The University and Its Environment February 20, 1995



The success of strategic planning depends in part on developing an understanding of--and general agreement about --the environment in which planning occurs. Consequently, an important component of Achieving Distinction was Appendix B: The University and Its Environment, the set of assumptions on which the University's first strategic plan was based. Part of the charge given to the 1994 University Strategic Planning Committee by President Hunter R. Rawlings III was to review and update the University's environmental context for the next five-year cycle of strategic planning. The present report summarizes and describes selected facets of the University and its environment, provides background for the main assumptions about the environment in the University's Strategic Plan, and calls attention to significant trends that may affect the future of the University.
As in 1989, we hope that the environmental report will provide an informed basis for the University's deliberations about its future. Again, the report emphasizes the environment of the University as a whole and, insofar as possible, adopts a comparative approach, contrasting the University with peer institutions and its own past. Every effort has been made to provide the most recent and accurate statistics, but we urge caution in interpretation because the availability and quality of the data vary.
Although most of the current report on environmental assumptions follows the organization and content of the 1989 report, some parts have been re-ordered, several components have been expanded or added, and some sections have been shortened. In particular, little of the history reviewed in the first report is repeated, but a condensed version is sometimes used to introduce current topics of interest. Because we omitted topics on which we had little new to say, those seeking more background on certain continuing issues may wish to refer to the 1989 Environmental Assumptions statement.
The present document devotes considerably more attention than its predecessor to the role of research and scholarship at The University of Iowa, emphasizing the contribution of the research effort to instruction, extramural funding, and economic development. New sections deal with emerging issues in health care, communication technology, and distance learning. An abbreviated organizational table of the University's current administrative structure has been added. Where appropriate, we have noted gains and changes from five years ago, as well as a few instances in which prior concerns did not materialize or have changed with time.

Selected Issues in Higher Education

In the course of the Strategic Planning Committee's discussions with many individuals in the University community, a large variety of issues and concerns about the future of higher education came to our attention. This section provides an overview of those we consider most important. Some issues are treated in more detail in later sections; others, which are of less immediate or central concern, are mentioned only briefly as signposts for future discussions. All are part of the background that may affect the Environmental Assumptions for the next five years of strategic planning.

Communications infrastructure

Closely allied with the computer revolution, changes in communication technology are rapidly affecting every aspect of information transfer and patterns of human communication. The development of the Iowa Communications Network and the growing influence and use of the computer internet are just two obvious indications of our involvement in the communications revolution. Like all segments of society, higher education will change as a result--and we must prepare for that change. However, technological improvement is only part of a larger concern with better institutional, interdisciplinary, and interpersonal communication. On many occasions, students, staff, faculty, and administrators expressed concern about adequacy of our present efforts to communicate with each other.

Distance learning

High expectations about delivery of educational services, from elementary classrooms to professional consultation in surgical theaters, have emerged as another consequence of improved communication technology. From every corner of the state and region to every discipline represented at the University, there will be greater demands for sharing expertise and providing knowledge. There will be intense competition among providers of educational services through electronic networks. Sooner than we think, the new technologies will re-shape the universities of the future and The University of Iowa must be in a position to attract students who can select from the offerings of many competing "virtual universities."

Impact of secondary school reform

The reform movement in primary and secondary education may soon affect students seeking to enter The University of Iowa and the credentials they will submit for admission. We must prepare to evaluate the qualifications of students whose pre-collegiate education reflects these reforms, and we must be ready to adjust our expectations about the different types of educational experiences that these students may have had.

Postdoctoral education

An ever-present but often neglected subpopulation of research universities consists of post-doctoral scholars who seek additional training in virtually every discipline. They are often professional colleagues and a prime source of temporary instructors. We must pay more attention to the educational, professional, and personal needs of this vital segment of academia.

A continuing emphasis on higher education as a basis for national competitiveness

To members of Congress the term "national competitiveness" normally means economic competitiveness, but to some it also implies cultural competitiveness or enhancement of national security. The end of the Cold War will continue to cause shifts in research priorities and federal funding. Scholars and researchers will be expected to adjust to these new priorities. Nevertheless, the nation will continue to rely on its strength in higher education as a source of new knowledge and technologies. Institutions of higher learning will be expected to provide knowledge about the cultures, languages, and values of international friends and competitors.

A growing concern with the high cost of education

The public sector of the national higher education agenda will be affected by complaints of constituents to legislators about the affordability of higher education, exacerbated by escalating tuition over the last decade. Such concerns reflect in part a vagueness about the relationship between the price of attending college and the actual costs of educating students. Universities will be expected to exhibit greater efficiency and cost awareness, while informing the public about the forces that cause rising expenditures.

Increased Demands for Accountability.

Because the nation's leading research universities receive funds from many sources and are responsible to many agencies, demands for reporting and accountability are high and rising annually. From fiscal auditing to accreditation reviews, every function of the University receives close scrutiny. Although a necessary responsibility of higher education, the production of these reports increases costs and places time-intensive demands on the personnel of the University.

Concern about the access of minorities to higher education

More questions about the federal role in improving minorities' access to post-secondary education are likely and, as a consequence, greater reporting requirements may be instituted. Broader questions about the impact of national, especially federal, trends on affirmative action goals and procedures also seem likely.

Health care reform

Another prominent national issue with great local consequences centers on health care reform. The changes we anticipate will affect education in the health colleges, access to patient populations for The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and delivery of health services to the University community. A new chapter on Health Care has been added to this document to summarize the broad impact of this vital concern.