opportunities supporting economic growth and development.
Increase workplace productivity, collaboration and innovation by fostering and championing professional growth and development for faculty and staff.
Strategically align resources to support university objectives.
The university's new plan from 2023-28 similarly consists of strategies organized around four specific "pillars." Riley described the new pillars in an May 25 email to the UAFS campus with the following:
Student access, engagement and success: We are dedicated to empowering our students to grow, lead, and succeed.
Teaching and learning: We strive to cultivate exceptional learning experiences and promote excellence within our community.
Economic development, community engagement and industry partnership: We drive transformational change by forging strong and innovative partnerships across the region.
Institutional sustainability and resource stewardship: We are committed to securing our institution's long-term stability through responsible practices and policies.
The plan also outlines commitments to five specific areas: students, community, integrity, innovation and value.
Robinson believes one of the things UAFS learned with its last plan is how it can better serve the River Valley. Growing UAFS' relationship with the community is also important for the university going forward, as demonstrated through the new mission statement and third pillar.
Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken described the relationship between the city and UAFS via email as "excellent." He said the university has always been a partner when it comes to economic development and working with the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
"UAFS has always taken a 'real world' approach to working on economic development projects and preparing their graduates for the workplace," Geffken said. "Fort Smith benefits greatly by UAFS and the four pillars in the new five-year strategic plan will continue that strong tradition."
Geffken believes the new plan will strengthen the city's relationship with the university and lead to closer cooperation between the two.
"UAFS has been focused on economic development and growth in the city of Fort Smith and the River Valley," Geffken said. "This five-year plan makes economic development a focal point and their focus on this will make this city and region better for it."
UAFS hired MGT of America Consulting, a public sector consulting firm headquartered in Tampa, Fla., in June 2022 to help administration, faculty, staff and students develop the new strategic plan, according to the university website. The firm did an "environmental scan," which involved analyzing UAFS' place in higher education, national and regional landscapes and exploring external opportunities, challenges and threats while gathering and interpreting institutional data.
"In the months following the environmental scan, faculty, staff and students were encouraged to evaluate the university's mission, vision and values, pinpointing areas of alignment and discord with the university's objectives and aspirations," the website states. "MGT engaged faculty, staff, students, alumni, industry partners, community members and other stakeholders through focus groups, interviews and surveys to ensure all perspectives were considered."
Each department at UAFS will start developing its own implementation plans aligned with the four pillars in the plan, according the news release. Once the plans are approved, department and divisional leaders will submit annual reports on their progress toward achieving their success metrics, summaries of which will be shared with UAFS employees and students.
Robinson said each department will be able to weigh in on which pillars they believe they can have the biggest impact. He noted not every department will necessarily impact all the pillars equally.
Blake Bedsole, director of admissions at UAFS, said the university admissions office and Strategic Enrollment Management Committee will focus on the first pillar: student access, engagement and success. One of the strategies included in that pillar is driving interest in UAFS as a first-choice institution and investing in innovative recruiting practices to ensure continued enrollment growth.
"Some of that groundwork is already there," Bedsole said. "We will take these strategies and refine how we target out from there knowing that that is now a posted goal of the institution."
Other strategies Bedsole mentioned falling under this pillar were enhancing support structures driving equity, inclusion and success among underrepresented student populations -- such as Hispanic students, active-duty military members, veterans and adult learners -- and optimizing comprehensive institutional and private aid practices to ensure a UAFS education is accessible to everyone.
People can learn more about the UAFS plan at the university's website.