MSU University-Wide Strategic Plan Focuses on Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity, Expanding Impact
Michigan State University recently unveiled its new strategic plan that articulates a shared vision for the university through the end of the decade. The MSU Strategic Plan 2030 Empowering Excellence, Advancing Equity, Expanding Impact received the unanimous endorsement of the MSU Board of Trustees.
Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D. says the plan is a guidepost for MSU to be strategic about wisely and efficiently using limited resources and refine its values in an inclusive way.
“We have a mission of education, research and innovation, and outreach to really take what we've learned and make a difference in people's lives,” Stanley says. “So, we really need to be strategic. Resources are limited. We know that. We depend upon tuition. We depend upon state allocation. Those things have not been rising at great levels recently. We must think very carefully about how we use our resources. What we did for Michigan State University was say, ‘What are our values? What are the things we care about? How do we want to make a difference? Where do we want to be impactful?’
“We identified those values and then we said, ‘How do we accomplish and excel in them?’ We have the university's strategic plan, which looks at the university's activities on a whole level. We have the RVSM Strategic Plan, which looks at an issue that's been very important for Michigan State, relationship violence and sexual misconduct. And then we have a plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is not only a separate plan, but also incorporated into the university's strategic plan. We made a campus wide effort to bring people together.
“These plans had to be inclusive; they weren’t going to be top down. We had to have plans where faculty and staff and students had input on what we're going to do going forward. And from that we've crafted something we think, particularly in the university strategic plan, is going to take us from now to 2030 and be a guidepost for us for how we invest our resources and how we work together as an institution to be impactful and to make a difference for the State of Michigan.”
Ultimately, says President Stanley, the plan puts people and student success first.
“We have great facilities, but really when it comes down to it, it's about people. We start with our students and student success. Our heritage is to provide access for students who are economically disadvantaged and give them an opportunity to get a college education that was good as they could get at any school in the country. That was our primary mission initially, and that's continued now. So, we're finding ways to ensure student success and help every student who arrives at Michigan State University graduate.
“Absolutely essential as well is our faculty and staff and providing opportunities for them to reach their full potential. So, whether it's in education, whether it's in research and innovation, whether it's in outreach, how do we help them use their full potential and have impact? And what are the conditions we need to set to do that? How do we help them become better at educating? How do we reduce barriers to their ability to do their best research? How do we find resources to help them achieve what they want to do? How do we help their professional development so they can really see careers ahead of them that allow them to succeed and make Michigan State a destination where people want to work? Those are the things that are most significant. We're putting people at the center of our plan and focusing very much on them.”
The goal for MSU is to evolve and grow its impact on Michigan and the world.
“The destination looks like a Michigan State University that's recognized around the world as being impactful and having impact in areas that matter to people. There are some major problems we face, like problems around climate change and problems around artificial intelligence and how we use it effectively. There are issues around health and health disparities, which are a very significant problem for the United States and for the world. How do we keep our water and food supply secure so people don't have to suffer from insecurity or concerns about their water? All these things are things that Michigan State can tackle. We have the multidisciplinary ability to do it. The strategic plan lays out ways in which we can make a difference. One of the goals, for example, is to get to $1 billion annually in research expenditures.
“We know that's a number where we're going to be having impact. If we're at that number, that speaks to a national and global impact. As we look at graduation rates, we know if we can get up to 86 percent that we'd be among the top public universities in the country in terms of graduation rates. It's an achievable number, but how do we get there? This is an educational institution that matters to Michigan and to the world. We have found ways to get engaged in the problems that matter most to society, like creating the trained workforce that helps Michigan continue to excel and create economic development.”
President Stanley says the process of how the plan was developed was crucial so that the entire Spartan community could take ownership in the plan.
“The process really mattered so we needed a plan that involved input from faculty, students, and staff. The key constituents needed to have input. But we expanded that as well. The Board of Trustees was intimately involved in this and was involved in reviewing each of these three plans on a regular basis. And then we went to our alumni as well. We went to our donors and talked to them. We went to elected officials and talked to them. All these people had a chance to provide input into the strategic plan because we wanted a plan that people owned and know they contributed to.
“Without that buy-in and people seeing themselves in the plan, it could become a document that just sits on the shelf. That's not what we want. It was critical that it be an inclusive process. My hat’s off to the leaders of these different committees for all the work they did to be inclusive, all the listening sessions they held, and all the outreach they did. I think it's paid off in having a plan that I think people can, as I said before, see themselves in, buy into, and want to be a part of.”
President Stanley says the plan is not etched in stone and will evolve over time as necessary. And the plan allows MSU to refine and evolve its values.
“It's always important for an institution like MSU, one with this incredible history of accomplishment, to not rest and to always look and say, ‘What are our values? Are we staying true to our values? And are our values appropriate to the times we live in? How have they changed? And what's changed from maybe 100 years ago or 150 years ago?’ That relook was very important. Coming out of the challenges the university faced earlier in 2017 and through the pandemic, it's really helped us hone in on what's important to the university and how we’re going to be impactful. We had vigorous discussion on these questions. The values segment of the plan took a long time to come together to get cohesiveness and agreement on. Having those values defined will help us function better as a university.”
2030 is eight years away. It's the right amount of time to implement the plan and evaluate its progress.
“Eight years is a pretty good number. It's hard to get things done and have real impact in a short period of time. As we know, universities are large and complex organizations, and to get people pulling together sometimes takes some work. But once we do, it can be extraordinary. So, I think that timeframe is appropriate. Things change rapidly. So we will revisit this plan on a regular basis. We have already built into the plan a review in about three to four years into the process to see where our progress is. And Bill Beekman, our vice president for strategic initiatives, will be looking at this plan and be responsible for helping to coordinate metrics and help coordinate the reporting of those metrics. The Board of Trustees will expect several reports on the plan’s progress.
“They're intimately involved, as I said before, on implementing this plan. They want to be engaged in it. And the key thing is having an implementation plan. So having Bill's position and having strategic champions for each of the pillars of the plan that we've identified for each of them are important in making sure the plan gets implemented. Many strategic plans are done by universities, and many sit on a shelf. That's not what we want for this. We want one where we are actually holding ourselves accountable for progress. And there are some stretch goals in the plan. We may not reach every goal as fast as we'd like, but I think it's feasible to reach every goal on this list by 2030.”
As President Stanley said, it's now time for the plan's champions to begin implementation.
“That involves the champions getting together now and figuring out what the priorities are that we want to begin with. What are the areas where we want to start applying resources to make a difference and how do we do that? That's going to involve the champions working with key constituents. Those can be deans of colleges, department chairs, and students who can really start putting together a committee that's going to help guide where resources flow. Implementation is going to be the next key step, and that's taking place as we speak.”
As President Stanley mentioned, Michigan State University's Vice President for Strategic Initiatives Bill Beekman will lead the implementation of the plan. And Beekman agrees with Stanley that the plan is not etched in stone and will evolve as there are more ways than one to reach the desired destination.
“A strategic plan is an important thing for any organization, maybe particularly a university, because it's a roadmap and a sense of direction of where we want to go,” says Beekman. “If you're traveling somewhere, there's almost always more than one way to get there. You can take path A or path B or C. So, when we think about a strategic plan, it's not necessarily carved in stone. It's more about the destination. We'll figure out the path a bit as we go and as times change, as circumstances change, and as people change. To me, a strategic plan is really important because it gives us a sense of direction and a process we can adjust and adapt. It gives us a point to look towards and strive towards in the future.”
Beekman says progress on the plan's implementation will be shared often with the campus community. Bill will lead a team responsible for helping to refine strategies and actions, establish robust measures and metrics across all themes, and recommend processes to track and report on implementation across themes.
“When the Board approved the strategic plan at its September meeting this past fall, there was an implementation strategy that was written into the plan. And that called for me as the vice president for strategic initiatives to gather a group of folks who are the executive sponsors for each of the six pillars of the plan along with several other folks. And in fact, we met last week and had our introductory meeting. President Stanley came and charged the group to begin a process. So each of those executive sponsors is going to formulate a work group or an implementation committee for each of the six theme areas. Those groups will really support the planning process. We had probably at least 200 people from the university community who were engaged in providing input and synthesizing that input into the plan.
“We'll go through a similar process with the implementation. We've got our direction and our sense of where we want to go. So, what these work groups will do is really help us think through how to get there and what steps to take and what to prioritize in the plan because the plan certainly has more than we can do in a year or even three years or five years. That's partly why we call it the 2030 Plan because it really gives us about a decade's worth of direction. These work groups will be formulating over the next month or so and begin meeting and collecting information from their peers so that we can start formulating not only where we're going, but how we're getting there and begin to dive into that process. We'll also be thinking about metrics. How can we track our progress over the course of the next decade? When can we consider something completed? What does completion mean? What does success mean? Do we need to adjust our process to get there more quickly or try something else? So, we'll have metrics that help guide us in that process. We'll share progress on the plan through a variety of approaches. One is podcasts like this. Over the course of the next number of months, we'll have various sponsors of the themes do podcasts much like this. They'll be able to share that way with the university community.
“The work groups will be communicating with those who are interested in those particular areas. The information will be synthesized onto a website. Folks who are interested in finding out more information about the strategic planning process through the website that we've structured can go to strategicplan.msu.edu. And that website will have not only the current strategic plan, but follow up information as we progress. And people who might have things they want to share can email us at email@example.com. That website is up and running. If people have input that they'd like to make, they can contact us at any time through that website. I’m happy to answer any questions that folks might have, and I appreciate any information that folks would like to share.”
The MSU community, especially faculty and staff, can help to advance the plan, stay informed, and participate where appropriate.
“Our executive sponsors of each of the theme sections are listed in the strategic plan. As folks are reviewing the plan and there's something that strikes them as a particularly high priority or something that they're interested in providing input on, they can either contact the executive sponsors of that section of the plan and provide input directly to those executive sponsors, or they can contact us at our website or contact me directly to share that feedback and get them engaged.”
MSU Strategic Plan 2030 identifies goals within six key themes: student success, staff and faculty success, discovery, creativity and innovation for excellence and global impact, sustainable health, stewardship and sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion.
I'm very excited to be participating in this process. I think it's very important for the university that we have a sense of direction and that we're striving to achieve that sense of direction. And I would encourage everybody to read the plan. It's fairly lengthy so don't be shy about skipping to the part that most pertains to you. And we certainly welcome any feedback. Anybody who would like to help or participate in the process is welcome to do so. And that's really what it's about it. It's not about me or a particular dean or vice president. It's about all of us as a university community striving to be better. And the plan's purpose is to help guide us there.”
“Just again, I appreciate how much people have been engaged with this,” concludes President Stanley. “I appreciate the excitement about it. I encourage people to read the strategic plan, and, if you haven't read it already, to read the DEI Strategic Plan and the RVSM Strategic Plan and think about how you can contribute. As I said before, it's a living document. We'll be ready to modify it as times change or if our priorities change. We want to continue this kind of conversation and dialogue with the university community.”