Building an Academic Plan


Introduction 

The landscape of post-secondary education in British Columbia and Canada is moving through a significant period of transition. Looming budgetary issues have already had a significant impact at some BC institutions, as well as other schools around the country. Undoubtedly these financial challenges will continue for the next few years.  At the same time, we are faced with provincial and federal mandates to grow international student enrolment.  On its own, this is achievable and will provide some financial relief for our institution.  However, when combined with current domestic demand that exceeds provincial targets but does not provide any additional revenue from Victoria, Langara is faced with an interesting balancing act.

At the same time, our dynamic enterprise continues to evolve.  Colleague institutions are strategizing based on their own challenges and opportunities. The teaching universities continue to grow, meaning that more four-year degree alternatives are being made available to students. However, there is an ongoing conversation in the post-secondary community that questions the value of four-year degrees in terms of job readiness. There is also an emphasis on trades and their role in preparing students to tackle the workforce, in the face of an impending “skills shortage” that has been identified by a variety of groups.  

It is imperative that we understand where Langara fits into the current environment, and how we will continue to remain relevant and valuable as we move into the future. To this end we are developing an Academic Plan that will guide the College through the next five years.  An academic plan will guide the development and delivery of high quality, relevant programs and courses typically includes, but not limited to:

  • learning outcomes and learning strategies
  • learning technology strategies
  • informing the development of industry and community collaborations
  • student engagement


Challenges

There are a variety of issues that demand our consideration if we are to define a clear vision of Langara’s academic future. These include, among others:

  • a continuing decline in government funding coupled with a high degree of fixed costs within our budget
  • growth of new teaching universities
  • declining traditional student-aged population (18-24 year-olds) within catchment area
  • growing domestic student markets elsewhere in the Lower Mainland (eg. Surrey)
  • significant additions to competitor facilities (eg. new campus for Emily Carr; new International College at UBC)
  • potential “skills shortage” on the horizon for BC/Canada
  • increasing expectations from stakeholders and the public (eg. the desire for new and better services, and creating opportunities for community engagement)
  • growing government demand for quality and accountability assurance
  • the continuing boom of MOOCs (massive open online courses) and their implications for traditional classroom-based learning

Identifying these types of challenges and developing strategies for Langara will inform the shape of the College’s Academic Plan. Arguably, the most tangible of the challenges we face are financial in nature. The College is supported by two major sources of income – government funding and tuition fees – and we need to remain successfully operational as these sources develop and change. Our Academic Plan will help us create strategies that will guide us towards educational and financial sustainability.


Opportunities

An evaluation of our current environment also affords us with a distinct opportunity to refocus our collective purpose as a community, and to explore how we can revitalize what we offer to our students. The specific challenges we face are matched by unique opportunities that have been shaped by Langara’s existing successes. These include, but are not limited to:

  • a longstanding and respected reputation for quality university-transferable studies
  • a diverse set of valued community and career-related programs that prepare students for meaningful work
  • a healthy International Education program with a strong reputation
  • innovative and popular Continuing Studies programming
  • an initiative to grow capacity in applied research and social innovation, spearheaded by the Scholarly Activities Steering Committee, that will help us develop industry and community partnerships

We aim to be poised and ready to provide the best possible learning experience for our student population, but to accomplish this end we must evaluate where we stand and ask some very important questions. What is our niche? What is the most relevant direction for our programming to take? What are the best strategies to maintain quality and accountability in our offerings? How do we best engage our students? These and other questions that may emerge during the planning process will be important to consider; our Academic Plan will help focus how we approach these and related issues.


Process

The foundation of a tangible, effective academic plan is based on the active engagement of our academic community.  To this end, consultant Glenn Harris, who has successfully assisted colleges and universities with this type of essential planning activity, has been working with us over the past several weeks in helping to shape a process for this important work.  Glenn will continue to work with us throughout this project, most notably by engaging the campus while gathering and synthesizing data that you will provide.  Your feedback will form the foundation of the Colleges’ inaugural Academic Plan.

Glenn will work closely with the Academic Planning Steering Committee that was recently constituted.  That Committee is chaired by the Vice-President, Academic and Provost.  Working with our consultant, the Committee will approve an active planning process that will commence early in the fall term. That process will be inclusive and comprise a series of interviews, focus groups, and a computer-based questionnaire. We expect the Plan will be ready in mid-2014 for implementation.

Conclusion

An Academic Plan will provide a set of academic priorities and guide future decisions in areas such as program development, technology, and human resource requirements. The strategies and initiatives that will flow from the plan will enable faculty, staff, and students to focus energy on these priorities as we continue our commitment to be a leading undergraduate college.  Ultimately, it will reinforce Langara as an exciting destination for teaching and student learning and engagement.

For those of you who are interested in reviewing what an academic plan might look like, the following three examples offer an insight into their structure and component parts:

Vancouver Island University
Mohawk College
University of Calgary

We look forward to your input in this project, and thank you in advance for your valuable participation.