KPU President Evaluates Vision 2018

After five years working towards the goals laid out in KPU’s strategic plan, Alan Davis reflects on the successes and setbacks the university has encountered

(Nicole Kwit)

In 2013, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University administration formed a committee to plan the goals they wanted the institution to achieve in the near future.

Over the next nine months, the university devised and implemented a strategic plan they called Vision 2018. The plan primarily focuses on three themes for KPU to exemplify in the achievement of its goals over a five year period: quality, relevance, and reputation.

Nearly five years later, the 2018 deadline set in the document is nearly upon us. We’re now able to take a look at the specific objectives that KPU has been able to achieve in that time, as well as those that were perhaps a little too ambitious for the university to pull off.

“Vision 2018 was kind of an institutionally, somewhat-inward focused document. We hadn’t had a plan like this before for the university,” says KPU President Alan Davis, who wrote a forward for the document. “There was a need within the institution to get some kind of clarity on where we were strong, where we could do more, where we need to press our advantage.”

While compiling the Vision 2018 plan, voices from communities in and around KPU were able to weigh in through town halls and other events held by the university. Alan Davis estimates that around 700 people were involved in putting together the original plan.

Since Vision 2018’s inception, the university has been publishing its progress on the Strategic Planning section of its website. The most recent report was released in February of 2016, and the next and final report for Vision 2018 is expected to be posted early next year.

The three themes of “quality, relevance, and reputation” are each broken down into three specific action plans in the document. Progress on these actions is measured by a wide range of quantifiable metrics, some of which were already mandated by the provincial government. Course outcomes, satisfaction surveys, and post-graduation consultations with students are among the sources used to gage success.

According to the most recent report, KPU is on track to achieving many of its goals. All of the metrics measuring graduate success are in the green, including the rates of graduate employment both inside and outside of their fields of study. The number of first-year students who stay at KPU until graduation is also up to the university’s standards, and the collected data suggests high rates of student satisfaction with the quality of their education.

Employee satisfaction rates are on target as well, and while KPU is not particularly well-known for its research, the amount of funding received for sponsored research initiatives has also been met.

On other subjects, KPU has seen mixed success. It’s currently 60 to 90 per cent of the way to achieving its goals of raising the number of students in its formal international exchange programs, and its reputation remains mediocre.

One area where KPU has fallen well short of its goals is in institutional growth. In Vision 2018, the target for institutional growth was five per cent per year. During the early years after the strategic plan was ratified, growth remained stagnant at essentially zero per cent before gradually reaching two to three per cent.

Davis says that he’s happy with the university’s current efforts to spur growth, citing KPU’s successful rebranding push, which included increasing its advertising presence in the Lower Mainland. These ads were centred around the new “where thought meets action” tagline. He also says that making the university’s recruitment strategy and admission system more efficient has played a role in its recent increases in institutional growth.

In retrospect, Davis admits that the five per cent growth target set in Vision 2018 was overly ambitious for a relatively new university, one that faces intense competition from over a dozen other post-secondary institutions in the region. He concedes this despite the fact that it was his idea.

“I can remember when we were in the strategic planning group and I said, ‘Well, we’re a growing region. If we can fix some of our processes and improve international recruitment and do all these other things, I think we should be shooting for five,’” recalls Davis. “Nobody disagreed.”

Davis believes that part of the reason for KPU’s lack of growth is that it receives relatively little funding from British Columbia’s government compared to other institutions. The university gets the second lowest provincial grant amount in B.C. relative to the population of the region that it serves.

“If we had better funding for full time enrollment … and if we had more full time enrollment, that would give us room to flesh out our degree programs, to open up more sections to create a funnel to come into some of the less popular programs so we have a stronger flow,” says Davis.

Currently, departments are limited mostly to one campus, meaning that students based near a KPU campus that does not offer their required courses need to make the trek out to a different city for school every week. In many cases, this simply is not practical. Davis says that, with a higher per capita grant, the university would be able to offer a wider range of programs on all of its campuses, which would increase the university’s recruitment and growth.

While the growth of KPU’s domestic student population has remained flat, the increasing number of international students has driven the university’s expansion. For this, Davis credits the rebuilding and reinventing of KPU’s international education office as well as a series of successful marketing campaigns overseas.

In general, universities in Canada are seeing a massive influx of international students due to Canada’s ever-growing desirability as place to study. As a result, KPU’s revenue is now highly dependent on international students.

Davis says that, going forward, the university will put significant effort into deciding how much to invest in the international market and which countries to advertise in.

“We want to make sure our [international] enrolments are sustained and diversified, so if something happens like the regulations change in one country, we can balance that out with recruitment in another country,” says Davis “At the same time, we have to balance that out with the fact that our primary job is to serve our region.”

Another factor that Davis says may have had an effect on KPU reaching its 2018 goals is the turnaround on the management team. He explains that several key employees have retired, relocated, or changed careers since his first term began.

“That’s been more of a challenge than I expected it to be. We’re all happy and we love working here and we’re very dedicated to the task at hand, but it’s hard when people come and go because they can get positions elsewhere because they can be paid more, and it’s hard recruiting people to come to the Lower Mainland with the cost of living,” he says. “So that’s been an ongoing challenge during the last five years.”

With Vision 2018’s deadline in sight, Davis is already thinking about how the university will set its aspirations over the next five years There will be a new target for growth that Davis says will likely be somewhat more grounded than Vision 2018’s lofty expectation of five per cent per year. Current and projected trends in the world of post-secondary education, including a focus on the adoption of new technologies, will likely inform Vision 2023. Davis would also like to see the next plan focus even more on student success, both academically and in the other aspects of their lives.

“I think that my Vision 2023 will be much shorter and hopefully more aspirational,” he says. “It will set a direction which I think will be very much a continuation of Vision 2018, with some modifications.”