Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, February 18, 2019

In five-year strategic plan, AU lays out its goals of improving faculty research and increasing revenue

University plans to spend $23.5 million over next two years on strategic initiatives

In five-year strategic plan, AU lays out its goals of improving faculty research and increasing revenue

University President Sylvia Burwell speaks to incoming freshmen at convocation on Aug. 24, 2018. 

American University released its first five-year strategic plan under University President Sylvia Burwell on Tuesday, laying out AU’s goals of reducing the University’s financial dependence on tuition, supporting faculty research and reinventing the student experience

The plan, titled “Changemakers for a Changing World,” focuses on three main areas of development: scholarship, learning and community. Over the next two years, the University plans to spend approximately $23.5 million on new and existing programs that address these three areas. 

Reinventing the student experience — a key element of the plan — must include all students, not just first-year students, Burwell said. Freshmen have been the central focus of the University’s recent efforts to improve student life, including the AUx first-year course focused on adjusting to college and the required consent education program EmpowerAU.  

If we think about the student experience. what’s the outcome that we’re looking for? And that outcome is that we both retain our students, graduate and they thrive,” Burwell said in an interview with The Eagle. “They thrive in the form of if we ask you once you graduate ... ‘would you do it again?’ We want you to say a resounding ‘yes.’”

An important part of helping students succeed is improving students’ health and wellness, according to Seth Grossman, Burwell’s chief of staff. When the University held feedback sessions on the plan last fall, students said mental health and wellness services should be included in the plan, Grossman said.

The plan is largely centered around ways for the University to increase its revenue, whether through higher student retention, new academic offerings for “life-long learners,” more online degrees and even the potential launch of “AU Downtown,” a space that could be used for classes, gatherings and events with government and business leaders in Washington.

In order to achieve tuition independence, Burwell said she also plans to acquire more “externally funded research” for faculty — grants from outside of the University — as well as develop a fundraising campaign and place more emphasis on the “future of learning.”

“When [my generation] graduated and did any graduate work we were, generally speaking, done,” Burwell said. “Whereas when you graduate, it is every expectation that you’ll flow in and out of higher education. We as a university need to think about how we’re going to meet the demand for that as part of higher education.”

This includes devoting more resources to expanding faculty research, which will provide more sources of revenue and attract new scholars by providing “recognition of the quality of scholarship that is going on here at American University,” Burwell said. 

As described in the plan, AU will open at least three academic centers over the next five years that are focused on either health, data science and analysis, security or social equity. The University also hopes to increase opportunities for students to assist faculty with their research, including by offering no-cost summer housing to research assistants. 

“American University is a place that is known for that engagement with the students whether that’s our staff or our faculty, and we’re going to continue to do that and that’s both inside the classroom and outside of the classroom,” Burwell said. 

Based on the fiscal year 2018 budget, the University can expect “a reduction of two percentage points in AU’s dependency on tuition” by the end of fiscal year 2024, according to the report. 

For AU administrators, a core part of achieving its financial and scholarship goals will depend on building the University’s reputation nationwide. 

“I think we have to be focused on these issues of reputational issues and making sure that we both do things well and when we do things well, we communicate about them,” Burwell said.

Although different aspects of the plan will be implemented over the next five years, there are a number of changes students can expect this semester, including the Inclusive Excellence one-year progress report, new online graduate programs and adjustments in how AU’s budget is allocated.  

The plan also vows to overhaul university policies and procedures by 2023, noting that many policies “are needlessly unwieldy” and “force our personnel to jump through a seemingly endless series of hoops.” 

“I think you’re going to see [changes] in the “how AU works” part [of the plan]… and the idea that we need to be more efficient and effective,” Burwell said. 

Grossman emphasized the administration’s commitment to communication during the strategic process. The report notes the University’s intentions to be more transparent about its budget over the course of the next five years. 

“We’re going to be very transparent about our measurement and progress so everyone can see where we’re going,” Grossman said. 

jgagnon@theeagleonline.com 


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