The University of Nebraska-Lincoln celebrated its 150th anniversary this year, and it’s encouraging to see that UNL has developed worthwhile principles for a five-year strategic plan. The goals can well position UNL to build on its current successes, enhance its recruiting of students and faculty and strengthen its service to Nebraska and the wider world.
Among the key concepts: Increased diversity among students and faculty. Ambition in expanding UNL’s research successes. Stronger public engagement. Increased supports for faculty and graduate students.
An overarching theme connects all the goals: UNL should dedicate itself to maximizing the opportunities for each student and faculty member in regard to the university’s teaching, research and engagement missions. “Every person and every interaction matters,” says the five-year plan, the first segment of a wider, 25-year plan to come. UNL’s student population exceeds 25,000.
The focus on increased diversity of the student and faculty populations is fitting, given Nebraska’s growing demographic diversity plus the increased emphasis by universities on public engagement and global connections. Many Nebraska school systems, urban and rural, have student populations in which dozens of different languages are spoken, for example — about 120 in Omaha Public Schools alone.
Goals in the strategic plan include efforts to increase retention and graduation rates for students from underrepresented groups. UNL’s past progress on that score provides encouragement. During 2003-13, UNL was No. 1 among 255 colleges and universities in reducing the graduation-rate gap between white and minority students. That was the finding of the Education Trust, an advocacy group focusing on ways to boost students’ academic performance.
On the research front, UNL has ample opportunities for further progress. The university is widely respected for its top-flight research in disciplines including water policy, agriculture and natural resources science. The College of Engineering has developed notable specializations and is set for major facility enhancements. UNL ag-sciences faculty are pursuing innovative studies on East Campus and at Innovation Campus, an NU-wide institution in Lincoln.
UNL has shown commendable dedication to strengthening its research culture and enhancing the commercialization possibilities for faculty research. The strategic plan’s emphasis on interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty fits in well with the needs of cutting-edge research. Positive, too, are UNL’s wide-ranging research projects in collaboration with the Department of Defense.
UNL is well positioned for increased community engagement, both in Nebraska (through agricultural and natural resources studies, plus outreach from its Rural Futures Institute) and globally (through already strong international connections regarding water policy, for example).
NU’s largest campus has great potential for further progress. This new strategic plan provides sound guideposts for the journey ahead.