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Transforming the University

1 - Institutional Profile

2 - Accreditation History

3 - Seven Key Challenges

  Challenge One

  Challenge Two

  Challenge Three

  Challenge Four

  Challenge Five

  Challenge Six

  Challenge Seven

Linking University Performance to Commission Criteria



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Transforming the University of Minnesota

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President Robert Bruininks
[Note:  This essay is adapted from President Bruininks’s February 2005 State of the University address to faculty, staff, students, and the general public and a June 2005 presentation to the Board of Regents. ]

There’s a story – probably apocryphal – about the famous English architect, Sir Christopher Wren, whose famous work included St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.  The story goes that Sir Christopher walked onto the worksite one day, unrecognized, and started talking to the people working there.

“What are you doing?” he asked one of the men, and the man replied, “Cutting a piece of stone.”

He put the same question to another man, and the man replied, “Earning five shillings.”

A third man had the answer Wren was looking for.  When asked what he was doing, he said, “I’m helping to build one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.”

Clearly, this third man had committed to a vision, one that was larger than him, yet was quite reliant on his best efforts and his dedication. 

Our Values   HLC 1c, HLC 4b

That same commitment to a vision – to transform this great institution into one of the world’s top public research universities within a decade – is what we are about today.  The Board of Regents' endorsement of this vision, and the changes it calls for, are based on enduring values that have guided this institution since its founding:

  • Excellence and Innovation – We are heirs to a 154-year legacy of innovation at the University, where people of average means but extraordinary imagination set world-class standards, and achieved world-class results.
  • Discovery and the Search for Truth – We must share knowledge to advance our quality of life and the economy of Minnesota, the nation, and the world.
  • Access and Diversity – To ensure that talented people from every income level, every neighborhood, and every kind of background can find a place at the University...and succeed here.
  • Academic Integrity – To reconstruct a deeper sense of community and respect…across disciplines, across employee groups, and across students and teachers.
  • Results – A commitment to student progress and learning; the enrollment of tens of thousands of diverse, talented students who seek their future here each year; strengthened academic leadership in areas of comparative advantage; strengthened faculty and staff culture, one premised on continuous improvement; and reduced operating costs.
  • Service and Stewardship – We want this University to be known as much for how well it manages itself as it is for research breakthroughs or high-quality education programs.

Based on these values, the Regents began this process by recognizing the current context of higher education in Minnesota, nationally and internationally.  The Board understood that the University’s trajectory had become a path that, all too soon, would not measure up to our historical legacy or the expectations of its leaders.

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A Strong University

HLC 5c

Today, the state of the University of Minnesota is strong, and worthy of the dedication and faith that so many have offered over the years.  We need only look at our enrollment of more than 65,000 students – that’s nearly 1,500 more than last year.  The University also graduated more than 12,000 students last year, with record numbers of degrees granted at our Twin Cities and Duluth campuses.  For 2005-06, we are on track to receive more than 20,000 applications for 5,300 undergraduate spaces in the Twin Cities, a 10 percent increase over last year’s record number of applications.

Our incoming students are increasingly well qualified and prepared, with record high class ranks for freshmen; and once they choose the University, we have ambitious goals for their success.  On all campuses, we aim, by 2012, to improve graduation rates significantly.  We are well on our way: over the last seven to nine years, four-year graduation rates on the Twin Cities campus have increased by 12 percentage points and six-year rates by 17 points. 

For the past three years, annual sponsored funding award levels have all topped $500 million – more than 98 percent of all sponsored research going to higher education institutions in the state of Minnesota.  We can be proud that we’ve continued to make progress in the midst of historic state budget reductions.  These are important achievements.

However, we need to do better.  Maintaining the status quo at the University will, as our Provost Tom Sullivan has said, “seriously impairs our ability to continue to serve the state of Minnesota, our nation, and the world with distinction in research, teaching and outreach.”  We need the creativity, hard work and adaptability of the University community to position the University of Minnesota as one of the world’s great public research universities.  That’s what our strategic planning process is about.  I believe strongly that this community is up to the challenge.

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The Challenge of Change

HLC 2a

We must recognize and adjust to the changing conditions in higher education.  One of the most obvious challenges facing public research universities like ours is declining or static public investment in higher education.  This is a concern in many states.  But, uncharacteristically for Minnesota, we’ve watched state support for higher education as measured by tax effort by income, decline from 6th in the nation in 1978 to 26th today. 

Unfortunately, the federal higher education budget is increasingly squeezed, too.  After years of steady increases in the budgets of major research funding agencies like the NIH and the NSF, most federal research funding sources anticipate funding cuts or increases at levels below inflation.

Students pay more toward their education today, and tuition will soon eclipse state support as a portion of the University’s budget. Although Minnesota’s undergraduate financial aid program remains among the most generous in the country, federal funding for student aid programs has failed to keep pace with the rising cost of higher education. 

The value of the average Pell grant is half of what it once was for low-income students at a four-year public institution.  For fans of students working their way through college, this, too, is an increasingly difficult prospect. A student earning minimum wage today would have to work 60 hours a week to pay for his or her education versus 20 hours per week a quarter century ago.

Meanwhile, our costs, and those of our peer institutions, have grown significantly above the rate of inflation for many years.  We face increasing competition – especially from private universities – for top scholars.  Employee health care costs continue to outstrip inflation. 

Cutting-edge research and teaching require facilities and a technology infrastructure that are up-to-date and often very expensive.  Library costs, too, have been increasing at 15 percent annually.  But, quite frankly, we can also lay some of the blame on our own complacency; institutions like ours have been too slow to foster an academic culture that emphasizes the best use of resources and continuous improvement.

As a public university with a legacy of access and opportunity, it is also our responsibility to look at how demographic changes affect our future. Minnesota’s population, like the nation’s, is aging and becoming more diverse.  Over the nextdecade, the pool of high school age students from which the University draws most of its undergraduates is expected to level off and decline at the same time that it becomes more diverse.  We can expect to serve an increasing number of students of color and first generation college students, and students for whom English is a second language.

We will be a weaker society if we do not address issues of access and affordability in higher education. Similarly, we must continue to address college enrollment and completion gaps that exist between the majority population on the one hand, and populations of color and students from low-income backgrounds on the other.

We already make extraordinary efforts to ensure that talented students of color and first generation college students choose the University of Minnesota.  Today, among undergraduates at all of the state’s four-year campuses, the University enrolls 27 percent of all students, but 40 percent of all students of color. Even so, we will need to redouble our efforts.

Finally, the academy is undergoing changes that we cannot ignore.  Our major sponsored research funders are shifting their emphases to multi-disciplinary, multi-institutional grants and contracts, and many of the problems research universities solve for society require new links across disciplines, institutions and even national borders.

In many ways, we are already a leading research university.  In the University of Florida’s annual report, the Twin Cities campus has consistently ranked in the top three to top seven public research universities in the United States; but unless we create a working framework for planning, our ability to meet the future and to take best advantage of the trends I’ve described will be limited.

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Strategic Planning for Action

HLC 2d

This past summer [2004], with unanimous support from the University’s Board of Regents, we began the first comprehensive strategic planning process the University has undergone in almost 15 years.  Our strategic planning process began with a committee drawn from throughout the University system. The initial committee work was based on ideas submitted by the University’s major units, and it was presented to the Regents, the University community, and the public for extensive discussion and debate – directly involving literally hundreds of people throughout – over the entire 2004-05 academic year. 

Under the leadership of Provost Sullivan, the University community has articulated an ambitious aspiration for the University – to be one of the top three public research universities in the world within a decade.  Is this an elitist goal?  Does it separate us from the interests of Minnesotans, a notoriously humble people?  I believe it is not and it does not.

The pursuit of excellence at the University is in the best interest and service of the state, because a research university that does not support excellence will not attract the talent or the funding needed to make a lasting and positive impact on our economy or in our communities.  This is the legacy of our land-grant tradition.  Minnesota benefits from the University’s constituent parts, but it also benefits from having a system that encompasses the state and ties research and education to people’s lives.

The author Peter Drucker has said that an organization must be clear eyed about not only what it wishes to do, but also what it can no longer do, stressing that without attention to sun-setting or ending programs and services, “an organization will be overtaken by events.  It will squander its best resources on things it should no longer do.” 

Our obligation is to make changes in a thoughtful manner that emphasizes our unique responsibilities in Minnesota’s system of higher education.  This will be a long-term process of adjusting our priorities while always holding firm to our values as a public research university system with statewide responsibilities. 

This self-study report prepared for the Higher Learning Commission details the extensive planning and visioning work that our University community has undertaken in the past 18 months.  It also provides our best assessment of how well we are doing in meeting our goals and where additional efforts are required when our performance is not consistent with our aspirations. 

The report underscores the need for us to act with vision, courage, and thoughtfulness.  If we meet the growing challenges we face, I am extremely optimistic about the future of the University of Minnesota and its continued relevance to this state and the world.

Foreward  |  Institutional Profile


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