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All University Meeting focuses on strategic planning and NECHE review

By Kaitlin Carman

Asst. News Editor

By Adam Harrison

Asst. News Editor

The administration provided updates on enrollment, NECHE, and strategic planning at the All University Meeting on Monday, Oct. 30.

President Niemi said, “We’re here because we care that education is a tool to make the world a better place - a more just place.”

Iris Godes, Dean of Strategic Enrollment Management, said while undergraduate enrollment is “still below where we were last year, the amount of decline” is decreasing.

Godes said undergraduate enrollment is down 5% from the 2022-23 academic year, new student enrollment increased 6%, graduate enrollment increased by 6%, and total University enrollment is down 2% as of Oct. 15.

In previous years, the University’s undergraduate enrollment was down 10-11%, “so to be only 5% behind means the curve is on the upswing,” she said.

She recognized the efforts of the staff in the audience toward accomplishing this positive change. “I can take credit for none of it,” Godes said, who joined the administration in May 2023.

Godes said for FY 24, $260,000 remains for action team requests and those teams have been notified so they can start working on initiatives.

She added over the next five years, the University will ultimately spend $18 million toward strategic enrollment initiatives.

Godes highlighted the Massachusetts Tuition Equity Law passed on July 1 this year.

According to the Massachusetts Department of Higher Education website, the law “carves a pathway to in-state tuition rates and state financial aid for certain non-US citizen students, including undocumented students.”

In order to qualify, students must have attended high school in Massachusetts for at least three years and earned a high school diploma (or the equivalent) in the Commonwealth to qualify.

Godes said the law will be “a great opportunity, hopefully for a moment that the students will be able to … qualify for the lower cost and be qualified for some financial assistance.”

Godes also addressed changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that will be implemented for 2024-25.

Because of these changes, the 2024-25 FAFSA will open some time in December.

These changes will allow the application process to be more streamlined and will expand eligibility.

“That is a new federal requirement - must be done,” said Godes.

She said these changes are expected to allow more students to qualify for more financial aid and the Pell Grant but could also cause some to lose eligibility.

[Editor’s Note: See “Several Changes Coming to 2024-25 FAFSA” on page 5]

Mark Nicholas, assistant vice president for assessment, accreditation, and strategic planning, discussed the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) accreditation process update via Zoom.

He said to think of the self-study review as a “health check for FSU” that accredits the institution every 10 years and “is recognized by the U.S. Department of Higher Education as an ensurer of institutional and academic quality.”

He said that accreditation and positive standing, which the University currently has, allows students to receive financial aid.

“The accreditor provides an important function in higher education in being the buffer between the federal government or state governments and institutions and in the classrooms,” said Nicholas.

He explained it as a peer-review process in which “reviewers will be asked to examine what our mission is against the quality standards that NECHE provides us and so then we examine how we meet our own mission.”

As part of the accreditation process, Nicholas said the University must submit a “reflective and candid” self study that is approximately one-hundred pages long and is divided into nine chapters that mirror the nine standards of NECHE.

He said the chair of the NECHE evaluation team will be visiting the FSU campus Dec. 1 to establish the structure of the reviewing team’s visit from April 7 to April 10 2024.

He requested that faculty keep an open schedule during NECHE’s visit unless they are teaching.

According to Nicholas, the first draft of the review will be made available to campus on Nov. 13 and will have an open feedback space until Dec.15 to incorporate comments and feedback

Ann McDonald, chief of staff, general Counsel and secretary to the Board of Trustees, presented on strategic planning.

She said the process of the University collecting information for NECHE re-accreditation as well as creating a strategic enrollment plan, “will afford us the opportunity to look at the information that's been derived, and see what's missing - if anything - before we begin the visioning process.”

“We are in the process of forming our committee, and we’ve gotten approval from the Board of Higher [Education] to proceed with that.” She said the Strategic Planning Committee would convene later in the week for their first meeting.

McDonald said analyzing the University through NECHE standards requires the administration to “look inward,” and compare FSU data to that from previous years.

The strategic plan is focused on comparing FSU data “in context, to look in the MetroWest area - to look in the public higher ed sector… to look in the preschool through 12th,” she said.

“This process for strategic planning will be concentrated and inclusive, and we will try to make it be as transparent as possible,” Mcdonald said.

Kim Dexter, assistant vice president of human resources and equal opportunity, is currently co-chairing the Strategic Planning Committee with Mcdonald. She said the committee is hoping to find another chair with the appointment of our faculty and librarians.”.

Once the committee is approved, they will continue to meet periodically to review and discuss strategic materials.

“We just signed a contract with Linda Campanella from SOS Consulting. Linda assisted with that process and has assisted many of our sister institutions in their process as well,” she said.

According to their website, SOS Consulting is an organization that addresses leadership and/or organizational challenges and provides strategies and techniques to successfully resolve them.

The Board of Higher Education visited campus Nov. 1 for the first step in the strategic planning process.

McDonald said, “The Board will also ask us to integrate a number of their plans - the strategic plan for racial equity, the performance measure and reporting system.

“We will weave those into the work that we look at, as we begin to set that course for strategic planning,” she said.

McDonald said the strategic plans are public documents that can be found on the Department of Higher Education’s website.

Three key pieces of developing this plan are “determining the strategies, looking at the actions, and looking at the metrics,” she said.

The executive staff will review data and projections about the institution, and “hopefully, the projections in the NECHE document are going to mirror, in some part at least, what's going on in the strategic plan.”

The strategic plan will be far more detailed than the NECHE projections, but they shouldn’t be drastically different. They should be similar in format,” McDonald said.

The “mission and core values” of the strategic planning process should be similar to NECHE. Comparing the mission and core values will be “one of the first things we look at when determining whether or not that needs to be adjusted, or needs to stay as is,” McDonald said.

McDonald said the administration will consider NECHE’s key performance indicators. “It is a criticism of the last strategic plan… [That] we set the strategic plan but then we did not necessarily monitor it, to make sure that we were meeting the recommendations that were part of that.”

She said they should cut themselves a little slack, because “about halfway through there, we had a pandemic, and sometimes, we have to shift our attention to the immediate concern and that shifts you away from some of the other things that you may have planned to do.”

McDonald said the administration must set goals in order to be realistic. “When we build a strategic plan, we build it in such a way that we can fulfill it.”

She said, “Each one of the organizations, the departments, the divisions, and the individuals need to align their work with the strategic plan to make sure that we actually get to the place that we hope to be in 2029.”

An active survey was sent to the Board of Trustees to provide feedback on the visioning process. She said, “When we are able to announce the committee membership, we will be launching another survey for all of the Framingham University community.”

McDonald said this is “to get input from folks in terms of how you view the future of Framingham State University, where do you see us in four years, where should we be going.”

She said they will analyze the information from the survey and weave that into the strategic plan.

“Our hope is that for the May trustee meeting, that we’re able to give them a very rough draft and outline of sorts, in terms of where the committee sees us going, so they can then approve us going forward,” she said.

She said she hopes they can turn in the draft to the Board of Higher Education by June so they can review and complete it.

The draft will be finalized this summer “so we can bring it back to the greater community next fall, for the Framingham State community to look at and give us feedback on it before it moves back to the Board of Trustees” and the Board of Higher Education for final approval, she said.

Niemi concluded the presentation with an opportunity for staff members to raise questions and concerns.

History Professor Joseph Adelman was concerned about the number of new projects that are underway and the “limits of human possibility.

“We only have 160 hours a week. That seems to be slipping away as we’re talking about more [projects] and Saturdays [being worked],” Adelman said, referencing Saturday open houses in the Fall and April.

He asked if “there were active strategies to ensure that we’re doing the most important things. Are there things that we’re going to stop doing? Are there things that we’re going to say, ‘No, this is too much?’

“What concrete strategies, as we balance adding all of these additional things, to make sure that we’re not burning out?”

Niemi said, “We’re at the apex of a lot of these big things that no human should probably have to put together at the same time - NECHE, strategic planning, strategic enrollment - so we really … feel it now.”

“By this time next year, NECHE will be out and done, and hopefully, we’ll pass with flying colors - I think we will - and we’ll go forward with that implementation,” Niemi said.

She said, “I hope that we can work together to get more of an answer because you’re right. We only have X number of hours in a day - in a week.

“But we can and we should, use that time to the best and most strategically important advantage, which is making our community as rich with students, people and action toward learning as we can.”

Sarah Pilkenton, a chemistry professor, raised a concern about the FAFSA application process regarding the IRS data transfer that will require students and their contributors to consent to the transfer.

She asked if students would be made aware that if they do not give consent to the transfer, they will not be eligible for financial aid.

Pilkenton said occasionally, students might answer ‘no’ when prompted for consent to access financial information for the FAFSA.

Godes said, “If they say they do not give consent, then they will get a message,I’m assuming, that says you will not be eligible for federal financial aid.”

Pilkenton said the current website is difficult to navigate, and an email had been sent out regarding an updated version in development. “As we’re recruiting, will the new website be out? Our current one is clunky and things are buried,” she said.

Iris Godes said messages have already been sent out to students to let them know about changes that have been made.

“Beyond that, the hope is that we will offer sessions to the students for assistance with the FAFSA and give them some highlights - make sure you do this, make sure you do that.”

Godes expressed similar concern, but is optimistic about the upcoming website. “The navigation of the current site, I think we would agree, is not very user friendly.”

She said, “A great amount of attention is being paid to, ‘How can we make this better for prospective students and their families to find what they're looking for as quickly as possible?’ and, ‘How can we improve the information and messaging to make it much more student focused?’”

Godes said a lot of hard work is going into the website creation right now, and the anticipated date of release is “right after the NECHE visit in April. That’s the goal, fingers crossed.”



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