UND Today

University of North Dakota's Official News Source

A plan for change

UND President Mark Kennedy formally launches much-anticipated ‘One UND’ Strategic Plan

UND President Mark Kennedy
UND President Mark Kennedy leads the unveiling of the new “One UND” Strategic Plan on Friday, May 5, in the Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Laurie Betting and Dana Harsell beamed as they greeted wave after wave of faculty, staff, and students pouring into UND’s Memorial Union Lecture Bowl. After months of research, meetings and development, the UND Strategic Planning Committee co-chairs were ready to help President Mark Kennedy share their 5-year blueprint with campus.

“I am immensely proud of the work that the planning committee did,” Betting said before the May 5 Strategic Plan launch. “This plan has the ability to not only recognize and address the changing landscape of higher education, but to position the University of North Dakota to be the premier flagship of the Northern Plains.”

Once the full-capacity crowd was seated, Kennedy took his place in front of the audience.

“We’re here today to shed light on the road we’ve traveled and the road we have yet to travel,” Kennedy said. “I believe there is a bright tomorrow in store for the University of North Dakota if we focus on the future that the Strategic Plan sets out.”

Understanding threats

After recounting how the committee defined the University’s mission as benefiting its students and the state, Kennedy identified a variety of bubbling threats would make that mission difficult if UND does not prepare now. Those threats include free and expanded online content from premier universities, accelerating degree competition, and reduced state funding with a heightened focus on student debt. Kennedy gave examples of opinion leaders who suggest that the diminished role of traditional degrees and brick-and-mortar campuses will result in many colleges being closed in the years ahead.

“This chatter is increasing in intensity and frequency. At what point does it become just the tipping point and everybody accepts it?” Kennedy asked. While pressing the need to make changes necessary to not just survive, but thrive in this environment, he elicited a metaphorical comparison to the Greater Grand Forks flood of 1997.

“If you’re saying, ‘Mark, you’re being too negative, I don’t think it’s really that bad’—if you’re wrong, we’re aren’t going to have a recovery mode,” Kennedy continued. “We always need to ask ourselves, when we’re pressing and asking questions, is that a 55-foot question, or is that a 49-foot question?”

UND President Mark Kennedy
Kennedy presented the new strategic plan for the University to a full-capacity audience, which included those in spillover seating in the nearby Loading Dock area of the Memorial Union. Photo by Shawna Schill.

Harnessing opportunities

The President then shifted to identifying opportunities to excel at what cannot easily be done online, presenting the three pillars of the Strategic Plan—Learning, Discovery and Engagement.


Within the Learning pillar the President focused on action items that would build a strong liberal arts foundation, increase graduation rates and deliver more online and on-campus opportunities for students.

To develop that liberal arts base, the plan calls for more experiential learning opportunities (writing intensive courses, internships, studies abroad, etc.), a first-year experience course and more emphasis on building cross-discipline degrees—like fusing technical or business majors/minors with those in humanities or arts. “We’re really, in a lot of ways, moving into the world of ‘AND.’ It’s not liberal arts ‘OR’ occupational skills —it’s ‘AND’ that we need to be preparing our students for,” Kennedy explained.

The second goal of the Learning pillar—increasing the four-year graduation rate from 28 percent to 34 percent—can be achieved with expanded student support. Kennedy described how UND plans to fully utilize Starfish, predictive analytics, outbound calling campaigns and degree planners to help keep students on track.

Kennedy rounded out the Learning pillar goals by outlining how UND will recruit more students and increase the number of credit hours taught by 10 percent by 2022.

First, UND must solidify its first-rate image under a new Vice President of Marketing and Communications, with the rollout of a unified brand, an upgraded responsive website, new landing pages and enhanced digital advertising. Kennedy said the University must also attract more students with a recruiting software upgrade, more sought-after online degree programs and more scholarship offerings.

Kennedy added that two key elements, in addition to strong academics, are important in attracting students to UND—athletics and the campus itself.

“Athletics continues to be the front porch of a University, that brings people to our campus to get them to see all of the great things we have inside,” he said, then expounding to explain how a conference realignment and effective name and logo transition would help develop that porch.

And once students are drawn in by the “front porch,” they have to like the look of the rest of the “house.”

“I think the bones of our campus are amongst the most beautiful of campuses I’ve ever seen. But, the bones are getting a little tired,” Kennedy said. “The average building is 50 years old, and we’re nearly $500 million in deferred maintenance.”

Kennedy laid out changes the campus has made so far (new buildings like Robin Hall and remodels of classrooms and working spaces) and changes yet to come (removing buildings from campus, exploring alternatives to the current steam plant, and the Coulee to Columbia initiative). The next steps will be completing campus’s Master Planning process by early next year, and creating a capital plan to fund areas not covered by the legislature or donors—like cracked sidewalks and roof repairs.


The main goal of the Strategic Plan’s second pillar—Discovery—is to bring UND’s research funding to a level consistent with the country’s top research universities.

“As the second-richest oil state in the country, we should have one of the 115 most research-intensive universities. That’s going to help diversify the economy away from the cyclical commodity ups and downs that we’ve had,” Kennedy said.

The plan calls for more internal and external funding for research focused on UND’s designated five Grand Challenge areas, and a more intentional emphasis on Ph.D.’s—an area in which UND is falling behind North Dakota State University.

“As a flagship, we shouldn’t be behind NDSU in Ph.D.’s. If we want to drive what we want to do in research, we have to have [Ph.D’.s],” Kennedy said, adding that UND will need to redeploy tuition waivers used for master’s degrees towards driving Ph.D. programs aligned with UND’s Grand Challenges.


The intent of the final pillar—Engagement—is to foster a welcoming and inclusive campus climate, meet the educational needs of military personnel, and actively engage with UND’s alumni and donors.

Kennedy hopes that initiatives like a newly-formed cabinet of student leaders, cultural event passports and student exchange opportunities will nurture social growth on campus.

UND will look to strengthen its reputation as a military-friendly school by creating more opportunities for active duty and reserve personnel who need their education to be portable and specific to their service careers. Kennedy pointed to UND’s Aviation Technology Management degree and a proposed master’s degree in Unmanned System Integration as examples.

The President called on deans and division heads to become drivers of the final goal of the Engagement pillar—attracting alumni and donor support. He added that going forward, he expects campus advisory boards to be 100 percent engaged in the fundraising process.

UND will also launch a 2017 mini matching campaign for scholarships. “That would include creating a fund available to a committee of faculty, staff and students that they could allocate out when they hear ideas about experiential learning,” Kennedy explained.

Stability during change

The image of a construction site was projected behind Kennedy, a visualization of the work in store for the University.

“We need to get everyone to pick up their shovel and start shoveling to get it done,” he implored the audience.

To make the Strategic Plan a reality, Kennedy explained, job descriptions may have to change to align with what is needed to meet the plan’s seven goals. Each goal will have a captain who will provide monthly progress updates.

In September, there will be an implementation meeting when everyone arrives back on campus, and every college and staff unit will need to define how they will align with the plan.

Kennedy ended his presentation with another metaphor for those seeking stability during this time of rapid change. He told the personal story of riding in the bowels of the USS John C. Stennis, at sea in the middle of a tropical storm.

“If you went into the center of the aircraft carrier, working in tandem with everyone else, you hardly even noticed it,” he remembered. “We need to try to be as much aligned with the plan as possible. It’s going to be far more stable [if you’re] aligned with the plan than if you go up on the deck and try to brave the storms alone.”

As UND’s new shipmates left the room, each was handed a laminated pocket-sized copy of the Strategic Plan’s vision, values and goals—a tangible reminder of the journey ahead.

“If we embrace these goals, if we drive towards these metrics, we can deliver much more opportunity for generations of students and our state going forward,” Kennedy said.

President Kennedy’s full presentation can be found here.