Transparency needed in strategic planning

The Strategic Plan for Excellence is a forward-thinking plan for improving the Wash. U. experience is substantial ways. It was released over the summer and the administration is currently presenting it to some students as well as members of the University community. The plan has the potential to be on the cutting edge of transforming higher-education in the United States and would also radically improve the University itself. With the unveiling of this plan, the University has publicized all kinds of wonderful goals that range from increasing financial aid to renovating the Athletic Complex, but it has refused to mention one critical aspect: specific funding details for the various parts of the plan.

Though the University does have set amounts of money it would like to allocate to the different goals listed in its plan, it has refused to make this information public, which makes it difficult to know how seriously the University will pursue each of its listed goals. For example, one of the goals of the plan is to “allow students to graduate debt-free.” This alone would radically change the composition of the University’s student body, making its education open to a larger variety of students with different economic backgrounds. The increased diversity would enrich the education of Wash. U. students and if several universities took steps like this, the American dream of equal opportunity would start to become more of a reality. The possibility of debt-free graduation is only one of several lofty goals embedded in the plan. Looking at the plan’s goals, it’s easy to start dreaming of a significantly improved University that truly fulfills the ideals of higher-education. However, it’s questionable what the priorities of this plan really are and how the different goals will be fulfilled, given the administration’s silence and secrecy about the specific details of the plan.

The University refuses to release budgeting numbers, which are the only way to discern which parts of the plan are real priorities. For example, the University could be mainly focused on renovating the Athletic Complex and thus only make a few changes to financial aid and still claim it has executed the plan. Since we don’t know what type of money Wash. U. plans to put toward increasing aid, it’s difficult to know if Wash. U. will actually be significantly increasing the amount of money it offers students in aid. Even without making the changes necessary for students to graduate debt-free, the University could claim it allowed a student to graduate debt-free if she worked many hours a week at work study and her family also had to take out loans to be able to meet the family’s expected contribution. This is all possible because we don’t know how the University will calculate need under the plan. And though it’s too much to ask the University how they plan to calculate need for a plan that hasn’t fully been developed, it is not too much to request that the University disclose the amount of money it actually plans to contribute toward the goal of debt-free graduation.

The Strategic Plan for Excellence has the potential to really transform the University by altering the composition of its student body and offering students the ability to engage in different types of experiences. For example, the plan seeks to increase stipends for unpaid internships and volunteer opportunities over the summer. Furthermore, it has the possibility of playing a progressive role in our country’s offering of higher education. Because the plan has the potential to do so much good, it’s important that the University truly achieve its listed goals. And if it is going to claim to do something as incredible as allowing its students to graduate without debt, then it needs to show them how it is working toward that goal. Additionally, if the University really has a set plan to achieve these goals, why keep the specifics of the plan secret from the student body? This plan is the type of program the students would readily support. Students could play a role in helping to fundraise and bring this plan about if they really understand the plan’s vision and how the University plans to execute it.

The Strategic Plan for Excellence could offer students a radically different university experience, but the plan could also simply be a façade for raising money to build a new Athletic Complex. The University has an obligation to be transparent about the details of the plan’s funding and execution since the University has stated it will work toward such lofty goals.

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