There are many great colleges and universities in America—so what makes UT special?
That was a key question our Milestone Review Committee asked as it sought feedback for Vol Vision 2020, the refreshed version of our strategic plan.
One year ago, as we marked the five-year point of Vol Vision, I convened a Milestone Review Committee to oversee an update of the plan for the next phase of our Top 25 journey. Led by Steven Smith, dean of UT Libraries, the committee began working in February 2015 by doing an intense review and analysis of the progress we’ve made so far. Around August, they began the second phase, which involved discussions with dozens of stakeholder groups, and let them hear from more than 1,400 people—staff, students, parents, alumni, community members, and others.
This feedback helped us focus on issues we need to improve in our five priority areas and underscored the need for a sixth priority—diversity and inclusion.
“Campus stakeholders also frequently noted the importance of the Volunteer family,” Smith said. “There’s a Volunteer spirit that extends across students, alumni, faculty, staff, and supporters. Reinforcing a strong sense of community and collegiality is essential to the next phase of our journey.
These are attributes that help us attract the best students, faculty, and staff, and they also give us the motivation and energy we need to innovate and improve.
Several themes came up repeatedly:
- UT is in the unique position of being both a flagship and land-grant university. We value a comprehensive education and believe access and engagement are part of our mission.
- We offer academic and research excellence. We employ nationally and internationally respected scholars. Our partnership with Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in addition to other government, corporate, and nonprofit entities, provides unique opportunities for research and academic collaborations.
- We are a great educational value. Our students get a quality education with a wide variety of opportunities and experiences at a good price. Our students’ debt load is lower than the national average.
- Alumni connections are important to our students. We have more than 200,000 Volunteers across the globe, and students understand the value of being part of this network.
- We should do more to enjoy and promote our locale. The Knoxville region is rich in culture and has a healthy economic base. We’re an “urban wilderness” in the shadows of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Here’s what you said about the work that still needs to be done in our five original priority areas:
- Undergraduate Education—We need to improve advising and do a better job connecting students to campus early in their college careers. We need to increase the diversity of the student body and offer students more experiential learning and mentoring opportunities. We must remain affordable.
- Graduate Education—We need to enhance our focus on quality graduate education. We need to find a way to provide financial support packages competitive with peers’, recruit exceptional students, and boost diversity and international enrollment.
- Faculty and Staff—We need to continue addressing the salary gap, improving professional development, and increasing diversity. We need to focus on staff excellence as well as faculty excellence.
- Research and Engagement—We need to recognize faculty contributions beyond sponsored research and include accomplishments in scholarly output, creative activity, and engagement.
- Resources and Infrastructure—We need to continue our campus transformation and emphasize sustainability. Improvements are needed in parking and dining strategies. We also need to continue our work on information systems and access to data.
The Milestone Review Committee is now working closely with vice chancellors and deans to finalize the Vol Vision 2020 report, which will be presented to the Board of Trustees in March. Once approved, Vol Vision 2020 will be rolled out to the campus community.