Higher Learning Commission

Strategic Plan Development and Implementation to Enhance Graduate Culture by Building Supporting Infrastructure at West Liberty University

West Liberty University

Overview of the Quality Initiative

West Liberty University (WLU) began its first master’s program, the Master of Arts in Education (MAEd), upon receiving university status from the state of West Virginia and program approval from both the West Virginia Higher Education Policy Commission and the Higher Learning Commission in 2008. The institution has since added, with approval of the state, the Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA), and the Higher Learning Commission, a Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (MSPAS) and is in the process of gaining Higher Learning Commission approval for a Master of Professional Studies (MPS). As the graduate culture grows on the campus of WLU, the supporting infrastructure increases in importance to maintain academic quality and consistency in basic processes related to graduate education. The proposed Quality Initiative Project for WLU addresses the need to establish a stronger supporting graduate education infrastructure to enhance graduate culture and assure continuance of academic quality for graduate education without compromising the institution’s commitment to undergraduate education. The initiative will extend beyond the timeframe allotted for QI projects as the plan will be dynamic and sensitive to future changes in the academic climate. The QI strategic plan, implementation plan and initial implementation will occur during the timeframe as milestones; complete implementation will occur by 2018 with on-going modifications and growth as needed based on enrollment and other evaluation criteria.

Relevance and Significance

The intended quality initiative is integral to the maintenance and expansion of graduate offerings at WLU. With two current programs, an additional program submitted for Higher Learning Commission approval, and three other graduate programs in development, the commitment of resources and talents to graduate education will need to grow as will other supportive infrastructure (technology for example) to provide an optimal graduate environment without compromising the undergraduate academic environment. Consistency within the graduate programs in basic student support and services as well as expanding appropriate resources required to maintain academic quality is a crucial component at WLU. Developing a full, dynamic strategic plan focused solely on graduate education that integrates with the institutional strategic plan will provide the foundation and timeline for fluidity between the practices of each graduate program and address the needs of all graduate students collectively as well as within specific programs.

Intended Impact

A dynamic strategic plan focused on graduate education infrastructure and culture will lead WLU into further expansion of graduate level programming. Even with the limited number of current graduate faculty and programs, various needs have been identified to meet the WLU mission “to provide our students the opportunity for a high quality, undergraduate, graduate, and professional education.” WLU is currently developing a new campus-wide strategic plan and compact with the state; using the foundation of these documents, development of a dynamic strategic plan focused on graduate education that integrates with state- and campus-wide plans is an opportunity to establish an extended infrastructure that supports a collaborative atmosphere while focusing on building graduate culture. As part of the QI strategic plan, building a stronger infrastructure for graduate education is foundational to maintaining academic quality. A stronger infrastructure for graduate education will also impact undergraduate education by opening more resources that can be accessed by the entire campus community. Presenting this undertaking as WLU’s QI further strengthens the planning and implementation processes and emphasizes the commitment of WLU to quality in all of its programs and initiatives by welcoming review and insight of the QI review team.

Purposes and Goals

Increase and prioritize resources for graduate education.

Research databases and other library tools are crucial to the success of graduate (and undergraduate) education. Costs for increased access to research databases are an issue for small, state-assisted institutions of higher education. Neighboring Ohio has adopted a library system that is shared by libraries and institutions of higher education, OhioLINK. In addition to increasing the Paul N. Elbin Library’s database access internally, WLU plans to lobby the state to invest in a system similar to Ohio. The move supports not only WLU’s goals, but also the state-wide strategic plan to increase access and degree potential.

Distance learning as a medium for graduate education is another resource WLU plans to extend. WLU supports an Office of E-Learning that offers professional development training for online programming and courses. All online course development occurs through the campus learning management system following best practices and Quality Matters review guidelines. Increasing support for the Office of E-Learning, namely through additional supporting personnel, software and training, will augment distance learning at the graduate level.

Other resources targeted include support for scholarly research, graduate assistantships, increased funding, faculty, space allocation and technological updates, and technological infrastructure. Scholarly research is a vital aspect of graduate education and has been established as a separate goal of the QI. Likewise, graduate assistantships, space allocations and updates, and technological infrastructure are also addressed in other goals as priorities. Increased funding for graduate education will be generated from tuition, but also through Institutional Advancement fundraising efforts for specific needs identified and supported through the QI. The hiring of appropriately credentialed and qualified faculty and the availability of professional development opportunities are crucial as programs in graduate education begin and expand. Developing key outcomes for these resources through the QI strategic plan will provide the guidelines, assessment and data collection methods, and rationale to support quality, growth, and expansion of graduate education.

Within the QI strategic plan, resources will be prioritized with a timeline for implementation to support graduate education at the student and faculty level. Prioritization of resource needs cannot be a stagnant activity; priorities alter as programs grow and adapt to best practices and the needs of our graduate student population. Through the QI strategic plan, an implementation plan will be prepared that includes the methods for and timing of review of priorities. With this process in place, a dynamic system will be built to support quality graduate education at WLU that involves key personnel at all levels of the governance structure.

Develop a governance structure for graduate education.

Currently, graduate education is using the governance structure in place for undergraduate education. Most likely some governance will continue to overlap as the number of graduate programs and graduate faculty is currently limited, but certain facets of graduate education need separation from the undergraduate domain. A distinct mission and expectations for graduate education will be developed that are clearly aligned with the institutional mission and vision. Decisions on how to process day-to-day functions like curriculum approvals and graduate faculty evaluation will be addressed. Some of the decisions, for example graduate faculty evaluation and expectations and awarding of graduate assistantships, will require the development of new policies and procedures or, at a minimum, modifications of current policies/procedures to incorporate graduate faculty. As the strategic plan will be dynamic, growth of graduate education at WLU may reach the point where additional separation is needed to not overload any one system of governance. The parameters/benchmarks indicating the need for further separation of governance systems will be identified in the QI strategic plan for graduate education. Additionally, the plan will address how to implement further separation while maintaining communication and collaboration between the graduate and undergraduate entities at WLU.

A handbook specific to graduate students with policies and procedures aligned with the needs of and expectations for all graduate students will be written (individual programs may also have a handbook specific for the needs of the program). These policies and procedures will encompass both the student and academic aspects of graduate education.

Budgeting procedures for graduate education versus undergraduate education will be established. Prioritization of resources for graduate needs will be addressed within these procedures and in conjunction with building a dynamic system for review and modification.

Increase support for scholarly research.

Faculty development funds for research are available for faculty; these funds are awarded competitively by faculty committee. Separation of funds for scholarly research at the graduate and undergraduate level will be addressed as will the procedures for awarding internal grants.

Guidelines for time allotment between teaching requirements and scholarly research will be formalized to provide consistency among graduate faculty.

Update facilities and technology infrastructure to serve graduate education.

The MAEd is offered through space at the WLU Highlands Center, an approved WLU additional location; the MSPAS is offered on the main campus of WLU. As a professional degree, the MSPAS has designated space with appropriate equipment and infrastructure including a clinical facility and observed clinical skills evaluation (OSCE) rooms. The MAEd shares space at the Highlands Center with the adult degree completion program and summer/night courses. For the MAEd and future programs, specialized classroom configurations and/or seminar rooms will be required to meet the objectives of the programs. The strategic plan will include a timeframe through which these upgrades will be implemented.

Maintaining and upgrading appropriate technologies for graduate education, including software, hardware, and infrastructure require future planning and budgeting for success. With a focus on high speed connectivity, the data network must be upgraded to support increased demand for mobile computing and increased dynamic video content in courses. Connected faculty needs state of the art equipment; a plan for structured machine/device replacement cycle will be built within the Quality Initiative. Additionally, learning spaces must be upgraded to support high speed connectivity and greater mobility. The strategic plan will focus on providing timelines for decision-making and budgeting processes through which maintenance and upgrades will be acquired.

Develop consistent practices for graduate orientation, assistantships, and student services.

With two exceptionally different graduate programs, graduate orientation has been a programmatic undertaking. However, with the projected expansion of graduate programming, guidelines and timelines for orientation processes must be approved and implemented that are consistent yet allow flexibility for specific program requirements. Additionally, an online orientation for graduate students will be made available that not only introduces standard policies and procedures, but also provides information unique to specific programs. The online orientation may be used to supplement face-to-face orientations or as a stand-alone process for graduate programs using a distance learning format.

Graduate assistantships provide practical experience for students and aid the institution by providing additional services. Through the QI strategic plan and implementation, guidelines for and a mechanism through which graduate assistantships are recognized, approved and awarded will be adopted.

As graduate education grows, a plan to separate graduate student services from undergraduate student services must be developed and implemented. With the current programs, undergraduate student service staff members have been designated as points of contact for graduate education. As enrollment expands, dedicated support staff will be required for graduate education to avoid diminished support at any level.

Graduate students need forums through which they can be active campus members and voice their opinions and concerns. Establishing a Graduate Student Association with a campus advisor that can serve traditional and distance learning graduate students is a necessity. The QI strategic plan will address procedures and their implementation through which graduate students will be able to establish a presence and voice at WLU.

Enhance graduate education without losing focus on the core mission of WLU: undergraduate education.

WLU recognizes the strength of its undergraduate programs and opportunities. As such, providing for graduate education at WLU should also enhance the undergraduate experience. Potential for interactions between graduate and undergraduate students must be recognized and cultivated. Not only will these interactions diversify the experiences of both entities, they will provide a stronger conduit for current students interested in graduate education to gain insight and advice. The QI strategic plan will enumerate potential interactions and designate implementation of the identified mechanisms.

Graduate faculty and undergraduate faculty must be integrated to provide optimal experiences for the faculty and for students at both levels. In our size lies strength; collaborative work between the levels must be encouraged and established to maximize the campus benefits. While administrative differentials in expectations for graduate versus undergraduate faculty will be implemented, the faculty overall will be integrated to provide a seamless experience for students rising from the undergraduate domain into the graduate domain. The QI strategic plan will recognize means through which integration will be maintained and enhanced.

Evaluation of Progress and Accomplishments

Each goal will be expanded into distinct outcomes within the strategic planning stage. Responsibility for each outcome will be determined voluntarily based on the expertise of individuals involved. The individual assigned as leader for each outcome will utilize a small team to prepare a concept paper on the outcome, including key points and a timeline for implementation of key points. Progress on each outcome will be tracked through bi-monthly reports at a minimum. Potential hurdles for implementation will be addressed by the QI committee and other individuals as necessary. Updates of progress on each outcome will be sent to all members of QI committee for dissemination to teams and each campus domain. The Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning will serve as the collection point for reports and dissemination of all updates. The Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning will also be responsible for initiating meetings between appropriate individuals to problem-solve as required.

Internal and External Support

The QI was identified during a compression planning session by a group representing all areas of the institution: Office of the Provost, academic deans, Student Services/Registrar, General Studies, assessment, accreditation, Faculty Senate, financial office, and the Office of the President/President’s Council. The session was facilitated by the Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning and was arranged to harvest focus areas that would have the greatest impact on WLU. Multiple areas were identified, including graduate culture, technological infrastructure, General Studies assessment, and retention. The QI was chosen through a focusing exercise where all participants voted based on perceived impact of each identified initiative. Graduate education issues were the most selected of all the potential projects; several of the other identified areas for focus fell within the selected project, for example technology infrastructure, providing additional impetus for the QI.

Groups and Individuals Involved in Implementation

The QI Planning Group was selected by the Provost and the Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning once the focus was identified. This group includes the Office of the Provost, the academic deans, the Director of Graduate Education, the Academic Coordinator for the MSPAS, the Executive Assistant to the President, information technology, library, Office of E-Learning, the Dean of Enrollment and Student Services/Registrar, and the financial offices. The Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning serves to facilitate and coordinate the QI Planning Group and track activities subsequent to the planning stages. The group will also include representation from the Office of Institutional Advancement during the building and implementation of the strategic plan as financial support, both internal and external, will be critical to success of the QI. The QI Planning Group met in November of 2013 to identify key concepts that informed the described goals of the QI. The same group, with Institutional Advancement representation, will be responsible for building the full strategic plan with outcomes identified for each goal and the plan for implementation. Leadership for each outcome will be designated from individuals on the Planning Group, or from individuals identified by that group as having the skills needed to successfully complete the task. Each leader will gather a small team of individuals from the Planning Group and/or within specific campus domains as needed to address the identified outcome.

Committed Resources

All areas of campus will be involved in the QI strategic plan development and/or implementation. The Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning and the Office of the Provost will provide coordination and oversight of the QI strategic plan development and implementation. Representatives from the financial office have been involved from the inception and have already indicated budgetary planning within their offices that correlates to the identified goals. Commitment of financial and technological resources will be determined by the prioritization of goals within the implementation plan of the QI strategic plan. The impact of expanding graduate education at WLU will be felt at all levels of the institution; therefore, care has been taken to be inclusive of all levels and ensure the QI strategic plan will align with the institutional strategic plan and state initiatives. The institutional strategic plan is targeted for completion in the summer of 2014. That plan includes themes in facilities, program growth, student activities, and technology; all are areas that overlap with the goals for the QI strategic plan.

Primary Activities and Implementation Timeline

Development of a complete, dynamic strategic plan with outcomes aligned to each goal and specific leadership is the first priority of the QI. The second priority is to prepare a brief concept paper for each outcome that relates background, rationale, and potential strategies or guidelines appropriate for achieving the outcome. In addition to the concept paper, a timeline for each outcome will be developed that will inform the master timeline (implementation plan) for the entire QI. While some outcomes will be finite, others will be on-going but will have designated milestones within the plan for tracking purposes. Once the full plan is developed, informed, and sequenced, implementation will proceed. Through bi-monthly reporting of the entire process, tracking of progress and coordination of activities will be monitored; any issues, concerns, or needed modifications will be addressed as identified during the process. All outcomes will have target completion dates, except for on-going initiatives that will have designated milestones. Modification of target dates/milestones will be addressed through the reporting structure and will require rationale behind the change. Coordination and oversight will be provided by the Director of Accreditation and Academic Planning and the Office of the Provost.

Timeline for strategic plan development:

October 9, 2013: Compression Planning Session “To successfully select, propose, implement, and complete the Quality Initiative Project for West Liberty University.”

November 7, 2013: Organizational meeting to determine focus points of QI “Strategic Plan Development and Implementation to Build and Enhance Graduate Culture and the Supporting Infrastructure at West Liberty University.”

February 2014 - March 2014: Prepare the QI for submission to HLC.

April 2014 - October 2014: Build strategic plan outcomes around described goals. Assign leadership of and concept paper development for each outcome to a specific individual (supported by small teams).

December 15, 2014: Concept papers for each outcome shared with the Planning Group.

January 2015 - February 2015: Planning Group builds implementation plan for outcomes. Concept papers will guide steps/requirements for implementation. Leadership for each outcome as determined during the building outcomes phase (April 2014- October 2014).

March 2015 - 2018: Follow implementation plan. Individuals assigned leadership of outcomes will provide bi-monthly updates of progress, issues, concerns, delays, and need for modification.


Institution Contact

Melinda S. Kreisberg, Director, Accreditation/Academic Planning; Professor, Biology

Copyright © 2019 - Higher Learning Commission

NOTE: The papers included in this collection offer the viewpoints of their authors. HLC highly recommends them for study and for the advice they contain, but none represent official HLC directions, rules or policies.

Higher Learning Commission • 230 South LaSalle Street, Suite 7-500 • Chicago, IL 60604 • info@hlcommission.org • 800.621.7440

Home | About HLC | Contact Us | Privacy Policy

YouTube graybkgrdLinkedIn graybkgdTwitter graybkgd