WSU President Kirk Schulz and Provost Dan Bernardo  are in the midst of hosting 15 town hall meetings in 4 weeks for each college and campus to discuss the Drive to 25 initiative and seek input that will determine the details of the effort.

“We want this to be a community conversation, not just a list of the great things that we’ve heard,” Schulz said at the first town hall, on Sept. 19. “I believe firmly that if we do this, we do come to better decision points.”

The president recently indicated that striving to become one of the nation’s top 25 public research universities by 2030 is the overarching goal that will guide institutional decision making for the next several years.

Below is a summary of the presentation the president and provost make at each town hall. Following the summary, you can read the questions asked and the answers provided during the dialogue portion of each of the completed town halls.



Kirk Schulz: One major achievement is our phenomenal growth in private donor support from $98 million in 2010 to a record $167 million in 2015, an increase of 70% in six years. And, this past year, we were at about $130 million in gifts, which is really quite a testimony about our donors and supporters, considering we have been in a presidential transition and we were not in an active campaign.

We’re currently in the planning stage for the next major campaign, which we anticipate will be in the $1.5 to $2 billion range. It’s going to be a heavy lift, but if we’re going to aspire to greatness, philanthropy will be one of the measures we’re going to need to use to get there.


KS: We recently announced a record student enrollment with 30,142 students—up 8.9% compared to five years ago. That includes increases at our Spokane, Vancouver, Tri-Cities, and Everett campuses this fall.

We’ll continue to see strong growth on all our campuses in the future, particularly on the Spokane campus with the opening of our medical college.


KS: We also saw strong growth in the diversity of our student body, with a record number of students of color enrolling, growing from 6,252 students systemwide in 2012 to 8,698 in 2016.

If you look at the diversity of Washington’s population, particularly on the west side of the state, we’re seeing those numbers continuing to grow. We have to continue to create a climate at WSU—with faculty, staff and students, as well as resources—making sure this is a great place for students of color to come to school, where they feel supported, and where they can get that degree and go out and do tremendous things.

Research and development

KS: We also have continued to perform as a great research and development enterprise. Our R&D expenditures have continued to grow, hitting $333 million in FY 2015.

I have no doubt that we’ll hit the $400 million threshold in a few years and keep going.

This is a great testimony to those faculty and staff who are investing many hours into these proposals and submitting large projects. It’s a figure that everyone can feel good about, and it’s something we don’t talk nearly enough about.

Federal research expenditures

KS: Another measurement of success that we track is federal research expenditures. Out of about $130 million in federal funding WSU receives, $100 million comes from four agencies: the Department of Energy, Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation.


Dan Bernardo: WSU’s budget has changed radically over the last seven years. Many of you were here and recall the loss of more than half our state funding—52%. That has changed how we manage the University.

In terms of revenue, we’re now about a $1 billion a year operation, up from around $650 million about a decade ago. So, we are a much bigger organization, with significant increases in tuition and fees as well as grants and contracts.

The bottom line is that there are only two revenue sources that are flexible in terms of spending: state appropriations and tuition and fees. So, only 40% of the entire budget is flexible in terms of being able to apply it for faculty, staff, and core infrastructure and services.

All other portions of budget are allocated to a specific purpose, like grants and contracts, research, dormitories, endowed gifts.

Out of the 40% of revenues that are flexible, 60% of those are derived from tuition and fees. All that to say, we have become a tuition-and-fee-driven university.

Last year, as most of you know, we did the dreaded 5% reallocation exercise. It wasn’t a cut, it was a reallocation. Half of that 5% was used to pay for the lion’s share of the salary increases for faculty and staff. That was literally money that was not provided by the state legislature and that we did not have in the central budget.

So, half of it went back to the units to pay for that increase. Then the other half went into a pool to be used for strategic research allocation, internal grants competition, and a student success grant competition.

Strategic plan

DB: The strategic plan was developed in 2014 and covers 2015-2019. Because it is a dynamic document, it has been modified a bit to include the Drive to 25 initiative.

There are four themes in the strategic plan:

  • Exceptional research, innovation and creativity
  • Transformative student experience
  • Outreach engagement
  • Institutional effectiveness

What’s great is that it dovetails nicely with the Drive to 25 initiative. I’m proud of the Strategic Plan, in that it includes 5 pages of plan and 10 pages dedicated to implementation. Too many plans lay out broad-brush objectives but don’t designate how they will be implemented or measured to determine success.

This plan includes 57 performance metric baselines that will show our progress on these items.

Top initiatives and priorities

KS: WSU’s top initiatives and priorities include:

  • Drive to Twenty Five
  • Grand Challenges: strategic research initiative
  • Student success initiatives
  • Medical college
  • High-level administrative searches
  • Building projects

Drive to Twenty Five

KS: The Drive to 25 initiative is designed to propel us toward achieving a rating as a top 25 public research institution by 2030.

As you know the university has a well-articulated strategic plan that was designed with input from faculty, staff, and student involvement. The penultimate goal, however, was a bit vague, generally stating ‘we want to be a bit better than we were before.’

It’s hard to measure that and what I wanted coming in was something that we could measure our progress toward.

To me, a top 25 public research university is generally known as providing a top 25 experience to all its students—undergraduate, graduate, and postdocs.

The dialogue we need to have now is, collectively, what does that need to look like, what are the components of that, and how do we put the resources in place to make that happen.

There are a number of publications in the media that provide ratings of colleges and universities each year, but they don’t do a great job of rating/ranking achievements, as noted in a New York Times editorial this past Sunday.

What we want to do is select 8-10 major metrics that will allow us to measure our success and compare ourselves against our peers and competition. We don’t need to rely on U.S. News and World report to tell us how we are doing.

Are these metrics set? No.

We want engagement and input from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and stakeholders, which can be done through the Drive to 25 website, or email, or a letter. We want people to feel free to make suggestions, criticisms, positive and negative comments. They will all be posted on the website.

It’s important that we have this institutional dialogue.

Grand Challenges

DB: Given the strategic plan, Grand Challenges, and Drive to 25 initiative, I believe we are well positioned to realize these goals—certainly better than at any time in the 11 years that I have been here.

The Five Grand Challenges research themes are:

  • Sustaining health
  • Sustainable resources
  • Opportunity and equity
  • Smart systems
  • National security

This doesn’t mean we won’t have competitive research programs in other challenges, but these represent the top areas where we currently want to be moving.

To help push these initiatives, we took half of the 5% budget reallocation and put it toward these. That’s a $29 million investment in multidisciplinary research and student success projects that have a 5-plus year life.

Medical college update

KS: The medical college is certainly one of the exciting things happening at WSU. The initial accreditation visit occurred in June, and we’re anticipating a decision in late October. We’re anticipating the outcome will be positive, but until we get the final word, we cannot begin recruiting students.

Right now, we’re also initiating a fundraising effort to support the inaugural class of 60 students who will begin class next summer. Our hope is that each of those students would have some form of scholarship support raised privately to assist them with debt reduction.

Meanwhile, we’re also hiring faculty, associate deans, clinic partners, clinical faculty, and making sure we have equipment and facilities in place.

High-level administrative hires

KS: We currently have four high-level position searches that are planned or underway.

* Vice president of student affairs

* Vice president of marketing communications

* Vice president of financial and administration (down to last stages)

* Dean of Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture

We’re going to go through a national search for each of these, to ensure we look at and select the best candidates possible. And maybe those candidates are already here.

We hope to have people named to all of these positions and in place by Jan. 1, 2017.

Building facilities

KS: Everyone I talk to says they need improved teaching and research space, and office space, and these (facilities currently under construction) certainly won’t be the last.

  • Chinook Student Center (former Bookie)
  • Troy Hall renovation
  • Digital Classroom
  • Academic Building at North Puget Sound Everett
  • Elson S. Floyd Cultural Center