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Innovative approach to strategic planning is leading to success at Ohio State

The Ohio State University’s approach to developing and implementing its five-year strategic plan was highlighted at the February Board of Trustees meeting last week.

The plan, Time and Change: Enable, Empower and Inspire, is based on five pillars of focus and builds on the university’s existing strengths – including a vibrant student experience, research excellence, athletic prowess and a highly engaged Buckeye family.

“We are very proud to partner with the Board of Trustees and our entire university community to develop a roadmap for accelerated excellence here at The Ohio State University,” President Michael V. Drake said. “The plan is meant to be transformative and to further distinguish us as a leading public research university.”

In a move that is unusual in higher education, Drake directed the university to create an institutional Strategy Management Office to pursue a disciplined and inclusive approach to the implementation of the plan. With this structure in place, Ohio State has seen notable milestones in each part of the plan since its approval in August 2017.

Veteran medical center strategist Gail Marsh was appointed to lead the office as the university’s first chief strategy officer. Marsh works to make sure all plans are integrated, including the university’s long-term financial plan, facilities master plan, student enrollment strategy and other plans that support the overall vision and aspiration of the university.

The office also works with leaders and trustees to track the progress of each pillar of the plan and update priorities after analyzing trends in higher education to assure the plan remains relevant.

“Gail, along with President Drake, has worked very hard to ensure that the strategic plan is a living, breathing document and something we live by each day,” said Board of Trustees Chairman Michael Gasser.

The first pillar of the plan calls for Ohio State to be an exemplar of the best teaching in higher education. Some of the highlights include 14 new undergraduate majors or tracks within majors added since 2017. First-year retention increased from 94.2 percent for the entering class of 2016 to 94.5 percent for the class of 2017. There is an innovative plan underway to improve that position.

The new Teaching Support Program, offered through the University Institute for Teaching and Learning, is an optional professional development program providing additional support for teaching faculty and their work in the classroom. The program features a monetary incentive to boost the pay of the faculty who choose to enroll and is believed to be unique in the nation for implementing a research-based survey instrument on effective teaching practices across the entire institution.

“Why are we doing this? We’re doing this to help us as a university to be better teachers and to help our students have better experiences,” Drake said at a recent meeting with faculty to discuss the program. “That’s the goal.”

The effort to help students succeed is paying off. According to the 2018 Global University Employability Ranking, employers ranked Ohio State second among U.S. public universities in student employability.

Time and Change also continues the university’s mission of access, affordability and excellence. The goal of the second pillar of the plan is to improve Ohio State’s position as a leading public university offering an excellent, affordable education and promoting economic diversity.

In the last year, Ohio State announced the Buckeye Opportunity Program to ensure that thousands of Ohio students who qualify for Pell Grants receive an aid package that covers at least the full cost of tuition and mandatory fees. The university also expanded the Land Grant Opportunity Scholarship to cover the full cost of attendance and increase annual eligibility for the scholarship to as many as 176 students. Need-based aid has increased by more than $100 million since 2015.

The third pillar of the strategic plan directs Ohio State to continue to be among the top national and international public universities in research and creative expression to drive significant advances for critical societal challenges. That effort has included some notable achievements.

The university is ranked third among public and private universities in industry-sponsored research, moving up one spot since 2017. Ohio State ranks 11th in research expenditures among all public institutions, also an improvement since 2017.

Those aren’t the only rankings where Ohio State is seeing success. Ten separate medical specialties were ranked by U.S. News & World Report in 2018. The university has boosted diversity in enrollment as women made up 52 percent of the newest College of Medicine class, and 24 percent of the students in that class are under-represented minorities.

Those accomplishments support the fourth pillar of the strategic plan: a focus on academic health care to ensure the Wexner Medical Center will continue to enable breakthrough health care solutions to improve people’s lives.

Last year, Ohio State announced the development of a new hospital and ambulatory center that, combined with modern educational space, will enhance a unified Wexner Medical Center complex providing cutting-edge research, outstanding clinical training and world-class patient care.

The ambitious plan for a new inpatient tower and outpatient care facility would be the largest single facilities project ever undertaken at Ohio State and comes as the university experiences greater-than-ever demand for patient care, clinical trials and health-science education.

“Together, these projects advance key strategic focus areas for the university, including teaching and learning, research and creative expression, and academic health care,” Bruce A. McPheron, executive vice president and provost, said when the projects were announced. “Ohio State continues to be committed to defining the flagship public research university in the 21st century.”

The strategic plan also calls on the university to remain committed to the best practices in resource stewardship, operational effectiveness, and efficiency and innovation. Ohio State’s innovative 50-year partnership to improve energy management and sustainability is a highlight of that commitment.

On July 6, 2017, Ohio State transferred management of the systems that heat, cool and power the Columbus campus to ENGIE Services to operate on behalf of Ohio State Energy Partners. The partnership included a $1.015 billion upfront payment to the university and a $150 million commitment to support academic priorities.

And Ohio State reported record-breaking generosity from Buckeye Nation, ending the most recent fiscal year with $601.8 million in gifts to education, medicine, research, athletics and innovation. Nearly 270,000 donors contributed to advancing Ohio State’s mission. Total fundraising was up 14 percent from the previous year.

The results are getting notice. A new performance audit by the Auditor of State’s office highlighted the university’s ongoing commitment to fiscal responsibility.