Tom Davis, chair of the Augustana Board of Trustees, announced the board’s approval of a list of aspirational goals the university hopes to achieve by 2030 through an email to Augustana students, staff and faculty on Thursday, Dec. 19.
As listed in the email, these six goals are to:
- Change the academic structure of the university to support the liberal arts and new graduate degree programs, grow the performing and visual arts and establish a professional school.
- Grow total enrollment to 3,000 students.
- Establish strategic academic scholarships that promote affordability and diversity.
- Transition to a Division I intercollegiate athletics conference.
- Make improvements to the physical campus and information technology infrastructure.
- Increase its endowment and other financial resources to achieve these goals.
The goals—brought to the board by Augustana President Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and her staff—were created with the hope of making the university more financially sustainable.
“This place is about academic excellence, it’s about the liberal arts, it’s about a residential campus, it’s about faith-based education, it’s about servant leaders, it’s all that,” Davis said during an informal meeting on Friday after the announcement. “But if we don’t look at the business piece of it and figure out how to fix that and ensure that it’s a sustainable piece in a sustainable model going forward, we put all of those core values in that mission at risk.”
Herseth Sandlin knows the gamble. Goals this large have risks. But she said they are risks that the university needs to take if it wants to succeed.
“This doesn’t conclude a process; it just commences one,” she said. “There simply is no guarantee of success. It’s going to take a lot of money, and we might not raise all the money. [But] I don’t think that the board of trustees is going to approve budgets that the cabinet and I put forward [if] we can’t show that we’ve got a financially sustainable plan for these goals.”
Now that the goals have been approved, the administration will work until early February to develop committees that will research each goal to determine a timeline and set priorities.
The information collected by each committee will be put together into a rough draft of a strategic plan that will be presented to the board of directors and enacted by December of next year.
During finals week, students must leave 24 hours after their last test. Some students have voiced concerns about the timing of the announcement and the discussion. Herseth Sandlin said the timing for the announcement was to avoid distracting students during finals.
“Even though it is very exciting news, we felt it important to respect what our students were heading into for the week, but we also knew that there would be an opportunity— while the students and faculty were still here—to try to get this announced later in the week, to be able to have the kinds of meetings that we had this morning where we could continue to share information and answer questions,” Herseth Sandlin said.
The transition to D-I remains the most controversial goal. It will require time and effort to find the proper funding as well as an invitation from a suitable conference and acceptance from the NCAA.
“There is not a light switch,” said Davis. “We do not walk over and say ‘We are Division I.’ I’m telling you, the athletes that went home for Christmas, when they come back in January and February, we are still a Division II school. It is an aspirational goal that we need to put a group of individuals on a steering committee together to go look at and say ‘can we do this?’”
If Augustana does receive and accept an invitation from a suitable D-I conference and is approved by the NCAA as a D-I school, the athletic program must go through a four-year transition period. During this period, the Vikings will not be allowed to play in NCAA post-season games.
Davis believes that Sioux Falls has the right conditions for a D-I school.
“There is, I believe, a huge need in this community and there are a lot of people that will get behind those types of activities,” Davis said. “And I believe that secondarily, then, leads to us having an opportunity to access more people for more gifts to this institution.”
Herseth Sandlin said that many donors are interested in supporting schools for D-I athletics. She also said she believes that going D-I will not change Augustana’s academic focus.
“Our belief, based on the assessment of our threats as well as our opportunities, and some of those universities that are more like us, that [we] can attract the kind of student athlete and give him or her the kind of experience that is true to the academic excellence of our institution and it can be a multiplier effect if we are wise and prudent and do effective planning.”
JJ Orput, a sophomore and member of the track and cross country teams, said he was concerned for the move during the meeting. He said he believes D-I would change the culture of the university’s athletic program.
“These guys have been here for so many years working on this culture and trying to build a team that cares about each other,” Orput said. “And we don’t want to see that change, that’s our concern. I want to know what’s going to be done so that it doesn’t. I want to be able to come back here in 2030 and I want to recognize this school.”
In response, Herseth Sandlin said she does believe that Augustana needs to keep the best parts of the culture but also needs to adapt to higher education standards.
“There’s also concern in our feedback that our culture will impede our ability to reach these goals and that in and of itself is a risk that we have to manage, while we also manage [to] preserv[e] what’s very best of our culture that makes the most difference to student athletes, all of our students and our alumni, at the same time being realistic about our current reality,” Herseth Sandlin said.
Logan Swanson, a junior and member of the football team, said in a tweet that he believes that the transition will be challenging but would create more competition for athletes, provide better facilities and more resources to students and make the university more prominent in the nation.
According to Swanson, it is up to the students to maintain the culture of the university’s athletic programs.
“I believe we have a very strong culture and standard at Augustana that needs to be stressed but that is up to us as the students and the athletes to keep those true,” Swanson tweeted. “The transition will be painful but it is for any school and I am up for the challenge.”
Another goal is the development and implementation of more graduate programs. Augustana already has success with its sports administration and leadership, education, special education, genetic counseling, athletic training and professional accountancy programs.
“When we’re looking at graduate programs, continuing education programs, we’re looking at programs that build on what we do well already,” said Academic Dean Colin Irvine. Irvine said he is looking at programs with resources that help develop faculty, provide new opportunities for students around high-impact practices, research and internships.
Another one of the goals is to increase the campus student population to 3,000. Last year, a 2008 housing plan was updated to determine the next priorities for campus housing and renovations. Right now, the most likely project will be updating the Morrison Commons, but Herseth Sandlin said that the steering committee will also look at student housing needs and determine if the current residence halls are enough.
“We’re going to be guided by the master housing plan, whether that’s the north end of campus development [or] the current freshman dorms and how we renovate those or connect them,” said Herseth Sandlin. “The additional apartment building that we’re building on Summit Avenue is already underway.”
According to Davis, though the goals will see some changes, he is convinced that they will happen.
“They’re not set in stone, but they will be achieved,” Davis said. “They may look a little different than they look right now, but we will get there. I’m convinced of that.”
Though the reactions to some of the goals have been mixed, Davis said he believes that after more research and communication with the campus, people will warm up to the ideas.
“I think the more time that we spend addressing concerns and explaining the reality of what it’s going to take to do that, that those concerns are mitigated and that we start to see more and more people say, ‘Okay I get it.’”
Herseth Sandlin said that the attention the announcement brought to the school is a good sign.
“There are other universities and schools that don’t get talked about because no one believes they are doing anything from a position of strength,” Herseth Sandlin said. “We have had momentum. We are moving in the right direction. We are undertaking this from a position of strength.”