Now the training wheels are off.
After years spent examining other institutions of learning to help achieve Dixie State’s university status, administrators said what happens next revolves around aspects that make DSU unique. Entirely new academic programs, the improvement of old ones, and possible partnerships with other Utah universities all depend on measures like strategic planning, a process developed upon President Biff Williams’ arrival last August.
“Now that we have university status, it’s a whole different [set of] questions,” said William Christensen, executive vice president of academic services. “… What do students want? Another question is what is the economy demanding — especially local and regional? We’re looking toward strategic planning to help us answer those.”
The strategic plan’s early stages ensued over fall semester with the creation of a planning committee, hire of a consultant to help in the process, and town hall meetings in early December that allowed faculty, staff, students and community members to provide their input.
Williams said, ultimately, strategic planning — a lengthy process — must set the course for all current and future academic programs.
“What I hope comes is the ability to identify the programs that we must build upon and programs we need or niche areas,” he said. “We need to make sure that we offer the programs that make sense for DSU.”
Developing new programs proves challenging because they can’t just serve DSU students but must also be beneficial statewide, Williams said. He said the board of regents, whose members approve academic programs at Utah universities, has said DSU is primarily a baccalaureate university with select master’s programs in the future.
Christensen said the process of implementing master’s degrees starts when the DSU community feels confident DSU is ready. And it will only come to fruition when entities like the board of regents and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the organization that assesses DSU’s academic progress, determine that DSU should offer the degrees.
However, Christensen said a partnership with the University of Utah and Utah State University could help bring advanced degrees to campus.
“We’re in some preliminary discussions with both Utah State and the University of Utah with the idea of maybe not just saying, ‘Hey, would you put one of your degrees in town here where there’s a need and we’re not able to fill it?’” Christensen said. “But we’re looking at a relationship where we’d say, ‘Hey, could we have one of your degrees on our campus? We want to wrap our arms around you and have it as part of who we are, and maybe we could provide opportunities for our faculty to teach some courses.’”
The possible partnership is just in discussion stages, he said, and what degrees such plans might bring aren’t determined. If approved, though, the strategy’s positives include serving southern Utah residents with a wider degree selection, housing master’s programs on campus for a fraction of the typical cost, and the possibility of DSU taking those degrees over later on.
In this plan, Christensen said DSU would become a broker of higher education, bringing expensive degrees to St. George that it can’t afford. Although not on the immediate horizon, DSU should pursue its own master’s degrees in the future, and a collaboration with USU and U of U could supplement those, he said.
Both Christensen and Williams said changes and additions to programs all begin with the aforementioned strategic planning. Williams said students, faculty and staff should keep informed of the process and even be involved.
“As the strategic plan rolls out, we’ll have anywhere from five to seven major goals, and committees will identify initiatives; some of those will be building or enhancing programs,” he said.
A community forum to view preliminary goal areas for the strategic plan is set for Feb. 3 from noon to 2 p.m. in the Gardner Center Ballroom.