March 10 & 21, 2016


This paper summarizes the fourth set of strategic planning discussions held at the University of North Carolina Asheville. For an overview of the planning process and goals, as well as a summary of the previous discussions, please refer to the Summary of Initial Discussions on November 18-19, 2016; the Summary of Discussions on January 13-14, 2016; and the Summary of Discussions February 17-18, 2016. To date over 250 individuals have had the opportunity to provide input to the strategic planning process.

Overview of March Sessions

 Two discussion groups were held in March. This paper highlights sessions with the following groups:

  • Advancement Staff (15) Session held on March 10 and facilitated by Heather Parlier and Bill Haggard; Cambridge Concord Associates analyzed the notes and prepared the summary.
  • Sustainability Council (March 21, 8 participants) Session held on March 21 and facilitated by Heather Parlier and Joe Urgo; Cambridge Concord Associates participated by conference call and prepared the summary.

These conversations provided additional valuable input on the issues and opportunities facing UNC Asheville. Highlights of each of these discussions are included on the following pages. Each group explored broad topics most relevant for them, and specific content varied based on the constituency and its perspective.

In addition to these discussions, the Strategic Planning Task Force held a full day retreat on March 11. This meeting focused on identifying emerging values and major themes to be discussed in planning. Highlights of this information will be shared at the all campus meetings on March 28.

Advancement Staff

Highlights of the Discussion:

Strengths of UNC Asheville

  • Small size and close relationships between students and faculty, allowing for in-depth conversation and interactions.
  • Professors who care and provide a world class education at an affordable price. UNC Asheville is an undergraduate institution where faculty are teachers, and this forms close bonds between faculty and students.
  • Student Affairs staff and programs provide important services to students and impact their UNC Asheville experience and their personal development.
  • The community of Asheville is a great match for the university. We are “riding on the coattails of this community.” With programs like OLLI (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute), CCCD (Center for Craft, Creativity & Design), and RAMP (River Arts Makers Place), we are paving our way more with the community.
  • UNC Asheville provides great value for the quality of education that students receive.

Challenges for UNC Asheville

  • Communication and visibility are significant challenges:
    • UNC Asheville is not as visible as it needs to be in the city of Asheville and beyond, while other institutions are more visible. “We don’t tell our story enough and let people know we are here.”
    • UNC Asheville was traditionally a “fall back school” for local students and didn’t have a relationship with the city. We have made progress but need to do more. How can we get our message to guidance counselors in high schools and middle schools so they know what we have and what we offer?
    • Ambassadors and others who provide information about UNC Asheville need to be better informed about the many programs on campus, so that they can accurately educate others.
    • Lack of graduate programs: it would be helpful to have something more than a master of liberal arts, which people don’t understand. We lose students to competing programs such as Lenoir-Rhyne and Western.
    • It is difficult for professors to spend time on undergraduate research because of their many other commitments.
    • Many faculty and staff will be retiring in the next several years. How do we capture the knowledge and experience that these people possess so that we don’t have to recreate it?

Opportunities and Threats

  • How does a liberal arts education translate into jobs? What value does a liberal arts education provide? We know it is valuable, but we must be aware of external forces and the need to communicate our story and the value of liberal arts.
  • The external environment is changing rapidly, and education tends to be slow to adapt in systematic ways. Our small size could be a benefit, but it also presents risks.
  • Diversity on campus and the ability to compete with other schools for diverse students in North Carolina is a challenge. We need to be sure we have a competitive package in order to attract diverse students. Financial aid is critical so that we can compete with other institutions in giving packages. If other schools can give more, how can we make students stay here?

Community Engagement

  • Engage the business community so they will help us get the funds we are not getting through the state. “We are state assisted, not state funded.”
  • Continue and expand events such as Super Saturday, Concerts on the Quad, and Athletics. Promote these programs and make them visible in the community.
  • Increase visibility wherever the community is. Provide flags and banners for all businesses.

Future: What would you like to see at UNC Asheville in the future?

  • Define the direction for the university. Does it want to have more elite status or be for everyone? Are we improving our standards by the ways in which we accept students? Where should we be looking for students—well-educated students down east, or the local community?
  • Engage alumni and don’t lose them. “We should be the philanthropic choice with alumni across the world.”
  • We need to build resources because we don’t know how state funding and requirements will change. We need to make sure we can support ourselves.
  • Improve and enhance facilities and property.
    • A performing arts center that will serve the campus and bring the community to campus
    • Investments in more property
    • More collaborative space, living/learning suites to support collaborative projects
    • Dining facilities and a living/learning community downtown for masters students
    • A better pool, to bring the public more to campus, particularly high school and middle school students and private teams
  • Enhanced communications
    • Build more visibility for UNC Asheville and what we offer. Increase the visibility of Admissions.
    • Leverage our media contacts to get the information out to the community.
    • Get the Mayor and representatives of the Chamber of Commerce to our events.
    • Get more local media coverage for things like the Princeton Review ranking of UNC Asheville as #1 in making an impact.
  • Strengthen relationships with businesses so they will want to support us and put their names on buildings at UNC Asheville.
  • Restructure the career center and build stronger relationships across North Carolina, and in particular in Asheville, because many students would like to stay in the area but there are few opportunities.
    • The career center and alumni should be in one office with the family business forum.
    • The strength of the career center is something parents consider when looking at colleges. They want to know their children will be able to get good jobs when they graduate.
    • Can we partner with other institutions in the UNC system, so our alumni in different areas could benefit from career centers and fairs?
  • Desired characteristics for the future:
    • Fiscal and facility sustainability
    • More students (75-80%) and faculty living on campus
    • State-of-the-art residences and classroom spaces
    • More public/private partnerships to bring more people to events on campus
    • A waitlist in admissions because we are so desirable
    • Increased donations from alumni throughout their lives
    • Broad understanding that this is Asheville’s university
  • We will need a significant capital campaign to accomplish all of these desires.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Focus on a few goals that are the right goals.
  • Allow for flexibility so the plan can adapt to new opportunities.
  • Communicate what was accomplished with the previous strategic plan and where we are.
  • Provide for cross campus collaboration and communication so we are all going in the same direction. Be clear about how individuals and departments fit and how they participate in the plan.
  • Communication: define goals for sharing the plan and disseminate it widely.

Sustainability Council

Highlights of the Discussion:

Strengths of UNC Asheville

  • Students have opportunities to have an impact that is felt across the school, through the Student Environmental Center, which affects more than students, or by contributing their thoughts on such topics as renovations of residence halls. Students’ views make a difference. This empowers them and enriches their experience.
  • Professors and students relate very closely in small class sizes. This model may be disappearing nationally, and we need to keep it strong.
  • We teach a liberal arts curriculum that is directed toward problem solving and interacting with real issues facing the world.
  • The value of a UNC Asheville education has been recognized by the Princeton Review, with our being cited as #1 for “making an impact.”
  • The progressive nature of the Asheville community reinforces and enhances the community as a whole.
  • We are North Carolina’s only public liberal arts institution. We need to continue to support this and remain true to our mission.
  • We have had the lowest energy usage/square foot of any of the colleges in North Carolina. Although that has slipped a bit, we are still doing well.

Weaknesses of UNC Asheville

  • Our small size is both a strength and a weakness.
    • A weakness for Division I Athletics
    • Lots of one-person offices or staff. We use a lot of student employment, which can add extra work. Staff are asked to wear several hats, and that can be hard.
    • Everyone is very busy and it can be challenging.
  • We are not as diverse a community as we would like.
  • Student employment is a strength and a weakness.
    • Good to have jobs, but bureaucratic processes can make it difficult.
    • Pay is low and not competitive with off-campus employment.
    • Some campus opportunities are only available to some students because of economic constraints.
  • There is a perception among some on campus that sustainability applies only to infrastructure and buildings. As a core value, sustainability needs to have meaning and value across the institution.
    • Sustainability also means social and cultural sustainability. UNC Asheville provides education to many students who had not been on a university track, first generation students or others whose academic record might have led them elsewhere. These students become aware of their own capacity and are educated, but these efforts take time and resources. Faculty and staff workloads need to match these outcomes.
    • Academic sustainability: There are opportunities to infuse sustainability into courses in every discipline.
    • Economic sustainability: Growth can address economic needs, but when does growth damage the unique character of UNC Asheville and the close relationships?
    • The three sustainabilities—environmental, social, and economic—need to balance each other. Understanding the broad concept of sustainability is important.
    • Sustainability also implies a responsibility to future generations, which we must address.

Community Engagement

  • Position UNC Asheville as a hub in the Asheville area for critical conversations around sustainability and embrace our role as a convener of deep conversations about important issues.
  • Build on the success of NEMAC and the potential for Asheville to be a worldwide center for climate studies, with UNC Asheville as an important player.
  • Consider graduate programs that would serve the community without compromising our liberal arts mission and commitment to undergraduate education. Convene a campus-wide conversation to discuss this.


  • Continue to integrate sustainability into the academic program and into co-curricular activities.
  • Address deferred maintenance needs, which are significant and can prevent us from being able to advance sustainability as much as we would like. The state of North Carolina and UNC Asheville have to find ways to redirect resources to deal with the backlog of deferred maintenance.
  • Be sure that expansion and growth don’t damage the things that make the campus special and attract people, including physical spaces, green spaces, recreation spaces, etc. Any expansion should incorporate more green space.
  • Be true to our value of sustainability and divest from investments in fossil fuels and invest in sustainable energy.
  • Be a zero waste campus and work toward being a net zero energy user.
  • Position UNC Asheville as the sustainability leader in the UNC system and make visible sustainability commitments.
    • Set specific sustainability goals that are supported by the highest levels of administration, in such areas as land use, management of facilities and grounds, academic programs, expectations for research, renewable energy commitment, canopy cover, ecological preserves, storm water management, etc.
  • Be a nationwide demonstration site of what a sustainable university could look like. This might include:
    • Integrated environmental literacy across the curriculum
    • Training chemistry students in “green chemistry”
    • Achieving the goal of being carbon negative
    • More trees and enhanced green spaces
    • Sustainable design that contributes to air and water purification
    • Support for habitats, nesting sites, etc.
    • Creating an area dedicated to long term environmental research and restoration that could support faculty research and undergraduate research over time
  • Create an institute on sustainability in the humanities, with research that informs public policy.
    • Expanded activities at the intersection between environmental sustainability and the humanities
    • Initiatives that will allow us to build relationships with others and become a leader at the intersection of sustainability and humanities.
    • Fundraising strategies based on this niche
  • Increase staffing in support of sustainability efforts.
  • More sophisticated fundraising in support of sustainability. Target alumni and other donors who share these goals.
  • Develop a sustainable plan for the 22 acres of land across Broadway.
  • Do a facilities condition index and a needs index. Take a holistic approach to balancing deferred maintenance with new things we would like to add.
  • Educate the campus so people understand the synergies among environmental sustainability, academics, recruitment, health and wellness, etc.

Advice for the Strategic Planning Task Force

  • Implement environmental sustainability as a core value in the strategic and master planning processes. Think of sustainability as a core value that guides the way we do everything, rather than a specific action. Through strategic planning, evolve our thinking to understand sustainability as a core value, similar to a core value around diversity.
  • Review the memorandum of understanding with the city of Asheville, which has two areas that relate to environmental sustainability, and use this to inform our strategic priorities.
  • Rewrite the UNC Asheville mission statement so that everyone can understand and communicate it.