2023 Strategic Plan: Building on Excellence
Our Strategic Plan
To ensure The Graduate School is well-positioned to respond to the changing nature of graduate education and is structurally aligned with the University's strategic plan, our team went through a highly collaborative and iterative process to develop our 2023 Strategic Plan: Building on Excellence.
Building on Excellence is a three-year plan comprised of three pragmatic, strategic initiatives designed to further the mission of The Graduate School—with suggested key activities designed to implement each initiative.
These initiatives are grounded in The Graduate School's mission to advocate, collaborate, and convene on behalf of graduate and professional students.
Strategic Initiative #1: Enrolling for Excellence
Support academic excellence by collaborating with academic programs to identify high-priority admitted students and create a focused set of activities to increase the likelihood these students will enroll.
1.1 The Opportunity
The strategic planning task force identified graduate student admissions, retention, and yield as key issues during the strategic planning process. The Graduate School has the opportunity to analyze and to improve the structure of systems in place to increase the likelihood of successfully enrolling high-priority admitted students.
Existing data, interviews, and focus groups suggest that many high-priority candidates do not enroll for a variety of reasons, including uncompetitive stipends, high teaching loads, preference for a private institution, and proximity to home or other geographical considerations. Interviews also indicated that the process for awarding merit scholarships is often not aligned with program needs and timelines. This is a particular problem with respect to applicants who are underrepresented and groups for whom competition is significant and financial aid is often a key determinant.
This working group will develop best practices and a set of campus-wide activities to increase programs' enrollment yield for top admitted students. When taken together, these activities will have a positive impact on overall academic excellence within The Graduate School and the broader University community.
1.2 Suggested Key Activities
- Partner with academic programs to identify high-priority applicants and enhance existing datasets to better understand why they may or may not enroll.
- Convene a cross-campus conversation in fall 2023 to learn more about the issues, how they differ from school to school, and what other units of the University are already doing to improve enrollment among highly ranked applicants.
- Develop a set of targeted pilot programs with a limited number of admitted students to test approaches to improving enrollment yield rates, including campus visits, ambassadors, open houses, and recruitment weekends involving alumni.
- Raise funds for a targeted dean's fund to be used strategically, in cooperation with the academic programs, to encourage top applicants to accept admission. This could include support of The Graduate School's premier fellowships, including its Royster Society of Fellows and Weiss Urban Livability Fellowship, among others.
- As appropriate, revise the process of awarding fellowships to best address academic programs' needs and to provide more competitive recruiting.
- Identify and pursue alternative streams of funding for graduate student support, including external fellowships and grant support as well as partnerships with local industry that provide paid research or professional opportunities.
Strategic Initiative #2: Creating a Culture of Care
In collaboration with academic programs and units across campus, advocate for and support a University-wide framework to promote graduate student success and well-being so students can thrive from initial contact through graduation and beyond.
2.1 The Opportunity
This strategic initiative focuses on students once they enroll and aims to create a culture of care to keep students engaged and motivated during their time at Carolina. During the COVID-19 pandemic, graduate students' caregiving and parenting responsibilities became more visible, and the importance of these responsibilities has not diminished.
In interviews and focus groups, students consistently expressed the need for additional resources and support for caregiving, including parenting and caring for aging adults, during their time in graduate school. Student affairs is only part of this work; there are a multitude of other challenges that arise during graduate study but have not been adequately addressed. The graduate student population has become older and more diverse, but the multi-cultural character of the students and the various demands on their time and their finances are largely unaddressed in traditional academic culture.
Significantly, 62 percent of graduate students surveyed identified as female, and traditionally, caregiving falls disproportionately on them. The Graduate School has the opportunity to create a culture of care at Carolina by shining a light on the needs of a large and growing segment of the graduate student population and by encouraging and advocating for a cultural change on campus that embraces the many aspects of a student's life, including those beyond academics.
2.2 Suggested Key Activities
- Host family-friendly events and build a community component into existing events.
- Integrate the perspective of graduate students who are also caregivers at large-scale events, including but not limited to graduate orientation and well-being events.
- Develop an annual survey on graduate student satisfaction that incorporates caregiving and family issues.
- Better capture reasons for graduate students who choose to take a leave of absence in order to determine the impact of caregiving on graduation rates.
- Develop a set of early indicators for graduate students, focused on caregiving, who may be at risk of dropping out so The Graduate School and graduate programs can engage proactively.
- Review policies and procedures to better accommodate students who seek additional time to complete their degrees or need a break in study for caregiving reasons.
Strategic Initiative #3: Growing with North Carolina
Convene a pan-University discussion to collaboratively develop a graduate education enrollment growth plan that is pragmatic, fiscally responsible, and that employs multiple delivery formats. The plan will involve an understanding of the rapidly growing, knowledge-based ecosystem that surrounds the University and the workforce needs of North Carolina, including but not limited to the areas of health care and technology.
3.1 The Opportunity
The fastest-growing occupations in North Carolina are expected to be those that require a master's, doctoral, or professional degree. The Graduate School is well-positioned to enhance the dramatic growth that is occurring in North Carolina and beyond. This growth opportunity is driven by three important aspects.
First, the rapidly growing economy surrounding the University creates immediate workforce needs, including in nursing, data science, and technology, among other critical areas. Second, existing research infrastructure is well-positioned to address societal challenges ranging from health and environment to public discourse, democracy, and more. Increasing the size of the University's research portfolio will also increase the number of graduate students who can be funded, including those who come from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. Third, the changing nature of higher education will require that graduate degree programs offer a range of modalities from traditional residential models to hybrid and fully remote options. The University will train the professionals of the future and ensure they are ready to translate and implement new knowledge to solve societal challenges.
Major investment in infrastructure and changes in the funds flow model of the University are required to achieve this aspirational goal. This pan-University opportunity requires financial investment, structural changes to the funds flow model, and deep collaboration with campus leaders and external partners. It also involves working closely with academic units to ensure robust and efficient policies for excellence. Partnering with the private and nonprofit sectors and other parties external to the University will be important both as a funding source for graduate students and to ensure that students are prepared to enter the workforce, whether through the academy, industry, government, or other career paths.
3.2 Suggested Key Activities
- Develop a white paper outlining existing and emerging opportunities by mapping external needs of industry and others against internal campus areas of expertise.
- Continue to collaborate closely with the Vice Chancellor for Finance and Operations and Chief Financial Officer and other partners to develop a funds flow approach that provides the necessary resources to both academic and campus administrative units as needed to ensure incentives for growth.
- Develop a set of best practices for undertaking new credentials (e.g., certificates) based on lessons learned from recent initiatives and the professional development activities of The Graduate School.
- Partner with Innovate Carolina and leaders from the private sector to address the workforce needs of the rapidly growing economy of the state of North Carolina.