‘They are coming and they are staying’: Dixie State University reveals new strategic plan

ST. GEORGE — During an annual State of the University Address Wednesday morning, Richard B. Williams, president of Dixie State University, shared recent achievements and announced the new strategic plan, Trailblazing Distinction, which will shape the direction of the institution for the next five years.

Dixie State University President Richard Williams reveals the 5-year strategic plan, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Jyl Hall, St. George News

This strategic plan is currently a proposal that centers around four elements: open, inclusive, polytechnic and comprehensive.

“We’ve always been an inclusive university, tried to be inclusive. By state stature, we’re a comprehensive university, where we have a wide breadth an depth in programs.”

The polytechnic arose from looking at what the university needed. Polytechnic refers to an institution of higher learning that offers courses in many subjects, especially vocational and technical.

“With this new strategic plan, it is very unique in that it will make us distinctive where there is only a few technical and polytechnic universities,” he said. “There’s none that have the open access, that have the inclusivity goals that we have.”

The new strategic plan was created by the faculty, staff, students and community, which is something that’s building on the past, but “really looking forward to the future.”

Rep. Brad Last sits with his wife at the State of University Address at Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Some of the challenges of putting together this plan had to with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed the nature of meetings.

“We had a very different feel. We all had masks. We all sat 6 feet apart. But the comradery, the excitement, the collaboration and transparency was still in the room,” he said.

Williams told St. George News that as the pandemic unfolded, a lot of the universities were wondering about online education, but what it revealed was more opportunities.

“It has opened our eyes that we can pretty much do anything we want if we put our minds to it,” he said. “Going forward, we know that we can do the remote learning very well. We know that if something happens — say an earthquake or other catastrophe — that we can continue to provide an education for our students. We can have meetings that have people all over the world.”

With Dixie Technical College, Williams said their goal is to meet students where they’re at; some students leave high school and aren’t necessarily ready for the college setting for a variety of reasons.

“A student can start with them and get a certificate. They can move through another certificate. They can transfer to us. They can get up to 90, 100 hours that equals 30 credit hours here. And we can move them from having certificates right up through a baccalaureate or a master’s degree.”

Diesel tech industry and education leaders attend the Diesel Tech Pathways program expansion announcement at Dixie Technical College, St. George, Utah, Dec. 17, 2019 | Photo by Ryann Richardson, St. George News

There won’t be a lot of overlap between the two institutions, “there will be building,” he added.

As far as new programs, Williams said they have been looking at possibilities of aviation, hospitality management and continued expansion in STEM and healthcare programs.

Michael Lacourse, provost and vice president of Academic Affairs, said that the previous strategic plan — Dixie 2020: Status to Stature — was aimed at building the University capacity and programs.

“Now that we have achieved the stature of a university, we will become a premiere open, inclusive, comprehensive, polytechnic university providing students with exceptional opportunities for lifelong learning and success,” Lacourse said.

Much of the growth at Dixie State in recent years has come from a collective commitment to its five-year strategic plan. Initiated in 2015 as a map to guide the university in its growth from gaining university status to securing university stature, most of the goals outlined in the retired strategic plan have been achieved.

Ricard Williams, Dixie State University president, speaks to the media following the State of the University Address, St. George, Utah, Sept. 23, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

Over the last five years, Dixie State has increased enrollment by 41%, growing from 8,503 students in 2015 to more than 12,000 students in 2020. They also expanded international student admission by 34% and increased overall retention rates by 4.3%. In addition, the university has enhanced academics by adding 111 programs, investing in faculty and staff, expanding support for inclusion and equity, and establishing a strong brand identity.

Williams said they have focused intensely on increasing retention rates and providing opportunities that go beyond just lectures in the classroom. He expects enrollment to grow to 16,000 students within the five years.

“What was keeping students from staying here is that we didn’t have enough degree programs. Now that we have degree programs, they are coming and they are staying.”

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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