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MSU President Clif Smart says the university's new long-range plan stresses creative collaboration in Springfield and beyond.
McKenzie Robinson | SBJ
MSU President Clif Smart says the university's new long-range plan stresses creative collaboration in Springfield and beyond.

MSU unveils latest 5-year plan

Long-range strategy emphasizes engagement and partnerships

Posted online

If one’s goal is to examine the past, a historian is the right person to consult. But when the goal is to forge a forward-looking plan, it’s time to call a futurist.

That’s what Missouri State University did when constructing its sixth long-range plan, which runs through 2026.

“The long-range plan was an invitation for us to think big,” said Shawn Wahl, dean of the College of Arts and Letters and co-chair of the steering committee for “Embracing the Entrepreneurial Spirit: Long-Range Plan 2021-26.”

Wahl said the 44-page plan called for everyone involved to think about what they want the university to be, both now and in the future.

“We didn’t believe we could grow and evolve with our facilities, our programs or recruiting our people without the future in mind,” Wahl said.

Washington, D.C.-based consultant EAB provided the futurist for the workshop that began the process. EAB also provides MSU with enrollment management, recruiting, training and other services at an annual cost of $185,000.

The coronavirus pandemic proved to be a complicating factor for planning.

“This was not a 10-year long-range plan; this was a five-year, and even that seemed pretty far out there with the way things change these days,” said committee co-chair Suzanne Shaw, MSU’s vice president of communication and marketing.

The facilitated workshop helped school officials identify signals in the environment that might trigger change in the future.

The plan launched this semester; faculty and staff received copies in campus mail Oct. 8, according to Shaw. It includes four focus areas: evolving academic directions for future careers, global engagement, inclusive excellence driving university success, and community leadership and partnerships.

Focus on future careers
MSU President Clif Smart said students are increasingly concerned about their future work life.

“For incoming students, today in particular, career is an important focus for them,” he said. “They want a return on investment; they don’t want to pay $40,000 for four years of college and come out and have the same prospects they would have had if they’d never gone to school.”

Smart said it is important for students to leave the university with competencies they’ll need in their professional lives. The first part of the long-range plan is to meet student interests, industry demands and societal needs through its academic programs.

Particularly in graduate programs, Smart said the university will offer stackable academic credentials – for example, three 12-hour graduate business certificates could be combined, or “stacked,” to equal an MBA.

“For people that are working 40-plus hours per week and have family and are further in their career, being able to get a graduate degree online and change fields or move up in your profession is important,” he said.

Global engagement
The plan also stresses international study – by MSU students abroad, by global students on campus and through collaborations with 70 international partner institutions in 25 countries.

According to the plan document, enrollment of international students at U.S. universities declined by more than 10% between the 2015-16 and 2018-19 academic years, and from fall 2019 to fall 2020, the number dropped an additional 16%, with enrollment of new international students decreasing by 43%.

The continued decline in international student enrollment since the fall of 2016 has cost the U.S. economy $11.8 billion and more than 65,000 jobs, according to the plan.

MSU international student enrollment has also shown a 6% decline year-over year, from 1,591 in 2019 to 1,492 in 2020. Enrollment is 10.8% down from its peak in 2016, when there were 1,673 international students on campus.

Reasons for the decline include COVID-19, as well as politics, concerns about safety and gun violence, and a perceived unwelcoming stance toward international students and immigrants, the plan states.

Smart thinks in the future, instead of spending four years studying in the United States, international students will choose to enroll for shorter periods of time.

He offered the example of Southwest University in China, the nation’s leading agricultural school. Students can take their first three years at home in China and then transfer to MSU to take their fourth year of classes.

“There’s a lot of interest in that kind of program,” he said.

According to the report, MSU’s international students represent 74 countries, and they study in Springfield, in China through the Liaoning Normal University/MSU College of International Business, or at home through online coursework.

Inclusive excellence
Inclusive excellence is a core value of MSU, and it’s a passion of Wes Pratt, the university’s chief diversity officer.

As defined by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, inclusive excellence is active, intentional and ongoing engagement with diversity to increase one’s awareness, content knowledge, cognitive sophistication and empathy.

The goal is complicated by politics, according to Pratt.

“Unfortunately, people want to politicize and relegate diversity to issues that are really not germane to what we’re trying to do from an institutional perspective and a community perspective,” Pratt said.

Embracing inclusive excellence means creating a culture that values what everyone brings to the table, according to Pratt.

“This is a way of respecting and dignifying everyone that works within an institution, organization or a community,” he said.

Smart said embracing inclusive excellence will make the university and the city better places to live.

“Our goal is to make sure that our employees and our students find community at the university, and everybody feels at home, no matter your background, whether you’re liberal or conservative; no matter your ethnicity, regardless of your religion or lack thereof, regardless of your sexual orientation,” Smart said.

As one of its key performance indicators – the measures used to determine whether it is reaching its goals – MSU hopes to up its total number of students from underrepresented groups, such as ethnic minorities or first-year college students, to 3,400 from a high of 3,242 in 2020-21.

The plan also targets an overall six-year graduation rate of 60%, up from 57.9% in the period of 2014-20. Other six-year targets are for 50% graduation rates for students who are eligible for needs-based financial aid and first-year, Hispanic and Black students.

Other indicators include targets for number of degrees and certificates awarded, student retention rates, faculty and staff diversity, student financial obligation and success after graduation.

Community partnerships
MSU has long been involved in downtown revitalization in Springfield through its IDEA Commons urban innovation park built from abandoned industrial properties that now include the Jordan Valley Innovation Center, the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center and Brick City.

“When the university moved downtown, that was the beginning of rejuvenation,” Smart said.

The plan calls for further involvement downtown, as well as more university, public and private collaborations to spur economic development.

The Efactory, located at MSU’s Plaster Free Enterprise Center, has helped start 25 new businesses through its business incubator, bringing 280 new jobs and $17 million in capital and equity since its inception, the plan states.

Part of the goal, too, is to continue to involve students in learning outside of the conventional classroom. In 2019-20, MSU offered 863 courses that involved service-learning, with some 6,400 students enrolled in those courses and more than 160,000 hours of contribution to the community.

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