Consolidating our strengths and addressing new challenges
The public announcement last month of the university’s new fund-raising effort, “Engage the World: The Campaign for PLU,” sets out one of two critical initiatives that the campus community will be undertaking over the next two years. The other is work on the long-range plan PLU 2020. Together they will set the stage for the university’s progress in the decade ahead.
In recent months, I have been asked many times for my views on new directions that will arise out of our long-range planning process and how our campaign success will help transform the university. My response is always the same. I don’t know, because the long-range plan will be shaped and written by the PLU community. And our donors will play a determining role in the nature and pace of our campaign successes.
But I have been listening to the campus community on the topic of long-range planning and I have been listening to donors on their vital interests in the university’s future. Here are some of the key perspectives that I have heard emerging from these conversations.
BUILDING ON STRENGTH
At PLU we like who we are and what we do. Said more formally, there is broad support both on and off campus, for our current mission and our academic program.
You know our mission statement well: “To educate students for lives of thoughtful inquiry, service, leadership and care, for others, for their communities, and for the earth.” It was formally accepted by our Board of Regents when the PLU 2010 long-range planning report was adopted. In that same document we set out our pathways to academic distinction in global education, purposeful learning and lives of service, and the close interaction between students and faculty.
What a gift this collective vision has been as we build on our accomplishments and plan for the future.
SURROUNDED BY CHANGE
While we like who we are, and what we do, there can be no doubt that the drumbeat of change is rumbling around us. Said more formally, there will be significant changes in the educational landscape in the coming decade and no institution will stand apart from the individual and collective impact of these changes.
First, there are major demographic changes ahead in our region of the country. The number of traditional age students will not change dramatically, but their composition will, as the new cohort becomes more diverse in learning experience and style, in their economic situation, in their ethnic heritage and in their educational expectations. I believe that both more non-traditional age students and more first generation students are headed our way. The implications for the schedule and the calendar, as well as the campus and the classroom, are many fold.
Second, the wise and effective use of technology in education will continue to grow. We will never be a fully online university, and we may not, at least in the short term, offer completely online classes or programs. But I believe that we must continue to stay near the cutting edge in classroom-based technology use if we expect to compete for the next generation of the best and brightest. They will expect nothing less.
Third, the world continues to get smaller. Our nationally recognized position as a leader in global education is a huge strength. But we will not be able to rest on our laurels, we must find ways to “globalize” every PLU student’s education, both on campus and through additional study-away possibilities. Global education is currently a key to admissions marketing, I believe it may become even more important.
Fourth, the market for “higher” higher education will continue to expand. The Master’s may become the new BA and, in many fields, the applied doctorate will be the new MA. While we have a solid foothold in graduate education, we have, in recent years, tended to focus our greatest energy on undergraduate education. In the next decade, our focus will need to broaden (not change, but broaden) to include new master’s and possible doctoral programs. Our mission challenges us to do our part in meeting these emerging educational needs, and our opportunities for enrollment growth and financial return are most abundant here.
CHARTING OUR COURSE
The great task facing us at Pacific Lutheran University will be to build on our strengths as we address significant changes – changes not of our own making – in the educational landscape that lies before us. Said differently, the great long-range question is how do we wisely and strategically navigate a path that will ensure that our mission and program remains compelling, relevant, effective and, yes, affordable in the years ahead?
To do so will require that we face change boldly and with confidence as we prepare to serve a new cohort of students, incorporate technology, become more global, teach more graduate students and seek new efficiencies in all that we do.
FAITH AND HOPE
As I begin my 19th year here, I honestly believe that no college or university in America is any better positioned than Pacific Lutheran University to affirm and consolidate our strengths, to address the challenges of this second decade of the third millennium, and to emerge in 2020 as a stronger and even more excellent university.
I believe this is the case because we stand on and within the great heritage of Lutheran higher education; a heritage that calls us to accept all of creation and each person as God’s great gift.
So it calls us to use our minds fully as we explore and seek to understand the world, always with a sense of wonder and awe and always in gratitude. It calls us to use our hearts fully as we embrace one another on this campus and in the global community.
It calls us to use our will as we seek individually and collectively to serve the world on God’s behalf, educating each day in the highest traditions of the liberal arts and academic freedom, and preparing each graduate to discover a vocation-driven life that truly matters.
I believe this is true because for over 120 years, we have evolved a clear and defining understanding of our mission and purpose; an understanding that is relevant and that connects with our wonderfully rich and diverse Pacific Northwest setting. And in pursuing our mission we have built an absolutely superb academic and cocurricular program that is at once characterized by excellence, and as always a work in progress.
Yes, all of us who care about PLU have been tasked to participate in this important work. It is work grounded in our religious faith, shaped by our Lutheran heritage and tradition, informed by enduring educational values, and dedicated to good and humane purpose.
May God bless all that we do in this new academic year for the calling we hold is both a remarkable gift and a sacred trust.
This article was adapted from PLU President Loren J. Anderson’s September 1, 2010, University Conference State of the University address.