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ETSU taking the long view on its goals for the future

Rex Barber • Sep 8, 2013 at 9:32 PM

What do you think you’ll think of Johnson City in 2036?

A new report released by East Tennessee State University’s Committee for 125 paints a picture of the future where the university is the “pre-eminent player in the region.”

Increasing enrollment, improving retention rates, engaging the community, developing new programs, enhancing faculty/staff pay and professional development opportunities and increasing the number of students who live near campus are all part of the report.

But how the school accomplishes all these goals by the 125th anniversary of its opening is up to the campus and regional communities.

“I think it’s aggressive,” ETSU President Brian Noland said of the report. “I’m of the opinion that the Committee for 125 set forth a vision. They did not set forth an action plan. They did not say ‘here’s what you have to do.’ ”

The Committee for 125, which was led by Louis Gump, presented the report a couple of weeks ago.

“As an institution, we’re digesting their findings and recommendations,” Noland said. “We will incorporate their work into the strategic planning for the institution.”

Noland said the main task now is to take this report and prioritize items for the short, long and extended terms. The discussion around these issues will all be part of the shared governance process at ETSU, wherein students, faculty and staff representatives will all have input.

One of the first items discussed in the report is the need to provide clarity with the university brand for marketing purposes.

Noland said bringing clarity to ETSU’s identity is very important. He pointed out there are several shades of gold and blue on the school website.

“If you see the colors light blue and white, automatically you think of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,” he said. “If you see an ‘F,’ you know it’s Florida. If you see an ‘A,’ you know it’s App State.”

That immediate color or symbol recognition is how you build a brand and enrollment, Noland said.

Noland said focus groups will be convened throughout this fall to look at branding, logos, colors and other aspects of the university identity. Will that result in a new logo? Maybe. Does there need to be one easily identifiable ETSU image? Yes, Noland said.

“If you’re going to hit those enrollment targets, part of the challenge will be to identify who we are,” he said.

The 125 report set a goal of 20,000 students enrolled by 2036. Noland thinks 18,000 is possible by the end of this decade.

Noland pointed out that upcoming private housing complex developments within the next two years should create 1,000 new beds for students in the area surrounding campus. That number of students combined with the roughly 3,000 who already live on campus means the culture of the campus should begin to change.

“People say it’s a commuter campus,” he said. “I believe that as we move to (18,000 students) the composition of those students is going to change.”

More students who live within walking distance of the school will lead to more development around the university, which is another topic of discussion in the 125 report.

“We can only be as strong as our partnership with downtown Johnson City,” Noland said. “Students who are experiencing post-secondary education are of the generation who expect a developed downtown.”

Students from places like Knoxville, Chattanooga, Nashville and Asheville, N.C., know what a redeveloped downtown can offer for culture and experience, Noland said.

“So I see our ability to grow and reach 18,000 students intimately linked with the ... development of the corridor between downtown Johnson City and ETSU,” he said.

Some things in the report were identified early on in the process. For instance, adding a welcome center to the parking garage that is now being built was one such idea that was put on the fast track before the report was complete. The establishment of a new football team was something else that was fast tracked, mainly to take advantage of conference-affiliation opportunity that would have likely disappeared had the school delayed, Noland said.

New programs including engineering and dentistry are in the 125 report.

ETSU administrators recently visited Memphis to talk with University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center counterparts about a possible partnership on a dentistry program that could be based in Kingsport.

“We are very early in the process,” Noland said.

He said oral hygiene education is lacking in East Tennessee and most students interested in a career in dentistry go out of state for their education.

“All the factors point to the need for enhanced dental education in East Tennessee,” he said.

A dental school, though, will require state support, which is why ETSU is pursuing a partnership that will help this region fill the educational gap and the state meets its goals.

Still, a dental school is a large prospect and a major undertaking.

“It’s going to take partnerships across local, state and federal governments to bring this project to fruition,” Noland said.

Access this report and other materials related to the 125 topic at www.etsu.edu/125.

“There’s not anything in that report that’s outside the bounds of the possible,” Noland said.

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