Missouri State University-West Plains began initial development of its Long-Range Plan, 2017-2022, through participation in the yearlong visioning process conducted on the Missouri State-Springfield campus during the 2015-16 academic year. Representatives from West Plains' faculty, staff administration served on each of the visioning committees, returning to the campus community to discuss the research and topics considered in the visioning process. As a result, a broader understanding of the state of the University, its challenges and its vision, helped to not only shape discussions about the role and future plans for Missouri State-West Plains but to also bring a greater sense of unity between the West Plains and Springfield campus communities toward a shared future.
Following completion of the visioning process, the Long-Range Plan Steering Committee first considered the Missouri State-West Plains' success in meeting the goals of the previous plan, its most recent evaluation by the Higher Learning Commission the current realities of the institution through an analysis of its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities threats. The committee also viewed the campus' probable immediate future through a set of assumptions about higher education in general, the students, families communities we seek to serve, and the probable interest and influences of its many stakeholders. These assumptions—many reflective of those identified in the Springfield Campus Plan—are generalized in the following statements:
- State appropriations will remain unpredictable. A significant portion of Missouri State University's budget comes from state appropriations. Of the $86 million in appropriations, approximately $5.8 million goes to the West Plains campus. This accounts for 53 % of the West Plains operating budget. No evidence suggests that state appropriations will increase dramatically over the next decade. For planning purposes, increases in appropriations are predicted to approximate the rate of inflation. This will put more pressure on other sources of revenue: student tuition and fees, grants and contracts, private giving entrepreneurial ventures.
- Recruitment and retention of students will continue to be key factors in programmatic and financial stability. With limited avenues toward maintaining our current funding model, increasing the number of new students we recruit and the number of current students we retain are the primary means of stabilizing and/or enhancing funding. Yet, with increased competition from private higher education institutions, market-area creep from other public institutions, as well as the more pervasive marketing of online college programs, recruitment has become more difficult and will continue to be a greater challenge. With a large and seemingly growing population of under-prepared and academically mobile students (those who switch from institution to institution or those who simultaneously attend more than one institution), keeping students enrolled and successful has become dramatically more difficult in our open admission environment.
- The cost of attending Missouri State-West Plains will continue to influence student access as well as available funding for the campus. To serve this impoverished region, we must continue to be aware of the financial circumstances of our students and their families. Any large increase in tuition and fees will mean fewer students able to access our degree programs. As we balance our budget, we must remain aware of impacts tuition rates have on finances and enrollment; that is, a freeze in tuition rates might result in an ever-more limited campus budget, and an increase in tuition might result in lower enrollment.
- The social, economic cultural realities of our region will continue to change, but not as quickly as the rest of the nation. According to data analysts, the population of Missouri State-West Plains' traditional seven-county service region will increase slightly but not in all areas. Migration to the larger population centers, such as West Plains, will continue as the more rural communities lose residents. The number of high school graduates is expected to remain lower than in previous years, although an increase is anticipated within the five-year plan period. The region will become slightly more diverse, with a small increase expected among the Hispanic population. With increased outreach to other parts of the state, the West Plains student body will continue to become increasingly more diverse than the West Plains community and surrounding region. Educational attainment rates in the region will continue to slightly increase; however, the campus will continue to see a large percentage of its student body struggle with the at-risk characteristics of being a first-generation college student. Finally, poverty among the region's residents will continue to hinder if not prevent many area residents from seeking access to higher education. For most of those who do enroll in college, their attempts to succeed will be marginalized by several stressors, such as persistent financial need, limited family resources and support, unreliable transportation, the challenges of childcare, limited access to and/or experience with technology the continued need to remain employed.
- Technology will continue to drive change, providing challenges and opportunities. Technology has caused the higher education community to adjust how we serve our students, their families our communities. While some aspects of the teaching and learning process will remain and should remain the same, technology will continue to influence how we teach, how our students learn, as well as the when, where why of education. The challenge is great. We must adapt yet hold to the principles of quality. We must be both academically and technologically relevant yet weigh the costs of this balancing act in today's world. We must seek to be effective and efficient through new means of operating yet ensure the campus infrastructure will support the advances we pursue.