Penn State releases updated strategic plan and resources for unit planning

Unit strategic planning is underway, with draft plans due by July 31, 2020

Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As Penn State’s 10-year strategic plan approaches its halfway point, the University has reviewed and analyzed progress achieved thus far to inform and guide strategic planning at the institution and unit levels through 2025. In less than five years, Penn State’s strategic plan has sparked creative thinking and guided advancements in the areas of health, sustainability, digital technology, the arts and humanities, and education, and set the institution on a path to innovate new solutions to further cement the University as a leader in Pennsylvania and beyond.

The University released a report this month assessing plan progress from 2016 through 2019 in conjunction with extending the strategic plan’s duration by five years, from 2020 to 2025. In November 2018, the Board of Trustees Committee on Governance and Long-Range Planning approved the extension, which was supported by the full board in February 2019.

“Extending the life of the current strategic plan will help important initiatives to grow and thrive, drive more progress in critical areas, build momentum around ideas that have emerged in the first five years of plan implementation, and enable us to support several signature initiatives,” said Nick Jones, executive vice president and provost. “We will be able to take a data-driven approach during the next five years that’s guided by our analysis of what we’ve achieved so far.”

Since March 2019, the University has been assessing plan implementation by reviewing unit-level strategic plans, strategic plan seed-grant progress, strategic plan executive committee reports, and signature-initiative data. That analysis, summarized in the assessment report, has helped to map connections and progress for each of the plan’s foundations, thematic priorities and supporting elements; identify future opportunities and areas of focus; and inform revisions and updates to the 2016-2025 strategic plan.

Examples of that work include changing the foundation “Fostering and Embracing a Diverse World” to “Advancing Inclusion, Equity, and Diversity” in the updated plan and identifying it as an area for additional focus. Additionally, the thematic priority “Driving Digital Innovation” was changed to “Empowering Through Digital Innovation” to reflect better technology’s power and potential for effecting change and solving challenges. Beyond nomenclature changes, the University plans to enhance and evolve approaches to all foundations, thematic priorities and supporting elements as appropriate.

Seed-grant funding

To help drive strategic plan participation and implementation across the University, the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost allocated funds for seed grants to support pilot projects that align with and advance the plan. Through four completed request-for-proposal cycles over two years, 265 applications were submitted for seed-grant funding. Of these submissions, 43 proposals were approved by the Strategic Plan Oversight Committee to receive grants totaling more than $9 million in support of the plan’s priorities.  

A Penn State Strategic Plan seed grant is helping the Beaver campus to expand agriculture and food-related initiatives, including a campus garden, community-supported agriculture, and a 96-foot-long high tunnel. Credit: April Johnston / Penn StateCreative Commons

The University has already seen a substantial return on that investment, Jones said. In the first two seed-grant cycles alone, the University invested approximately $4.6 million across the institution to support initiatives that have already generated an additional $9 million in external funding support.  

“This ROI speaks to the seed grants’ impact,” said Jones. “Three completed projects alone brought in nearly $8.5 million — the Public Humanities Initiative, the Integrated Data Systems Solutions for Health Equity initiative, and the U.N. Global Consortium for High-Performance Buildings. Several other projects are expected to wrap up soon, and I’m optimistic that they, too, will obtain external support to sustain future work.”

The University has postponed a fifth cycle of the seed-grant program, but Jones said he is confident that the RFP process will return in light of the success of the first four rounds of funding.

Signature initiatives

As the strategic plan has progressed, five signature initiatives — one for each of the plan’s five thematic priorities — have emerged thus far. These new funded projects are designed to engage people across the University for maximum impact. The initiatives and the strategic plan thematic priorities they support are:

  • One Penn State 2025 (Transforming Education) is an ambitious rethinking of approaches to how Penn State structures learning and operates to support student success, based on five guiding principles: provide a seamless student experience; achieve curricular coherence; design relevant and responsive programs; engage learners throughout their lifetimes; and achieve the highest level of efficiency of University resources.
  • The Consortium to Combat Substance Abuse (Enhancing Health) draws on University-wide expertise, aided by 12 new tenure-track faculty members over four years, to develop and implement programs, policies and practices to prevent and treat addiction and mitigate its impacts.
  • The Humanities Institute (Advancing the Arts and Humanities) is designed to position Penn State as a national leader in the humanities and coordinate a network of humanities-focused research and outreach University-wide.
  • The Center for Immersive Experiences (Empowering Through Digital Innovation) is focused on truly transformative technologies, such as virtual reality, augmented reality, and 3D modeling, to improve learning processes and transform society through digital innovation.
  • The Consortium for Integrated Energy Systems (Stewarding Our Planet’s Resources) is a visionary proposal to build capacity in energy research and education, involving the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the College of Engineering, and the Institutes of Energy and the Environment.

Four students travel on a virtual field trip using Oculus Go headsets at one of several virtual reality labs on campus. Thanks to a push to bring immersive experiences to Penn State, students are increasingly using virtual reality to travel to remote and exotic locations, enhancing traditional learning experiences. Credit: Penn StateCreative Commons

The report also outlines several additional programs and initiatives established during the past four years of strategic plan implementation. Examples of these successes, among many others, include:

Unit strategic planning

With the release of the assessment report and the revised institutional strategic plan, January 2020 marks the beginning of unit-level strategic planning. About 50 Penn State units — including academic colleges, campuses and administrative units — are developing or updating their strategic plans, which are due in draft form by July 31.

“We’re at a critical point as we transition from the first five years into the next five years of the strategic plan and its implementation,” Jones said. “We are working to build on the momentum of the plan, and the assessment report provides guidance and illuminates opportunities for this next cycle of unit planning, which will lead the units through 2025.”

The Office of Planning, Assessment and Institutional Research (OPAIR) is offering several resources to help units streamline the planning process:

Later this year, OPAIR will use a new strategic planning system called Nuventive. Several pilot units will help to refine this software from January through July, and OPAIR will enter unit-level plans into Nuventive beginning in August. The plans then will be reviewed by committees involved in the strategic planning process, and feedback will be provided to units in early fall.

Final unit plans will be due Dec. 21, and units will begin implementing their plans in January 2021.

To provide feedback and ask questions about institutional and/or unit-level planning, email, call OPAIR at 814-863-8721, or visit

Last Updated October 05, 2020