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Strat planning sessionThe convention center hall was full. The tables were coated with papers summarizing innovations and posing critical questions.

Local business and economic leaders. Area community leaders. Faculty members. Alumni. Councils of advisers. A wide and representative group of leaders came to share their input.

In all, nearly 120 guests weighed in. Their goal: Generate and share some insight and guidance on how the state’s third-largest university can continue to best integrate efficient, effective online teaching and learning into its culture while assuring high quality in the ever-evolving and technologically advancing world of higher education.

The University of Wisconsin Oshkosh was all ears, welcoming feedback while faculty, staff and students also contributed to the conversation.

“Everyone seems to agree that this industry is in a period of rapid change,” said Sarah Moore of the Educational Advisory Board (EAB), a Washington D.C.-based consultant and think tank that “provides best practice research and practical advice to leaders of academic affairs, business affairs, student affairs, continuing, online and professional education, and community colleges across North America.”

Moore served as a keynote presenter as UW Oshkosh Chancellor Richard Wells hosted the institution’s Strategic Planning Workshop at the Oshkosh Convention Center on June 10.

The half-day session, which welcomed 116 participants from the campus community, local, regional and state commerce and industry, and University alumni and advisory boards, was focused on the “promise and peril” of innovations in higher education.

The competitive challenges facing UW Oshkosh and all institutions include everything from on-demand, learn-at-your-own-pace styles and structures for college education to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), which, at low to no cost, are setting the higher education landscape ablaze, capitalizing on the Internet to provide courses on high-demand topics and disciplines to thousands of students.

New pedagogies and revenue models are being transformed and reinvented every year. Wells and other University leaders invited the strategic planning participants to identify both opportunities and challenges facing UW Oshkosh.

Moore’s presentation to the June 10 forum guests was followed by small-group breakout and brainstorm sessions – chances for the participants to share some reactions and direction with UW Oshkosh leaders as administrators refine the institution’s strategic plan.

“MOOCs aren’t the problem; they are the attempted solution to the problem,” said Russ Weyers, ’81, a UW Oshkosh College of Business alumnus and Milwaukee banker, who encouraged the University to stay focused on containing the cost of college, assuring successful job placement and a addressing a growing skepticism over the true value of higher education.

The questions posed to the strategic planning session participants were far from softballs. “In what ways do you think that traditional students might begin to demand ‘no-frills’ and more-flexible online programs?” “How can UW Oshkosh best use competency models to enhance student learning?” “What can we do to build lower-cost programs while expanding our target market?”

Margie Harvey, vice president of human resources with Oshkosh-based catalog business Miles Kimball Company, said the University is best to remain focused on how to – not whether to – effectively compete with and welcome credits from competitive providers, as more and more enterprises and industries recognize and hire employees with degrees from alternative education providers.

“It’s not an ‘if they will;’ We already are,” Harvey stressed.

Strategic planning session participants also stressed the need to stay attuned to the educational needs and outcomes necessary to help new and increasingly tech-savvy generation of students succeed and remain adaptable, life-long learners after earning their diplomas from UW Oshkosh.

“We need to know our audience,” said Laura Knaapen, UW Oshkosh director of academic computing. “We need to get in touch with those grade-schoolers and find out what they are going to want when they get here.”

Quality and authentic, inclusive strategic planning is also an integral facet of the Higher Learning Commission’s planned accreditation of UW Oshkosh. The University is just beginning the multi-year process of applying for reaccreditation. Assessment will continue into 2017.

UW Oshkosh’s strategic planning process will continue into the summer, inviting the strategic planning session’s participants to continue sharing feedback in an online survey echoing many of the critical questions shared at the June 10 event.

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