Initiatives

  • Afterwords: Hope for what lies ahead

Initiatives

The University of the Future

As the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world since 2019, it raised hard questions and compelled innovation everywhere, not just for the challenges at hand, but for those beyond the horizon.

Early in the pandemic, with the Rowan community fully engaged in developing and adapting to protocols to keep the institution running and serve students safely, President Ali Houshmand was thinking ahead. Building on Rowan’s well-established institutional agility, he assembled a team to chart the course for the “University of the Future.” Charged to work across disciplines and to anticipate what the future should look like in practical terms, the group focused on five areas: Academics; Pricing Models; Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Scholarship; Flexible Workforce; and Facilities and Infrastructure Needs.

The result of the months-long project shows that in many ways, Rowan is that university—the University of the Future. While many colleges and universities continue to struggle with enrollment deficits, economic instability and relevance in the marketplace, Rowan keeps earning accolades and attracting support to help it grow. Last year’s independent Beeck Center study touted Rowan’s dedication to first-generation students and effective research. The Middle States Commission on Higher Education’s last accreditation review named Rowan “a model for institutional transformation.” Rowan is a higher education leader recognized by national rankings but not resting on them.

“It’s our job to anticipate, plan and deliver effective solutions to pressing problems,” said Houshmand. “We have to prepare for likely and unforeseen challenges, based on data and research. We can’t anticipate everything, but we have creative power to improve results and we’re going to keep using that power to change what we can.”

 

Setting the course

Published early in spring 2021, the University of the Future plan makes the most of the University’s agility and resources. The project team represented a broad range of voices—faculty, staff and managers from each campus and every sector of the Rowan community. Their months-long research and collaboration led to proposals and action steps for each area. In some cases, initiatives already underway will continue, others will expand or be refined. Target dates and specific deliverables make measuring each achievement clear.

Incorporating various perspectives within and outside the institution, the plan directs decisions that will benefit the entire University, rather than individual divisions. Taking into account human resources and institutional finances, senior leadership reviewed the recommendations and set priorities. These are highlights from the document:

 

New education options and pathways

Before the pandemic, Rowan had already taken steps to become a high-quality provider of online education through Rowan Global, providing undergraduate and graduate programs. In March 2020, the COVID-19 public health crisis forced nearly all instruction online, so programs that had not used virtual education observed remote learning firsthand. With the strong pre-pandemic foundation and many months of pandemic experience, Rowan will keep developing academic programming aligned to the needs of Rowan’s future students with goals that include:

  • delivering education in new ways, expanding remote learning, increasing emphasis on experiential learning and providing offerings to a larger, more diverse population
  • creating research opportunities for underrepresented groups as a springboard for successes in STEM fields
  • building professional development pathways for all faculty.

 

Keeping education affordable

With health and safety imperatives implemented in March 2020, Rowan immediately moved to address the economic hardships students experienced. Loss of employment or the death of a parent or person who had helped with education costs directly affected some students. Some felt the impact in less direct ways, such as the need to purchase technology for remote and hybrid learning.

Recognizing that all students experienced economic impacts, Rowan discounted tuition 10 percent for AY2021—among the few institutions in the nation to provide such relief—and more proof of Houshmand’s concern about students’ financial burdens. By the end of June 2021, Rowan also provided students $14.5 million in direct aid through the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund. Now, with some University initiatives begun in June 2021 and more set to be implemented during the next four years, the long-range pricing model will serve the needs of Rowan students and the institution through:

  • developing a pricing structure to appeal to cost-conscious and value-seeking students, while maintaining the institution’s financial stability
  • developing pricing models for tuition and fees that are simple and transparent, adaptable, innovative, attractive to new students and designed to increase retention among current students.

 

Welcoming and including all

Two years ago, Rowan University committed to diversity, equity and inclusion by establishing a Division of DEI and naming a senior vice president of DEI at the president’s cabinet level to focus leadership attention and resources on DEI issues.

The division has made significant progress and contributed to building a stronger, healthier University community. Still, the needs of Rowan’s diverse students are clear: financial support should be increased, especially through corporate partnerships and fundraising; programmatic supports and services should be enhanced to improve retention and graduation rates; and Rowan’s environment can be made more welcoming to its diverse students and faculty. These fundamental measures are expected to improve higher education outcomes for diverse students, increase graduation rates, post-graduation employment and decrease student debt load.

Already underway in March 2021, the long-term work for diversity, equity and inclusion includes:

  • raising more funds through Advancement, individual donors and corporate partnerships
  • sharing stories of students who benefit from support
  • identifying variables that influence diverse first-generation students’ recruitment and retention
  • improving student services and supports and increasing opportunities for experiential education, meaningful engagement in research and post-graduation employment.

 

Reshaping and supporting the workforce

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, Rowan did not use flexible work models because of barriers that seemed largely insurmountable, including state-negotiated labor contracts, paper-based processes and lack of adequate technology. However, during the pandemic, the University quickly and progressively implemented remote and flexible working models to keep the institution running.

This short-term progress and—in some cases, great success—laid the groundwork and demonstrated the need for a formal policy and process to develop more work options. The steps toward long-term remote work arrangements, flexible and alternative scheduling and hybrid models include:

  • assessing the impact and efficacy of flexible work on Rowan’s employees and prospective employees
  • considering how to change workflow and access to technology that supports remote and flexible work
  • determining how to gauge work needs, shared services, and how to work with a focus on accountability and equity to best serve students, patients and other stakeholders.

 

Enhancing facilities and tech infrastructure

As students left campus and remote learning began in spring 2020, Rowan started housing and dining reimbursements, just one of the major effects on institutional revenue the pandemic brought about. Individuals lost work and faced economic hardships for which many were unprepared, including students who already were struggling financially.

In fall 2020, Rowan was one of the region’s few universities that reopened, thanks to wide-ranging health and safety accommodations as well as technology and infrastructure adjustments. As University staff and contractors ensured education and research could continue, they had unusual opportunities to implement and test new approaches to solving problems. To build on the progress made in the last year, Rowan will continue investments in high-priority areas and make the most of contracts and partnerships that make possible more growth and stability, including:

  • developing information technology infrastructure improvements
  • studying feasibility sustainability for facilities and infrastructure enhancements on all campuses
  • developing new facilities and infrastructure at the West Campus with partnerships to support economic growth, research, training and academic programs through a manufacturing hub.

 

The future, formed by reality and optimism

“I believe strongly in the adage, ‘never waste a crisis,’ ” said Houshmand. It’s a mindset that has earned him regard as a leader and proven Rowan University to be resilient and always ready to serve others as it improves itself.

“The tragedy and trials of the pandemic tested everyone. They revealed institutional strengths and required us to innovate. Now, we have a practical, data-based plan to guide our next era of growth, Houshmand said. “The world promises change and challenge every day. Rowan is more than ready to shape the future. It’s a great responsibility that we’re proud to take on.”

Visit rowan.edu/president to see the full plan and to view or download the PDF document.