You are here: American University President Announcements October 21, 2014 Memo

AU Memo Letterhead

Memorandum October 21, 2014

AU Community
Neil Kerwin, President
Strategic Plan—Past Progress & Call for Objectives

This is a formal call for objectives for years seven and eight of our ten-year strategic plan. It differs from similar calls in the past.

The change is prompted by several important factors: The progress we've made (myAU login required) during the first six years under the plan; our expectations for the current year; the conclusions and recommendations of the recently completed institutional re-accreditation by the Middle States Commission; and a changed environment for our work to establish the next two year university budget.

In a number of settings, we have reported on those changes that have occurred at the university since the approval of the strategic plan by our Board of Trustees in 2008. I will not attempt to detail those changes here, or those that are likely to come to fruition this year. Instead, I refer to the final report of the Middle States re-accreditation site visit team that congratulated the entire university community on the breadth and depth of positive change and progress we've made since their last review, and their conclusion that we are a "transformed" institution.

We find that conclusion gratifying but take greater notice of their recommendations that we take steps to sustain our gains and maintain the course of innovation and improved performance.

The progress the Middle States team complimented so extensively was due, in part, to a program of aggressive investment in virtually every important element of our mission and operations, totaling more than $160 million dollars over six years. Contrary to the overwhelming trends in American higher education, during the past five years and in the current year, we added colleagues, enhanced salaries and benefits, improved both physical and information infrastructure, and bolstered a number of services.

We also were able to respond to changes in public policy and regulation. During this most recent budget cycle we were able to respond to concerns about the cost of our education by holding increases in tuition and related fees to the lowest levels in our history, well below those of most of our peer institutions, while increasing financial aid and lowering average student debt.

The University Budget Committee has begun work to develop estimates of revenue and recommendations for expenditures for our next two year budget. It is too early in that process to make projections about prospects for revenue in our next two year budget, although if the past is prologue, the processes of budget development in the divisions, schools, and colleges will generate plenty of ideas about how to use any new resources that might be available in the next cycle.

However, given our challenges in some enrollment categories and the ongoing concerns about tuition expenses, it is prudent to assume we will work with comparatively less new funding from our base budget than has been the case in the recent past, be more ambitious in applying innovation to generate new revenue streams, and also act on opportunities to effectively leverage our resources by adopting best practices beyond organizational boundaries. As a result, our approach to making progress on the goals of the strategic plan should focus less on new expenditures and more on efforts to ensure we are getting all we can from the large investments we've made.

I ask you to recommend changes in policy, practice, and the provision of support services that are opportunities to gain all we can from the investments in people and initiatives that we have already made. I also encourage the AU community to generate creative ideas on how we can achieve our mission more efficiently and effectively. In examining both the goals of the strategic plan and the areas on which the Middle States Commission has indicated it will expect us to report on at mid-term, I ask that for this round of objectives we focus particularly on the following:

  • Demographic changes and our responses to the needs and interests of an increasingly diverse student body
  • Appropriate goals for our performance in scholarly, professional, and artistic work
  • Needed support for our faculty, including attention to the mix of appointment types
  • Graduate education-enrollment and pedagogy

Please give this call your serious attention. I would appreciate your input by November 17 (email recommendations to As in the past, each recommendation will be given full consideration, and I will circulate a draft of proposed objectives for years 7 and 8 of the strategic plan shortly after the start of the spring semester, in ample time to receive comments and finalize them for consideration in the final preparation of the proposed two year budget.