When the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU) reaffirmed Washington State University’s accreditation in August 2018, the accrediting organization recognized the University’s institutional accomplishments during the review period by including several commendations in its final report. The commendations praised WSU for its:
- transparency and inclusiveness in decision-making;
- sense of loyalty within the WSU community;
- efforts to improve student access and success, especially among underrepresented groups;
- assessment of student learning outcomes;
- commitment to cutting-edge instructional approaches; and
- thematic approach to scholarship.
The 2020–2025 WSU system strategic plan capitalizes on these strengths and builds on the momentum that produced these commendations. Most notably, this plan is the result of a collaborative effort by the University community to generate a collective vision of the “future WSU” and articulate goals and strategies that will move the WSU system toward that vision. It represents a synthesis of the most ambitious, challenging, and impactful ideas generated by the University’s statewide community during an 18-month-long planning process. It is a truly collectively written roadmap for the future.
This plan also emphasizes WSU’s commitment to its land-grant mission:
- education for all regardless of means or background;
- scholarly activity that benefits the public and especially Washingtonians; and
- outreach to the residents of the state to share the institution’s expertise and positively impact people and communities.
WSU is the state’s land-grant research institution within the state of Washington and is responsible for delivering a statewide impact. The University system embraces this responsibility, and it is central to everything the institution does. The framework for this plan is thus WSU’s commitment to the wellbeing of Washington residents and the commerce of the state, and a long-term goal around which this plan is oriented is for the University to be recognized as among the best land-grant institutions in the nation.
Some might question why WSU, or any institution of higher learning, needs a strategic plan when the institution’s responsibilities are so clearly laid out: educate students, engage in scholarly inquiry, and share expertise with the public. In fact, the strategic plan serves as a guide to help the University make informed decisions about resource allocation and program development. It is also the University’s primary means of tracking and demonstrating performance to stakeholders and legislators. It is not sufficient to conclude that WSU is meeting its responsibilities simply because students graduate and residents enroll in outreach programs and faculty produce scholarly works. The quality of the institution’s performance must also be considered. This plan includes a set of outcome metrics (see Appendix 3) that are calibrated to specific aspects of WSU’s responsibilities to help the institution determine what it is doing well and in which areas it can improve. These metrics will be analyzed yearly and the analyses will be published in an annual public report that is made widely available. A strategic plan is, then, necessary as WSU continues to grow and improve.
This plan also articulates goals and strategies for growth and excellence in education, scholarly work, and outreach. For the first time, it also specifies a goal to fully integrate and take advantage of the expertise that resides across the entire University system, as well as a number of strategies to accomplish this goal. The WSU system is one of distributed expertise and the University’s larger goals can only be realized by taking full advantage of this expertise. The goals in all four areas of this plan are ambitious. Some may seem overly so. If some indeed prove to be too ambitious, falling short in those areas will still lead to meaningful improvements that can be built upon in the next strategic plan.