Iowa Board of Regents to pay $71,000 for new strategic plan

Process to involve 'open meeting' with community at large

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The state Board of Regents has agreed to pay an Indianapolis-based firm up to $71,256 to help develop a new strategic plan that will, in part, examine the system’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

Representatives with Thomas P. Miller & Associates, LLC, will prepare a 2016-2021 strategic plan by collecting data, in part, through visits to all five regent campuses — the universities of Iowa and Northern Iowa, Iowa State University, and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School and School for the Deaf.

Each campus visit will include “focus group” meetings with executives, faculty representatives, students, and community stakeholders — like government, non-profit, and corporate partners, according to a contract the board and the firm signed last week.

The process also will include an “open meeting” where community members at large will have an opportunity to weigh in on the process and potential regent goals, although details of such a meeting haven’t been finalized, said board spokesman Josh Lehman. The public also can send feedback to the board office, Lehman said.

Regarding the focus groups, according to the contract, “Thomas Miller will work with the Board of Regents’ leadership team and leaders from each campus to determine individuals to invite to these meetings.”

“The structure for each focus group will be informed by both the history and current needs and demographics in Iowa,” according to the contract, “including insights gleaned through a review of the research and conversations with the Board of Regents during the first phase of this data collection.”

That first phase, as outlined in a “methodology” attachment to the contract, will involve one-on-one phone interviews with all nine regents.

“Regents will be asked to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to the state’s higher education system and suggest their vision for the future,” according to the methodology.

The contract lays out specific questions Miller & Associates will examine for the regents system and each campus as they relate to the larger system.

Questions pertaining to system strengths include, “What is the university/school’s competitive position in the market?” and, “How does it currently align with priorities of the Board of Regents?”

Weakness-related questions include, “Where do process and institutional inefficiencies exist with the Board of Regents?” and, “What are the important perceptions that might exist among students and the community (including funders and employers) that the Board of Regents should address?”

When considering opportunities, the firm will ask about trends in technology and the student population and changes in government policy, social patterns and population profiles. Related to threats, it will ask about the competitive landscape, according to the methodology.

After compiling the information, Miller & Associates will pull together a final draft of a plan, expected sometime this spring. The plan will include vision and mission statements, goals, action steps, a timeline, estimated costs for implementation, responsible parties, performance indicators, and potential consequences for no action.

Although no specific timeline has been proposed for development of the plan, Miller & Associates will start by hosting a conference call with regents, participating in a board meeting, and conducting a “quantitative analysis.” That process will include review of the board’s old plan, which expires this year, and research of best practices for 21st century higher education.

“The data review will include a comparison of Iowa to national benchmarks,” according to the methodology.

The board chose Miller & Associates to develop the plan from among five firms who responded to its request for proposals. The selected firm was the second-lowest bidder — with one company suggesting a price for services and reimbursable expenses of $540,000 and another bidding payment up to $425,125.

The board’s expiring strategic plan, for 2010 to 2016, included seven main goals and associated performance metrics. A recent assessment of benchmarks set in the plan show regent universities are meeting, if not exceeding, many of its goals — including improved four-year graduation rates, increased financial aid to in-state students, and expansion of distance learning opportunities.

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