An ambitious strategic plan for future of USF Sarasota-Manatee

Within weeks of becoming regional chancellor of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Sandra Stone launched an ambitious effort to create a blueprint for the future success of the school.

The finished product's wide-ranging goals focus on enriching academic programs and student life, expanding faculty research and resources, and increasing engagement with nearby communities.

Crafted over four months of analysis and meetings by the university's senior leaders beginning this past December, the "Focus on Quality 2020" five-year strategic plan won USF board approval last week.

An advisory council of faculty, students and community members provided input on the plan -- reflecting the administration's commendable outreach to ensure broad acceptance and unity moving forward. Public hearings also advanced support.

"We tried to make the process inclusive and transparent, and I was extremely pleased with the positive response," Stone said in a statement.

That bodes well for the future.

Several specific goals hold the potential for transforming USF Sarasota-Manatee from a commuter school to a traditional university with a vibrant campus life. Student housing and a student union are two of the dynamic, game-changing goals.

The establishment of an NCAA women's rowing team would boost the university's profile in the collegiate sports world. These three goals are dependent on future funding as is an increase in faculty and staff.

Another goal could significantly impact money issues, this one outlined as receipt of at least one major gift.

And perhaps two Bradenton Republicans, state Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Jim Boyd, can employ their leadership roles in the two chambers to advance capital construction allocations in next year's session.

On academics, "Focus on Quality 2020" aims to significantly increase research productivity and learning opportunities for students, from internships to study abroad.

The plan also seeks additional awards of national accreditation for specialized programs -- earning another one last month for teacher instruction.

The university is already forging ahead on other initiatives. A second modular biological lab is set to open for the fall semester, following the first one this past spring.

Some organization's strategic plans have a way of sitting on shelves and gathering dust, a pointless exercise. USF Sarasota-Manatee ensures this will not occur by directing the Senior Leadership Team, Faculty Senate and Strategic Planning Advisory Committee to assess progress and update goals twice each budget year.

Here again, the advisory panel's participation in performance reviews again shows the school's strong commitment to community engagement.

For anyone not acquainted with the university, USFSM provides 40 bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and certificate programs across four colleges: Arts & Sciences, Business, Education and Hospitality & Tourism Leadership.

The day, evening, weekend and online classes allow students of all ages great flexibility in structuring their education.

Since expanding enrollment with sophomores first admitted in 2012 and freshmen the following years, the university is growing quicker than anticipated. The school expects to reach its target goal of freshman and sophomore enrollment at 25 percent of the full-time student population in the coming school year -- well ahead of the 2017-2018 academic year.

The demand is great, not only from students but from the community eager for a stronger, better educated workforce that also matches up with local needs.

Less than a year on the job, Chancellor Stone continues to institute big improvements at one of the region's premier institutions of higher learning. "Focus on Quality 2020" certainly aligns with that mission.

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