The University of North Georgia (UNG) is developing a strategic plan to guide the institution's future, and one of the changes already identified is to maintain strategic planning as an on-going process.
Strategic planning is a process through which a university community considers broad issues of institutional direction, develops explicit goals and priorities, and subjects these to open evaluation and debate.
"The world we live in today changes rapidly due to technology, politics, the global economy, and other factors," UNG President Bonita C. Jacobs said. "As a university that has a major impact on the economy, workforce and culture of this region, we need to be both responsive and proactive in meeting the needs of the state, this region and the country. The strategic planning process helps us determine how to best meet these needs and ensures that we continue to provide an academic and developmental experience that is relevant to educating globally prepared citizens."
The strategic plan will be the first for UNG, created in January from the consolidation of Gainesville State College and North Georgia College & State University. Gainesville State created strategic plans in 2011 and 2012; North Georgia's previous strategic plan encompassed 2008-13. This new schedule will create plans that span three to 10 years and are created in three phases:
- Environmental scan: An environmental scan provides information and data about trends both outside and inside the university that have the potential to affect UNG and its service area.
- Vision statement: Focus groups of faculty, staff, students, alumni and community members are asked to provide feedback on their current views and future hopes for the university.
- Strategic plan: The last phase is creating the plan itself, though the process is as important as the finished product itself. Guided by the university's mission statement, the ultimate purpose is to build a consensual vision of the institution and a plan to implement and achieve that vision.
"Strategic planning will be an on-going cycle as the University of North Georgia moves forward," Donna Gessell, executive director of the Office of Regional Engagement, said of the three-year process. "We're always being and becoming—being the current strategic plan and becoming the next."
Work on the first phase, the environmental scan, began in fall 2012. A task force of two dozen faculty and administrators from all four UNG campuses collected and organized data in the areas of sociology and demographics, environment, science and technology, business and economics, higher education, political science and public policy, and military education. Some key factors that could potentially impact UNG and the 20-county region the university serves include the Complete College Georgia initiative, projected population growth, and the economy.
Complete College Georgia aims to increase the number of Georgians who attain higher education to 60 percent by 2020, when it is predicted that two-thirds of all jobs in Georgia will require a college education. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, a third of Georgia residents ages 25-64 currently have a college degree, slightly below the national percentage.
UNG has opportunities to increase access to higher education in the region, a key component of the university's mission statement. However, the environmental scan points out that an increasing poverty level in the region, coupled with dwindling public funds and rising tuition costs, could make that mission difficult.
On the plus side, UNG is situated in a major area of economic and population growth and has multiple access points for students at all academic levels, including a range of degree options. Also, there are many community organizations and economic development authorities across the region seeking collaborative partnerships with the university that would be mutually beneficial.
The environmental scan report for the strategic plan is being finalized. It will be published digitally by the University Press of North Georgia and is expected to be released soon via the strategic plan website.
The university has entered the visioning phase with hour-long sessions involving focus groups of community members, faculty, students, and staff being held across the area served by UNG's four campuses. Gessell helped plan and facilitate the visioning sessions.
"We asked the groups two questions: 'What do you value about what UNG is and what UNG does?' and 'Ten years from now, what will UNG be and what will UNG be doing?' We got a lot of great feedback and innovative ideas from the groups," Gessell said.
Additional focus groups also are planned as part of phase two, which will support the crafting of the vision statement. Upcoming sessions include additional UNG staff, alumni, athletes and athletics boosters, international partners, and the region's leaders in economic development.
The last phase of the strategic planning process, creating the plan itself, is expected to begin later this spring. Materials and information will be posted to the strategic plan website.