Final steps underway for school’s future



Lee Betancourt

Within the next few months, students will have a better idea of what their alma mater will look like over the course of the next few decades. Both the Campus Master Plan and the University Strategic Plan are in their final stages of development, and the University plans to include students in the process of evaluating these plans soon.

“We want to be very transparent in this whole process,” University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., said.

Donohue said that he plans to hold a University forum with students, faculty and staff in the next few weeks to discuss Villanova’s trajectory into the future.

A similar discussion was held over Parents’ Weekend when Donohue gave an overview of the University today and the plan for the coming years.

Villanova parent Maryanne Alfano attended the event, which she described as a “dialogue” and question-and-answer session with parents rather than a speech.

She said that the majority of the discussion focused on Villanova as an institution that will have more doctoral degree programs.

With an expansion of doctoral degree programs comes another role for Villanova – that of a nationally recognized university.

Although Villanova has nationally recognized programs in business, engineering and nursing, U.S. News & World Report places the University as a whole under the category of “Master’s Universities”.

With expanded PhD programs and graduates, Villanova would meet the criteria necessary to be a “National University,” according to the Carnegie Foundation, which places universities in the respective categories used by U.S. News & World Report and others.

Villanova has held the top spot on the “Master’s Universities: North” rankings for over 10 years.

Donohue said that the University would not meet Carnegie’s criteria for a “National University” during the next evaluation period but would likely get there before 2020. The evaluations are carried out every six years.

Once Villanova earns its “National University” status, it will be subject to other national university rankings.

“We want to make sure that we’ve positioned ourselves to move into that [‘National University’] class should it happen,” Donohue said. “We want to have the right tools in place, from admissions to marketing to faculty hiring.”

The University’s two plans, the Campus Master Plan and the University Strategic Plan are the tools the administration has chosen to ensure a strong national position for Villanova once “National University” status is achieved.

Both Donohue and Dean of Enrollment Management Steve Merritt stressed that although Villanova might become a more nationally recognized university, the University will still look familiar to students.

“The things that you recognize and say are a part of ‘classic national university’ are things that we’ve been doing anyway,” Merritt said.

In his dialogue with parents on Sept. 13, Donohue emphasized this, according to Alfano.

“He said that he does not want to increase the number of students,” she said. “He wants to keep the undergraduate program the same.”

Donohue said that he also explained the Campus Master Plan and University Strategic Plan to the parents.

“I said that we are joining these two projects together,” he said. “I told them that in the Strategic Plan, we’re really looking toward what will happen as far as our ‘class.'”

The Strategic Plan focuses on the academic culture of Villanova and will be a continuation of the last Academic Strategic Plan, “Transforming Minds and Hearts.” The plan, which actually continues through 2010, was started in 2003 during the tenure of former University President Rev. Edmund Dobbin, O.S.A.

Donohue explained his top priorities for the plan, including increased financial aid, faculty hiring and better classroom facilities. The plan will also address the University’s core curriculum.

Although the goal of the new plan is not to enter the U.S. News & World Report rankings, Merritt said that this will likely be a natural outcome of the University’s improvements.

“We want to reaffirm our status and increase the quality of the whole experience here,” he said. “This whole process is set up to help us to become a better institution in the next 10 years.”

Donohue said he looked at the Strategic Plan as preparation for Villanova’s future national status, once Carnegie assesses that Villanova has met the criteria.

“Are we going to change our classification? That’s not our choice,” he said. “How we prepare for that is our choice. We don’t want to sit still and not be ready.”

The Strategic Plan also looks to solidify a favorable place for Villanova once the University reaches the national rankings lists. Donohue estimated that Villanova would emerge onto the list within the top 50 schools in the nation.

“[The new] Strategic Plan is a way of aligning the stars, so to speak,” Donohue said.

Although there are a number of committees and focus groups, which include student members, currently set up to look at Villanova’s academic requirements and culture, the University forum Donohue will hold in the coming weeks will likely be the first look many students have at the plan.

Before it is finalized and released, the Strategic Plan will have to go the University Board of Trustees, which meets four times per year. Donohue anticipated that the Board would review the plan at its February or April meeting next semester.

Donohue said that the plan needed additional refinement, but Merritt said that there was a “definite framework.”

Although the Strategic Plan will not be finalized until next semester, its partner in improving the University, the Campus Master Plan, will be presented to the Board of Trustees on Oct. 14. The Master Plan addresses the physical aspects of the University, such as building renovation and overall expansion, whereas the Strategic Plan focuses on the academic expansion.

Donohue also explained that the Campus Master Plan is more long-term.

The Strategic Plan focuses on specific initiatives within the next 10 years at Villanova; the Master Plan looks out to the year 2030.

“[The Master Plan] is an instrument and a vision of how the University could become,” Donohue said. “It is not a plan that’s written in stone but looks at needs over a spectrum of time to come up with solutions.”

Although both plans will alter aspects of the University, all intentions are for Villanova to stay rooted in tradition.

“We don’t want to change, but we want to build on what we have,” Merritt said. “It would be a mistake for the University to trade off the rich heritage and character of the institution.”

Donohue said in addition to staying grounded in Villanova’s Catholic and Augustinian tradition, he hopes some things always remain the same about the University.

“I hope that 15 years from now, Villanova is still a vibrant community where people live and learn and achieve their potential,” he said.