By Christina Drain
Common missions, yet unique visions in distinctly different communities.
The cluster includes Lima, Mansfield, Marion and Newark. Their mission, according to Bill MacDonald, executive dean of the regional campuses and dean and director of OSU Newark, is to provide access to Ohio State for students who want a unique, small-campus experience or who plan to start on a regional campus and move to the Columbus campus.
“We recognize that we do have this common mission, but we are in different communities,” MacDonald said. “Those communities have different resources, different opportunities. Over the next five years we are going to see just how much of a unique flavor we can develop at each campus.”
A group of about 50 regional campus faculty, staff and students, along with the Regional Campus Cluster Advisory Council, community members and administrators, facilitated by Vice Provost of Academic and Strategic Planning Mike Boehm, met over the course of a year. Together, the group focused on the university’s four strategic goals: Teaching and learning, research and innovation, outreach and engagement and resource stewardship. Their meetings provided an opportunity to address needs for all stakeholders — students, faculty and staff and the community.
The RCC members have witnessed a recent enrollment decline, partly due to declining Ohio birthrates in the current generation of college-bound students, and partly because some students have had to re-enter the workforce after their financial aid ran out, according to MacDonald. He expects enrollment to pick up again in 2016 and beyond as birthrates increase. The cluster is making plans now to try to maintain enrollment and to prepare for the increase that is likely to come.
“The number of feeder high school graduates will be growing again after 2016 and we will need more in the way of recreation facilities, dining and health and wellness facilities,” he said.
OSU Lima has earmarked about $2.5 million for a $3.7 million student life facility that would include a 5,000-square-foot area of comfortable student space with food service as well as a 10,000-square-foot wellness and recreation center with space for group exercise. The rest of the funding will come from public fundraising, according to Dean and Director John Snyder, and should be completed by late 2014.
“What this will mean to students is a place to go other than the library or their cars between classes,” Snyder said. “The Lima campus has never had a student union. Neither has it had a recreation area. The new Student Life Center should become the gathering place for students to socialize and take time for some exercise — two activities to enhance the campus experience beyond the classroom.”
Plans are in the works at OSU Mansfield to convert the existing library to the Bromfield Information Commons, a $3 million project designed to enhance teaching activities and coordinate student services, according to Steve Gavazzi, dean and director.
Several campuses also are adding staff positions based on needs — at OSU Mansfield, an assistant dean to coordinate research activity among faculty and students as well as positions in retention and family engagement; at OSU Newark, an alumni relations position.
But not all initiatives are big-ticket items. Campuses are developing more scholarship opportunities to keep students in school and more service learning and study abroad experiences like those available at the Columbus campus. They are reaching out to the community by providing a faculty speakers bureau, hosting community events on economic development and education reform, forming internship opportunities through local chambers of commerce at OSU Marion and creating community partnerships. And they are working with local schools to help students prepare for college.
“We knew whatever we put in the strategic plan we would have to pay for,” MacDonald said. “We were very cost conscious. The initiatives are very practical, but they reflect our priorities, too.”
One of the key focus areas in the plan lies in cultivating unique academic themes at each campus. Tripp Umbach, an international consulting firm, has been hired to complete a market analysis of each campus area, which should be finished this fall. The campuses can then identify academic foci that consider the long-term workforce needs in their communities and begin to structure new programs.
The cluster continues to meet quarterly to discuss items of mutual interest. MacDonald is pleased with the progress.
“We realized we’re building a unique experience that’s an Ohio State experience, genuinely Ohio State, but has the special touch you can only get at a small campus,” he said. “I think the fact that we have all embraced that, that’s probably the thing I’m most excited about for the cluster.”