The University of Central Arkansas today unveiled a comprehensive strategy aimed at positioning itself as a national leader in higher education. Tom Courtway detailed the plan in remarks at his formal investiture as president of the university. The ceremony was held at the Donald W. Reynolds Performance Hall.
Courtway said the plan will leverage the university’s strengths, allow it to best meet evolving student expectations, and address infrastructure needs on the Conway campus. The strategy, titled "Framework for the Future - A Blueprint for National Leadership and Regional Prominence," is organized around three primary goals, "Become one the top regional universities in the South," "Create a campus that attracts and retains the best students, faculty, and staff," and "Maximize external relations effectiveness."
The "Framework for the Future" plan will be phased over five years beginning this fall. Courtway said this blueprint is consistent with and complements the university’s strategic plan, and is essential to continuing to meet challenges facing higher education.
"Having an organizational vision and a focused plan to fulfill that vision has never been more important than it is today," said Courtway. "Resources have never been as precious, expectations as high, or accountability as important as they are today. This plan is designed to ensure UCA is fully accountable for those resources and provides an outstanding educational experience for our students. That is our singular focus.
The UCA strategy seeks to increase student enrollment, retention rates, and graduation rates. It includes an enrollment goal of 13,500 students within five years, as well as a six-year graduation rate of 60 percent for the 2016 entering freshman class. Two key components currently being implemented to increase retention are identifying at-risk students and creating a "First-Year Seminar."
Current enrollment stands at 11,534. Transfers from two-year colleges; the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex; graduate programs; and, international students are identified as specific areas of focus in expanding enrollment. The plan also calls for a review, strengthening and implementation of new admission standards and academic programs beginning with the 2015-16 academic year.
Victor Green, board chair, said the strategy unveiled today is based on a vision adopted by the board of trustees in 2011.
"That vision set UCA on a path to becoming a premier student-based public university; one which consistently performs at high levels with respect to education, scholastic initiatives, and engagement with constituencies on the local, national, and global levels," said Green. "This strategy has been carefully crafted and evaluated to fulfill that vision."
Also included is a focus on further expanding faculty excellence and establishing benchmarks for faculty and staff compensation.
"UCA has an outstanding faculty now and we are committed to retaining and attracting the best, and to compensating them accordingly," said Courtway.
Several campus facilities are targeted for evaluation, renovation, expansion, or replacement. These include the natural sciences building, Lewis Science Center, and the nursing and health sciences building. New facilities called for in the plan announced today include planning for a center for performing arts, a Greek village housing system, and a "Greek" community center, recently approved by UCA’s Board of Trustees. The university is also in the process of expanding its fitness center. The expansion is scheduled to be completed in October 2014.
UCA is undertaking the planning and design process to create a mixed-use development along Donaghey Avenue between South Boulevard and Bruce Street. It is envisioned that the block will include ground-level retail and commercial ventures, and innovative student housing on upper floors. Among the aesthetic improvements would be medians and landscaping, in addition to traffic flow enhancements to Donaghey Avenue. Conversations with the City of Conway have begun.
The university will also seek to expand awareness of its arts and cultural programs in the local community and across the state. That initiative calls for expansion of the Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, establishing Reynolds Performance Hall as a statewide venue, and attracting more visitors to Baum Gallery and the Snow Fine Arts Center.
Courtway said "Framework for the Future" is the culmination of a comprehensive review of all aspects of UCA’s operations, and includes the insights and perspectives of representatives throughout the university.
"Many of these efforts and initiatives have already begun. To be successful, this entire effort will require the active participation and support of the entire UCA community," said Courtway. "We have a very loyal and committed faculty, staff, alumni, and community. Their support and enthusiasm will be key to making this plan a reality."
Courtway’s investiture comes after his being named the tenth president of UCA in December 2011.
A Log Cabin Democrat reporter was at Courtway’s investiture, and will have more on the event later in the day and in Thursday’s print edition.