2015 Progress Report

Executive Summary

In September 2011, UMass Boston published Fulfilling the Promise, a 15-year strategic plan organized into three five-year phases. The background and content of this plan can be found here

As planning began for the specific objectives and action steps that would guide work in the upcoming second phase, the chancellor-appointed Strategic Planning Implementation Group undertook a complete review of the first phase and the university’s progress in achieving its stated goals.

As the physical transformation of the campus has continued, UMass Boston has also made exceptional progress on many other fronts, grounded in philosophical support for planning strategically and sustained by wide embrace of the plan’s goals and objectives. In the university community there is a clear commitment to strategic planning, and much work has been done around the implementation of the plan.

This report provides a glimpse of collective achievements, objectives-in-progress, and the challenges which have limited or delayed the university’s progress. Brief descriptions can be found in this executive summary. A detailed report on each objective in Fulfilling the Promise appears in the Phase 1 Progress Report.

We as a committee have done our best to provide a clear-eyed, objective analysis of the progress to date. While in many instances, the gains have been certain and measurable, in several others we have found it difficult to declare complete success or to determine progress due to a lack of baseline data and accompanying metrics, a situation we plan to alter for this next five-year period.

All of UMass Boston’s accomplishments over the past five years, even those less visible, deserve accolades. The credit belongs to every member of our community collectively, as everyone is vital to UMass Boston’s progress. This is no less true of those objectives that have not yet been fully achieved but will continue to be part of the effort going forward. Through persistence and an unstinting commitment to planning strategically, we expect, the passion and vision that resides in each member of our community will allow UMass Boston to ultimately prevail.

Unmet objectives, while sobering, need not be seen with discouragement. Fulfilling the Promise is, we know, a highly ambitious roadmap whose lofty objectives are intended to energize our community as it aspires to meet them. Certainly there were needs identified five years ago that we are all still striving to address, but that in no way diminishes the extraordinary accomplishment of committing to a collaborative effort to use our strategic plan as a living, working document.

That not all of the Phase 1 objectives have been implemented—some due to situations outside the university’s control—is not failure; it is learning. There are a number of areas in which the lack of progress speaks to UMass Boston’s need to improve systems and actions, to increase collaboration and communication, and to commit itself to a culture of accountability and discipline befitting a mature, leading research university.

Since these objectives were developed five years ago, what we thought we knew has changed and will continue to change. Planning for the next five years will offer all of us the opportunity to adjust our thinking, correct our course, improve our metrics, and move forward as we continue implementation of the plan.

As a newly constituted group, our committee has been convened to view the strategic plan with fresh eyes and help to move UMass Boston into its next five-year phase. Our task is to review the current implementation objectives and revise, update, and add to them as appropriate. We remain open to the new ideas already emerging from a rapidly changing higher education landscape and seek to conduct our work in a way that is completely transparent and inclusive. We are also strongly committed to clear two-way communication with the entire university community.

We encourage your active participation in planning for the university’s future direction and we promise to serve as guardians for the collective interest of this magnificent higher education community.

Milestones Achieved

Among the objectives showing significant implementation progress are these five, which relate to student success; program expansion; the learning, teaching, and working environment; and building existing financial resources.

  1. Goal 1, Objective 1: Increase the graduation rates of freshmen and transfer students. We are on track to meet the graduation rate targets—the six-year rate for freshmen, and the four-year rate for upper-level transfers—for FY2016. Our freshman retention goal was also met, and we fell just two points shy of our transfer retention goal.  
  2. Goal 1, Objective 4: Establish an Honors College. Officially launched in April 2014, the Honors College signals our commitment to delivering the best quality education to high-achieving students. Its fall 2015 headcount was 535, or 4.1% of the total undergraduate headcount.
  3. Goal 2, Objective 2: Develop new graduate programs in keeping with our strategic vision. Since 2011 we have added sixteen new doctoral programs, seven master’s programs, and fourteen certificate programs. These additions boost the university’s research activity as well as our national and international reputation in crucial scholarly areas.
  4. Goal 3, Objective 1: Construct new academic buildings with state-of-the-art teaching and learning spaces. When the Integrated Sciences Complex opened in January 2015, it became the university’s first new academic building since the campus was built. University Hall (formerly GAB1), scheduled for occupancy in spring 2016, will be our second. These successes are attributable to the complementary relationship between the strategic plan and the construction master plan. 
  5. Goal 4, Objective 1: Increase enrollment to 17,349 students by fall 2015. In 2013, factoring in data on declining high school enrollments, we revised our annual goals leading up to 2015. As of fall 2014, we were just 59 students shy of our 2014 goal of 16,815. 

Encouraging Signs of Progress

Implementation progress outlined below is emblematic of the strides UMass Boston has made in so many areas as the university community works toward reaching its strategic goals.

  1. Faculty-related objectives:
    • Goal 1, Objective 2: Increase the overall percentage of tenure-stream (tenured and tenure-track) faculty; and Goal 3, Objective 4: Raise the proportion of full-time non-tenure-track faculty. Using headcount data for better comparison with peers, the proportion of tenure-stream faculty remained relatively flat between fall 2011 and fall 2014. By 2014, 19 of the faculty were full-time non-tenure-stream. For fall 2015, 68 faculty searches were conducted, 32 were for new tenure-track positions, 26 for replacement positions, and 10 for full-time non-tenure-track positions (new and replacement); a total of 56 faculty were hired, of which 46 were tenure stream faculty.
    • Goal 3, Objective 3: Lower the teaching load for tenure-stream faculty with research and teaching responsibilities to 2:2. Two of the five colleges not already implementing a 2:2 load in 2011 have since instituted 2:2 policies.
  2. Goal 2, Objective 1: Ensure that we offer our undergraduate students the full range of academic programs offered by all major urban research universities. Since 2011, we have added 10 undergraduate certificates, four bachelor’s degrees, and four minors. Several new bachelor’s programs through CAPS are currently in the pipeline.
  3. Goal 2, Objective 3: Expand the online offerings of the university and improve the infrastructure support for faculty teaching online courses and the academic support for students taking such courses. Though online course offerings have increased, progress cannot be quantified without targets.
  4. Goal 2, Objective 6: Expand the research enterprise, increasing our extramural funding by 5% to 15% annually. At $60.1 million in FY 2014, annual funding shows an encouraging 18% increase over 2011. Though relatively flat since 2012, recent growth in funding compares favorably to the significant decreases seen by many research universities since the recession.
  5. Goal 4, Objective 2 (2012): Establish annual university advancement fundraising goals and develop longer term goals for a capital campaign. The second part of this objective has been implemented: the university has launched a capital campaign (“Just Imagine”) with a goal of $100 million.  

Challenges Remaining

These objectives, chosen because of their importance to student success, infrastructure, program review, and identifying new financial resources, are among those that will require significant effort in building the momentum needed to implement.

  1. Goal 1, Objective 3: Open the first residence hall by fall 2014. The objective was not met due to external factors, including a more conservative policy on borrowing instituted by the UMass Board of Trustees, which limited each campus’s debt ratio to 8%. The university has thus been exploring a public-private partnership model to meet this objective. The project is awaiting approvals by the state and the Board of Trustees. If approved, this first-in-Massachusetts model could lead to the university’s first residence hall by either fall of 2017 or 2018.
  2. Goal 5, Objective 1: Implement a transparent, equitable, and expeditious process for dealing with daily and year-over-year space needs. While the 2012 SPACE policy was a good first step in addressing inadequacies in space and space management, the lack of an official policy on allocating research space remains a major gap.
  3. Goal 5, Objective 7: Strengthen the budgeting process to support implementation of the 2010-2025 Strategic Plan. It is too soon to tell how the new planning and budgeting cycle, adopted in early 2015, will succeed in creating a stable and sustainable budget process. Responsibility-centered management of resource allocations remains a work in progress.
  4. Goal 4, Objective 5: Adopt a process for reviewing academic units, centers and institutes, and administrative departments on a regular basis. Create a more rigorous culture of assessment and accountability. This objective likely suffered from the absence of a baseline and outcome metrics; establishing these will be key to our work on it in Phase 2.
  5. Goal 4, Objective 6: Expand the array of revenue-generating activities. While the need was alluded to in Fulfilling the Promise, it was not a formal objective until 2013. Implementation of this, too, has suffered from the lack of a baseline and outcome metrics; this will be rectified in Phase 2.
  6. Goal 1, Objective 5: Increase the quality of and participation in athletic and recreation programming. Although participation numbers in athletics and recreation reflect consistent and robust growth, the loss of our main outdoor competitive field to campus construction significantly affects our ability to maintain this trend. Facility requirements currently fall well below national guidelines for an institution the size of UMass Boston. As enrollment grows and we transition to a 24/7 campus, meeting the demand for facilities will be increasingly difficult. 

Next Steps

The lack of clear metrics for fourteen objectives not included in the groupings above made it difficult or impossible to assess progress in implementing them. Correcting this is a priority for Phase 2. Other priorities include continuing our momentum for implementing objectives in progress and building momentum for implementing those that still require significant work. We intend to maintain strong two-way communication with the campus community during this phase: presenting and soliciting ideas, inviting feedback, and otherwise providing ample opportunity for a campus-wide conversation about what is important for the next five years. Encouraged and inspired by the extraordinary progress we have made to date, we are looking forward to this next chapter in fulfilling the promise of UMass Boston.