Updated: Augustana’s 2030 vision calls for move to Division I university

Dec. 14, 2018

A plan filled with big dreams and aspirational goals has been approved to take Augustana University toward 2030 with a focus on landing it in the company of the region’s top-ranked universities.

That includes growing enrollment to 3,000 students, structuring the university as a collection of schools, or colleges, and aiming toward a transition to a Division I athletics program.

“Setting these ambitious goals is appropriate, and as we pursue them, other pathways we don’t even see will be opened to us,” president Stephanie Herseth Sandlin said.

The Augustana board of trustees approved the plan at its Dec. 8 meeting. It includes six aspirational goals related to academic excellence, enrollment, scholarships, athletics, facilities and finances that will be further honed by steering committees and strategic plans in the coming months and years.

“There’s no first among equals,” Herseth Sandlin said. “They’re equally important. Our additional due diligence and engaging stakeholders will inform the level of priority and sequencing based on opportunities and resources.”

The move to Division I, which has been discussed for more than a decade, is one signal of Augustana’s commitment to excellence, she added, and part of a broader effort to enhance the entire institution for the future.

“Transitioning to Division I is the institution unleashing its potential based on what we’ve already done and what we think we can do going forward.”

Viewed in the larger context of what is planned for the university by 2030, the move looks like an understandable, even expected, piece of the puzzle, said board chair Tom Davis.

“There’s a perception among some that it’s a light-switch moment,” he said. “Flip the switch and we’re Division I. It doesn’t work like that. But as 2030 starts to become visible and not quite so imaginative, and you envision Sioux Falls and where Augustana is in that community, and you envision strategic partners and academic programs, all of a sudden it becomes clear that’s what it should be.”

Building on academic excellence

The name change several years ago from Augustana College to Augustana University signaled the start of this transition.

In academia, a university typically refers to a collection of schools, or colleges, structured around areas of study.

Augustana likely will transition to that model in the coming years as part of the 2030 plan.

While the vision is to retain its roots as a liberal arts institution, the plan calls for growing undergraduate and graduate programs, and continuing to be responsive to workforce training needs in the community.

“This is in keeping with who we say we are, as an institution that prides itself on innovation,” said Colin Irvine, senior vice president for academic affairs.

“These changes are grounded in a belief of the transformational power of liberal arts education. Every program we consider and every structural change we consider, we’re doing because we think what we’re pursuing helps us do the work we’re committing to for students and faculty in a better way.”

It hasn’t been determined how many colleges will comprise the university, what areas of study they will include or when the structure will transition. It won’t happen all at once, but “I would say it’s going to happen sooner than 2030,” Irvine said.

Academics is at “the top of the pyramid” among all the changes proposed for the university, Herseth Sandlin added.

A driving force behind the 2030 vision is to help Augustana achieve a ranking in line with other regional private universities in reports such as the annual one for U.S. News & World Report, which still considers Augustana a college. The peer group the school is aiming for includes Butler University in Indiana, Creighton University in Omaha, Drake University in Des Moines, John Carroll University in Ohio and Valparaiso University in Indiana.

“Those are the private universities we’ve also evaluated related to athletics, what they do and don’t do, and how we might do it the same or different,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Growing enrollment

The goal is to reach an enrollment of 3,000 students by 2030. There currently are 2,118 students.

That will be a combination of undergraduate and graduate students, full time and part time, students who live on campus and students who might be enrolled in Augustana through remote or hybrid programs.

The goal includes investing in faculty and equipping them “to use technological advancements and tools effectively to ensure the rigor of our offerings, which is what we’re known for,” Herseth Sandlin said. “That’s important as we make those key investments.”

Augustana also plans to step up its commitment to the performing and visual arts, which enjoy broad support from the community and alumni, she added.

Athletic evolution

While the move to Division I likely will draw the most attention in the 2030 plan, it needs to be viewed in the larger context of evolving the university, and expectations need to be managed, leaders said.

First, Augustana must be invited to join a Division I conference.

“Those conversations will begin in earnest,” director of athletics Josh Morton said. “They need to stay confidential, but once you get the invite, from there as an institution that’s the trigger to submit reclassification through the NCAA.”

That’s a formal process that requires evaluating a strategic plan that addresses the university’s financial sustainability.

“Conferences in all divisions are looking for strong new members,” Herseth Sandlin said. “So we don’t know how long it might take to secure an invitation, and there are other variables that have to be assessed as we move forward.”

Once accepted, there’s a four-year period when the school wouldn’t be eligible for post-season play.

“What excites me is the opportunity to compete,” Morton said. “It’s about excellence. It’s about competing and being part of a university that’s not afraid to think bigger. We’re part of it. For some we’re a big part, and for some we’re a small part. The most important constituency for me is our 400 student-athletes, to make sure we communicate as best we can the process and enhance the student-athlete experience. That will only be enhanced by this move.”

It’s a transition he has been through before as associate athletics director at the University of North Dakota when it went Division I.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “But athletics is all about team, and to think of (working as) a true team on this campus … the rewards of that challenge, to go through it together … would be incredibly special.”

Those engaged in the process need to understand it will take some time, Davis added.

“Part of the understanding is it is an aspirational goal. It’s going to take a team – a real team with a capital T – to get this done.”

Establish strategic scholarships

Recognizing that affordability has been a growing issue in higher education, Augustana is planning to amplifying its financial aid efforts.

While work has already been done to bridge the gap between what the school costs and what some students can afford to pay, “there’s still sometimes a gap for students, and we want to work with alumni and strategic partners to find creative ways to close that gap,” Herseth Sandlin said.

The hope is to further diversify the campus with both students and faculty, she said.

“At Augustana, we stand behind the quality of the investment because of the academic rigor and what we’re preparing graduates for, but … we’re going to do what we can to avoid asking students and families to continue to pay more and more in tuition.”

The Sioux Falls cradle-to-career initiative also could become a piece of Augustana’s efforts, “to help share information and prepare young people to be able to pursue an education at Augie and succeed academically,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Metrics for the goal haven’t been established yet but will be.

Campus planning

If the goal of increasing enrollment is met, it will be the need for more facilities – from classrooms to dorms.

“There are some opportunities and needs we need to figure out how to join together,” Davis said. “We’re pretty unique in terms of our space, and there are going to be new and unique learning opportunities. Some will be on campus, some will be off campus, and some will be a hybrid.”

A new apartment building is going up on the east side of Summit Avenue, and a recent housing master plan laid out additional options, including “an innovative neighborhood on the north side of the campus,” Herseth Sandlin said.

Renderings by Koch Hazard Architects

A more immediate project could be a renovation and expansion of Morrison Commons to turn it into “a true student union in the center of campus (with) fitness and wellness, modern dining options, student organization space and meeting space,” she said. “It’s generated a lot of excitement.”

It will take more fundraising and planning, and no timelines have been set yet, but it likely will be on the front end of the 2030 plan, leaders said.

Financial support

While numbers haven’t been finalized yet, achieving the 2030 vision will require significant investment.

Augustana will look to its established community of supporters and look to form new partnerships, its leadership said.

The aspirational goals will be realized only “with the appropriate financial backing from alumni and strategic partners,” Davis said. “Each of these goals is tied clearly to a financial plan that has to be put together. We can’t do all these things by 2030 with the budget we have today.”

Inspired and informed investment will be needed, Herseth Sandlin added.

“We need people to be inspired to support students with more endowed scholarships. We need alumni and strategic partners to feel inspired by the vision of building on academic excellence, so we can secure resources to develop out new programs or compete at that next level.”

The visioning also sends a powerful message to students, she said.

“It’s modeling for our students what we say we’re preparing them for: a world of change and a lifetime of opportunities.”

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Updated: Augustana’s 2030 vision calls for move to Division I university

A plan filled with big dreams and aspirational goals has been approved to take Augustana University toward 2030.

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