University sums up third year of 2012-15 strategic plan, begins update for 2015-20

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—On the eve of transitioning to an updated five-year strategic plan, Western Michigan University in July released a year-end report detailing outcomes achieved during the third year of its initial three-year plan.

The report, "Strategic Plan Year Three Year-end Report on Progress and Outcomes," is available at It includes an assessment of how well WMU did in terms of implementing recommendations from the 2013-14 annual report and addressing stated priority initiatives for 2014-15.

In addition, the report includes selected success stories from a variety of campus units as well as a brief update on how the plan's tactical action communities and their project action teams are being transitioned as strategic planning becomes more integrated into WMU's culture.

Known as The Gold Standard, the University Strategic Plan began being updated this summer. That effort is continuing this fall, with the goal of a 2015-20 version being ready for implementation beginning in early 2016.

Year three findings

Jody Brylinsky, associate provost for institutional effectiveness, says by the end of the 2014-15 academic year, WMU had completed or made progress on 83 percent of the 166 initiatives and 10 implementation recommendations that had been identified as priorities for the year.

"One of the major accomplishments was the implementation and completion of the first comprehensive Academic Program Review and Planning Process," Brylinsky says. "This priority initiative provided a meaningful way to look at integrated planning across all academic units. Results released this fall will be used to generate priority initiatives for the next five years in the Academic Affairs Strategic Plan."

Overall, WMU saw notable accomplishments in the areas of improving scheduling and communication for strategic plan reporting, and addressing how enterprise risk management principles can assist in achieving strategic goals.

Brylinsky says considerable strides were made regarding WMU's strategy to increase research and creative activity. She says this success was especially impacted by University centers and institutes and by faculty and graduate student discovery.

Other accomplishments are expected to boost student success. They were achieved by major initiatives associated with study abroad and student engagement activities, as well as academic program review and planning. Additional accomplishments were seen in initiatives to support professional development and training to improve the campus climate, enhance University marketing, and expand WMU's global footprint.

"An analysis of the University scorecard on institutional effectiveness measures provided senior leadership with a platform from which to prioritize strategic initiatives that, if accomplished, would have the greatest impact on the University," the report says. "Specifically, the metrics indicating the areas that need the most attention were enrollment management and diversity of campus staff profile, degree completion, increasing research expenditures, and maintaining a robust global and experiential learning experience for WMU students. Significant efforts were made to address all areas."

Progress also was reported on maturing WMU's strategic plan management, with growth observed in integrating strategic planning with enterprise risk management, implementing a campuswide program review, improving data collection and progressing toward a centralized reporting system with more consistency in terminology and accountability in reporting.

Transition phase

During the three years of the inaugural University Strategic Plan, WMU has created a culture of planning that is increasingly robust. Now, WMU is transitioning to a new planning cycle.

The revised University Strategic Plan will encompass five-years and be implemented based on a timeline that will be approved by the senior leadership. Several opportunities for input from the campus community have been built into the approval process.

Moving forward, Brylinsky stresses that WMU will be building on the existing plan, taking into account the results and lessons learned during the plan's first three years as well as implementation recommendations for 2020.

Lessons and recommendations

Various lessons and recommendations are detailed in the year three year-end report. They include:

  • Identifying aspirational and operational goals to be achieved, and tying them to objectives and strategies that have annual benchmarks to measure progress.
  • Continuing to treat centers and institutes as the significant partners they are in achieving University goals and priorities.
  • Continuing to work toward greater planning integration of budget and strategic goals at all levels.
  • Considering significant Universitywide initiatives in the prioritization of strategic goals and objectives to maximize limited resources and reduce redundancy.
  • Reconciling divisional plan initiatives that were established prior to the 2012-15 University Strategic Plan and have significant Universitywide transformational impact so they blend with the 2020 University Strategic Plan.
  • Considering the reorganization of strategies and objectives under the five University goals to improve clarity of purpose, accountability and collaboration between implementation structures.

"We had a great first plan that aligned goals with WMU's mission, but WMU is always evolving. For 2015-20, we'll be building on our successes, identifying factors that are keeping us from meeting our goals, and making sure the revised plan will be aspirational and guide decision-making," Brylinsky says. "We'll also be incorporating risk management principles and engaging more levels of the University in the strategic planning process. For WMU to move to the next level, we need to focus less on what we're doing now and more on what our University and its individual units need to prioritize."

As part of WMU's growing strategic plan management maturity, Brylinsky says all tactical action communities—TACs—were encouraged to complete their primary activities in preparation for becoming established components of WMU's institutional structure, if warranted.

"We would be remiss if we didn't thank the 300 to 400 dedicated faculty, staff and students across the University who worked tirelessly on TACs for three years. They did a Herculean job," she says. "Although that job is done for some, it's ongoing for others. Some former TACs have already been integrated into the University structure and been given a clearly defined role and authority."

Tentative plans call for a first draft of the 2015-20 University Strategic Plan to be released for campus input early next year and a final plan to be presented to the WMU Board of Trustees in March. Division-level plans would be aligned with the University plan during the next couple of months. Monitoring and reporting associated with the new University plan could then begin with the 2016-17 fiscal year.

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