The public had a chance to get acquainted with a new five-year strategic plan adopted by the University of the Virgin Islands Board of Trustees.
The introductions were made last week by UVI President David Hall at public meetings held on St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
Titled “Greatness Through Innovation,” the plan establishes six areas where UVI’s administration, faculty, staff and stakeholders can work to help the school distinguish itself in the higher education community. By doing so, Hall said, the school can help ensure its future.
According to a 2012 study commissioned by the Kresge Foundation, historically black colleges and universities such as UVI still have a significant role to play in helping the United States build an adequately educated workforce. One of the challenges to doing so, according to report author Phillip L. Clay, is that HBCU’s have to present a stronger vision for their institutions among their stakeholders.
Hall told those attending the town meeting on St. John the 2018-2023 plan has the potential to do so. Instead of creating a vision of what UVI could achieve in the next five years and driving the administration, faculty and staff to deliver on a promise, “Greatness Through Innovation” encourages them to come up with ideas for moving 106 measurable objectives forward.
There is even an incentive. The plan seeks to raise and allocate $1 million to fund the best ideas. The school has also established a team of seven people to make sure the community stays on track with generating ideas, advancing the plan and producing results.
“Things are changing rapidly, and only those universities that can keep up with innovation will be able to survive. And we don’t want UVI to fade away,” Hall said.
Some of the objectives address student enrollment and retention. Portions of the plan have already made strides in this area, Hall said.
In February, trustees adopted a pricing structure in order to implement a free tuition plan approved by the 32nd Legislature and signed by former Gov. Kenneth Mapp.
Trustees also approved adjustments to existing agreements with colleges and community colleges in neighboring Eastern Caribbean nations and territories to lower non-residential tuition rates.
University officials are also considering ways to help those students who want accelerated learning paths that will allow them to complete a four-year undergraduate degree program in three years. One of the challenges to conquer in this area will be making sure UVI students are better prepared for college-level studies.
St. John businesswoman Myrtle Barry asked Hall why it takes many students six years to graduate from UVI. The UVI president said one reason is the need for remedial studies among 60 percent of students.
Another, he said, is the competing demands many students face in addition to studies, including work.
Which brought another major goal into the discussion – UVI’s desire to increase the graduation rate from the current 24 percent and increase the student body from 2,000 to 3,000 students.
To reach that goal, Hall said he would like to promote UVI as a virtual school, providing online studies leading to a college degree.
“We want to have an independent, online service. Because we cannot depend on students showing up at our doors,” Hall said.
Reconstruction of campus facilities damaged by Hurricanes Irma and Maria also topped the list. Completing that goal is expected to cost $45 million. School officials say they also want to establish a Center for Resilience, not only to help UVI be better prepared to withstand future disasters, but to help the Virgin Islands community as well.
There is also the surviving goal from the previous plan of building a medical school for the Virgin Islands and creating a comprehensive power generation and distribution system that will make UVI independent from the Water and Power Authority.