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oklahoma state university student union

The Grand Aspiration: Strategy designed to make OSU preeminent land-grant university

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Media Contact: Mack Burke | Associate Director of Media Relations | 405-744-5540 |

It’s the start of a new chapter in the history of Oklahoma State University.

On Oct. 12, the Cowboy family was invited to a live reveal of the strategy that will guide OSU into the future. Built on pillars of student experience and success, the strategy capitalizes on the intersection of OSU’s research strengths and where they converge with society’s grand challenges and the needs of our state.

“This plan is transformative and bold … and has implications that extend to the state and higher education as a whole,” OSU President Kayse Shrum said at the reveal. “Here’s the grand aspiration: We will become the nation’s preeminent land-grant university.”

The process that created the strategy took almost a year. Once Dr. Shrum was named OSU’s 19th president, it took her only five months before she announced the impending undertaking publicly in November 2021. Although her time was largely consumed filling key positions and dealing with the Big 12 shake-up, she wasn’t going to put defining a strategy off for a better time.

“You have to know where you want to go if you have any hope of getting there,” she said. “After I was selected as the next president, conversations about the strategy planning process began as early as May or June. Waiting would have only delayed the process, not made it better.”

OSU began the process on solid footing. Enrollment was strong. Research was making great strides in multiple areas. World-class facilities were in place and moving programs forward. Positive advancements would have likely continued on a steady, predictable pace without dramatic intervention.

But the status quo wasn’t good enough.

“I consider Oklahoma State University to be a research powerhouse. Couple that with our presence in all 77 counties and our five-campus system, and we can change what’s possible, including the face of higher education for our students,” Shrum said. “We can improve our
students’ experience and also apply our research prowess to society’s greatest challenges. With some targeted fundraising aimed at thoughtfully selected areas, there is no limit to what this university can accomplish.”  

Senior Vice President of System Operations Jerome Loughridge led the strategy design process. He has a long career in strategic planning from the university level to corporate leadership, primarily in the energy sector.

“The challenges are very similar,” he said. “It boils down to this: Are you willing to make a choice and is your organization willing to make a decision? That’s the common denominator irrespective of the type of organization.”

Consultants recommended an 18-24 month timeline from start to completion.

“We said, ‘Great, we’re going to do it in about a year,’” Loughridge said. “I think we were able to meet that time commitment without sacrificing the breadth of the discussion. I can’t say enough about those on campus who provided input, and that input extended to the Cowboy nation: alumni, donors, corporate industry partners, tribal partners, political leaders. The strategy was the collation of a very broad range of thought.”

Positions on the committees were not restricted to leadership.

Tashia Cheves, manager of student retention and OSU alumnus, served on the steering committee.

“I have served on many committees and working groups in the past,” Cheves said. “One thing I felt was exceptional about the strategy process was that the working groups were put together intentionally to bring in voices of the folks who are ‘boots on the ground,’ and in the weeds doing the work. These voices are important because these are the people the strategies will impact the most.”

The strategy is a tailored plan born of design and the willingness to make decisions. It includes measurable and audacious goals designed to meet the needs of students, parents and Oklahoma’s workforce. It covers a wide range of topics and initiatives which have been carefully identified and developed to enhance career placement and career readiness, reimagine general education and improve higher education access by reducing student debt and setting new records for student scholarships. 

Those policy imperatives include specific targets for increasing student retention scholarships to record levels and reducing student debt by increasing the percentage of students graduating from OSU debt-free to at least 40% and reducing the percentage of students graduating with OSU debt in excess of $3,000 per year to less than 40% of graduates.

While working to reduce student debt, OSU is designing a new tool to help graduates compete in the job market — a unique student competency portfolio that will serve to highlight each student’s competencies and interdisciplinary skill set.

The plan itself is steeped in the land-grant mission.

“Land-grants were born from a need for accessible, affordable higher education,” Shrum said. “The goal was to provide those in rural and agricultural areas with an education relevant to everyday life. The university philosophy is predicated on the notion that we provide students with an education that will set them up for success after graduation while using the strength of our research to solve some of society’s most pressing problems.”

The strategy provides a framework for how OSU research will be used to address society’s most pressing challenges in four priority areas:

  • Innovating to nourish the world
  • Leading in aerospace innovation and application
  • Enhancing human and animal health (One Health)
  • Powering a growing world population sustainably and responsibly

Advances created by these areas will serve to enhance the quality of life, economic prospects and health outcomes for Oklahomans — with implications for worldwide application.

“Research, teaching and service belong to the land-grants, and we are Oklahoma’s flagship landgrant institution,” Shrum said. “We are called to serve the state and world, and we are well equipped to do that. This strategy is a bold step forward, and I’m proud of the work of the committees involved in its creation.” 

The strategy also details OSU’s plan forenhancing its strong academic and athletic reputation. OSU’s goal is to rank among the top 30 public universities for the awarding of nationally and internationally competitive scholarships, such as Truman and Fulbright scholarships, and consistently vie for championships and finish in the top 30 of the Directors Cup of competitive men’s and women’s Division I athletics.

The strategy will be carried out within the culture that is uniquely Oklahoma State.

Loughridge said he had the “great privilege” of becoming familiar with the Cowboy Code during the strategy process.

“At the end of the day, it’s what unifies the strategy,‘’ he said. “It makes the strategy process different. After spending some time in other parts of the higher-education forest, Cowboy culture is distinctive. It’s legitimate and it’s very powerful.
It’s what unifies the strategy.”

Loughridge said most organizations do not approach a strategic plan the way OSU did.

“The notion that the Cowboy culture produces servant-leaders who go on to impact good communities to make them great — I believe that to my core,” he said. “Does that make a strategy process different for OSU? Absolutely. The strategy that will guide Oklahoma State does not look like ones produced by other institutions. What most organizations do is take everything they’re up to, draw a big circle around it and call that strategy. What’s absent from that is a real examination of the core convictions and then the choices that derive from them.”

After the unveiling, the next step is for the university and the Cowboy family to own the path forward.

“It will take all of us,” Shrum said. “It’s vital for our faculty to help drive part of the forward motion. Provost Jeanette Mendez has announced several faculty fellows who will be our touch points for each of the imperatives as well as the four areas of emphasis. Our staff will be critical as well.

“Working together, we can push the bounds of what’s possible. We are land-grant, and this strategy is about exponentially building on our impactful legacy, focused on uncommon preeminence for the common good.”

Photos By: Gary Lawson and Phil Shockley

Story By: Shannon Rigsby and Mack Burke | STATE Magazine

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