The events of the past year have challenged us in ways we could never have predicted. Though there is much to be grateful for – our return to campus, our continued health and promising vaccine developments – 2021 will continue to present challenges that impact the ways in which we live, learn and work.
During the fall semester, the University announced the formation of a two-year strategic plan aptly named Bridge to the Future. Recognizing the difficulties in undertaking a comprehensive assessment of long-term goals amidst a global pandemic, the campus community has been asked to weigh in on the university’s priorities facing us now and in the immediate future. Though not yet in its final form, the tentative plan can be found here.
These are some of the key initiatives we will continue to grapple with in the year ahead.
- A healthy and safe return to campus. Early indications show that the spread of the virus is not likely to improve until a vaccine is widely available and adopted. We will be challenged to address how to safely bring our students back to campus and how we can test them at regular intervals as a way to mitigate the spread of the virus. It is evident that the personal strategies we employ – face masks, social distancing, excellent hygiene and health monitoring – will continue to be a part of our lives in the year to come. Inevitably, that changes our campus experience.
- Support for vaccination distribution efforts. With vaccines beginning to be approved for widespread use, our COVID-19 Daily Response Team and Task Force will put together a distribution strategy for students, faculty and staff in partnership with national, state and local agencies. Initial timelines from pharmaceutical companies indicate that this may have more of an impact on our fall 2021 semester, though some members of our community may receive the vaccine earlier if they are high risk or work on the front lines of health care. This is likely to include our nursing and pharmacy students.
- Our financial health and organizational changes. Along with the development of a new strategic plan, we are also finalizing the report on our academic portfolio, the University Restructuring Task Force is exploring options to reshape our administrative structures and we are adopting a different approach to our annual operating budget planning process. With the cooperation of our campus community, we are making progress toward our financial goals. But our challenges are likely to continue and we will be forced to make difficult decisions in the months ahead to ensure our long-term stability.
- Attracting new students to Wilkes and delivering on our academic promise. Retaining students, enrolling new ones and meeting our enrollment goals continue to be a critical part of our fiscal health. We will be forced to do so in new ways, with a shrinking demographic and new economic realities for students and families. We must continue to evolve and to think in new, creative ways in order to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
These goals, along with supporting initiatives, are outlined in the Bridge to the Future plan. Over the next several weeks, the plan will be refined based on the feedback received from the campus community. Once formalized, Bridge to the Future will guide our decision-making over the next two years, and provide a framework upon which the next comprehensive plan can be built.