category: President's Blog

June 2020: Strategic Plan for Growth and Excellence

June 2020 President's Blog Image

Colleagues and Friends of Gardner-Webb University,

I am pleased to report that on June 18 the University’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to endorse GWU 2020-2025:  A Strategic Plan for Growth and Excellence.  This new Strategic Plan is the product of a thoughtful, systematic process that included more than 500 responses to an online survey, three open town hall meetings, and thorough vetting by multiple committees.  I am grateful to the 18-member Strategic Planning Committee (representing students, faculty, staff, and administration) that worked diligently for seven months to prepare the document.  This is an exciting roadmap for our shared future, and it is perhaps fitting that this is the twelfth blog entry in my first year as your president.  I am eager to work with you to realize the core commitments that will ensure continued academic excellence and a pathway to institutional growth!

William M. Downs


GWU 2020-2025

A Strategic Plan for Growth and Excellence


The mission of Gardner-Webb University is to prepare graduates for leadership and service in their professional careers and in their personal lives. Rigorous and innovative degree programs, combined with distinctive experiential learning opportunities, shape students into thinkers, doers, and world- changers. Forged within a supportive and diverse Christian community, our students emerge ready to impact their chosen professions, equipped with the skills to advance the frontiers of knowledge, and inspired to make a positive and lasting difference in the lives of others. 


Commitment 1: We will make our University a destination of first choice for an increasing number of students from around the state, from across the region, and beyond.

Objective 1. We will minimize, halt, and then reverse declines in enrollment across undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Where programs are unable to attract sufficient student interest, we will redirect resources to address unmet demand elsewhere.

Metric 1.1. We will annually track enrollment trajectories in all degree programs. Every two years, the University will conduct a low-productivity analysis that identifies all degree programs averaging no more than three graduates over a five-year period. The review process will yield decisions on whether to invest, maintain, or reduce institutional resources. By the end of the planning period, GWU will have fewer low-productivity programs and more high-growth degree programs in place.

Metric 1.2. We will invest the additional resources necessary to market and recruit new students; those increases will be commensurate with the need to secure new students from traditional markets, as well as the need to attract students from new markets (both geographically and programmatically). The return on additional investment will be measured annually, and renewal will be conditional on performance and yield.

Objective 2. We will work to better align our undergraduate and graduate degree programs with the evolving needs of our region and with the interests of prospective students. This alignment will result in the launching of one or more high-growth degree programs in the following key areas: STEM, healthcare, and/or business.

Metric 2.1. We will measure the potential viability of new degree programs via use of professional, third-party feasibility studies.

Metric 2.2. Once properly resourced and marketed, we will track program success and return on investment by annual enrollment, tuition and fee revenues, retention rates, time- to-degree, and placement of graduates.

Objective 3. We will design and market a General Education Curriculum that serves to attract new students to Gardner-Webb and to prepare them effectively for disciplinary studies and for timely graduation.

Metric 3.1. We will measure reductions in the total number of hours required of students in the General Education Curriculum.

Metric 3.2. In tandem with reforms to the General Education Curriculum, we will measure reductions in the total number of hours required of undergraduates to obtain a degree from Gardner-Webb University. We will annually measure time-to-degree, with expectations that the average should move closer to 4.0 years across the span of this planning period.

Metric 3.3. We will measure the success of a new General Education Curriculum, in part, by how well it reduces barriers to students wishing to transfer to Gardner-Webb University. Increases in the net flow of transfers into GWU will be measured, along with average time- to-degree. We should expect that our new General Education Curriculum will not unnecessarily penalize transfers and will not slow their path to a timely graduation.

Objective 4. We will attract and retain students through the expansion and strengthening of signature, high-impact learning experiences.

Metric 4.1. We will measure the increase in the number of study abroad, internship, field study, and mission programs available to GWU students and the percentage of our student body that participates annually.

Metric 4.2. We will measure progress toward this objective by increases in institutional and philanthropic support for study abroad, internships, field courses, and missions.

Metric 4.3. We will establish new thematic residential living-learning communities and measure retention and time-to-degree rates for students who participate.


Commitment 2: We will increase and diversify the sources of revenue needed to sustain the growth and strengthening of our vibrant, comprehensive University.

Objective 5. We will reduce the University’s current disproportionate reliance on enrollment as a source of institutional revenue.

Metric 5.1. At the start of this planning period, approximately 76% of GWU’s institutional revenue comes from tuition and fees. We will chart the reduction of this disproportionate reliance by measuring the relative growth over time of philanthropy, grants (government and private), and investment returns.

Objective 6. We will launch an ambitious but achievable capital campaign. The capital campaign will address pressing needs in student housing, athletic facilities (e.g., track and field, natatorium), classroom equipment, library resources, and scholarships.

Metric 6.1. We will measure the success of GWU’s next capital campaign relative to the amount collected at its last (~$43 million) and by the time needed to reach the professed targets.

Objective 7. We will grow the University Endowment through new and more effective management.

Metric 7.1We will chart the growth of our Endowment Fund via annual rates of return and by reductions in fees and other transaction costs.

Objective 8We will create infrastructure and opportunity for faculty and staff to successfully compete for public and private grant funds that will support the University’s mission.

Metric 8.1. We will measure our institutional capacity to pursue extramural funding by the creation of one or more staff positions that will facilitate pre-award proposal writing and post-award grant management. We will annually measure the number of proposals submitted, the number of awards received, and the total dollars granted.

Objective 9. We will revise our organizational culture such that a business model pervades throughout, allowing the institution to generate revenues in the same manner as our peers and competitors.

Metric 9.1. We will measure revenue generation annually for all of our athletic programs, for public performances, and for all of our fee-based services and facility rentals.

Metric 9.2We will expect our athletic teams to maximize the number of guarantee games as best as possible, with the understanding that revenues generated by those games will be shared with individual teams and with Athletics.

Objective 10. While working to generate new and more diverse sources of institutional revenue, we will be increasingly efficient stewards of the resources we already have.

Metric 10.1. We will reduce the number of low-enrolled course sections taught through consolidations and other measures, thereby mitigating the need for additional adjuncts or faculty overloads.

Metric 10.2. We will use the course clock more effectively, distributing classes broadly beyond the 10-2 peak periods so that that enrollments are not diluted through head-to-head competition.

Metric 10.3. We will examine current practices of paying stipends for graduate-level supervisions and project direction to better align with our peer institutions.


Commitment 3. Gardner-Webb University is a private university with a very public mission. We will increase our positive impact in the broader community and in the region by partnering with those who share our interest in improving the quality of life in Cleveland County and beyond.

Objective 11We will increase our economic impact on the region. Our programs in Business and elsewhere will increase engagement with entrepreneurs, be allies in the recruitment of investment to our region, and intentionally work to improve prosperity, alleviate poverty, and reduce food insecurity.

Metric 11.1. We will produce a biennial GWU Economic Impact Study that documents the University’s direct and indirect impacts on jobs, commercial activity, and investment in Boiling Springs, Cleveland County, and the foothills region.

Metric 11.2. We will leverage our Charlotte campus to increase productive ties to the Mecklenburg County business community. Yield on this effort will be measured by increases in internships (for current students) and job placements (for graduates), by sponsorships of GWU entities and events by Charlotte-area businesses, and by the number of new business incubators GWU is able to facilitate through a combination of its locational and intellectual capital.

Objective 12. We will increase our outreach to the community as experts in the field of healthcare. We will be leaders in the fight against heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, and mental health disorders.

Metric 12.1. We will document increases in efforts by our College of Health Sciences, by our School of Psychological Science and Counselor Education, and by our Department of Health, Sport, and Physical Education to assist local authorities and community groups with initiatives to improve physical and mental health.

Objective 13. We will increasingly offer our campus as a venue for public dialogue and/or events that benefit the town, the county, and the broader community. Gardner-Webb University should be a focal point for bringing together persons and groups with shared interests in meeting societal needs. Gardner-Webb University should add a significant amount of the kind of “cultural capital” that vibrant college towns need to attract and retain students, faculty, staff, homeowners, and businesses.

Metric 13.1. We will document annual increases in the number of non-athletic, issue-related public events hosted on the campus, as well as annual increases in the number of persons attending.

Metric 13.2. We will document annual increases in the number of athletic, artistic, and performance-related public events hosted on the campus, as well as annual increases in the number of persons attending.


Commitment 4. We will achieve and sustain a reputation as North Carolina’s leader in Christian higher education.

Objective 14. We will redouble our efforts to strengthen scholarship support that will increase the recruitment pipeline for new students choosing Gardner-Webb from Baptist churches and from other Christian denominations.

Metric 14.1. We will measure increases in support for Christian Service Organization scholarships and in the recruitment yield from church-matching and ministers’ dependent scholarships.

Objective 15. We will establish and underwrite a major new “Religion and Culture” public lecture series that attracts scholars, theologians, and the general public to engage in dialogue about timely topics.

Metric 15.1. We will measure the success of a new public lecture series by speaker prominence, attendance, and funds collected to endow the series.

Objective 16. We will commit to hosting more academic conferences and symposia that attract the participation of leading scholars on Christianity from peer and aspirant peer universities. Proceedings from these conferences will be published and distributed throughout the academic community.

Metric 16.1We will document increases in intellectual foot traffic at Gardner-Webb by the number of multi-institutional academic conferences hosted, by the number of non-GWU scholars attending, and by the quality and impact of all publications emerging from hosted events.

Objective 17We will increase the frequency of programming (especially on Sundays) in one of our University’s great structural assets, Dover Chapel.

Metric 17.1We will document annual increases in the number of events hosted at Dover Chapel and in attendance, making special note of worship events held on Sundays.

Objective 18. We will increase the intentionality with which we use—and live by—our institutional motto (“Pro Deo et Humanitate”) in the conduct of our daily organizational affairs, in our personnel decisions, and in the public face that we would put forward to the world.

Metric 18.1. We will monitor our public-facing media (website, social media, print advertising) to ensure that our Christ-centered focus remains prominent and pervasive.


Thirteen local units have each been charged with drafting their own strategic plans. Each unit plan should complement the core themes of the University Plan (e.g., student recruitment/success, fiscal sustainability, public outreach, Christian identity) while addressing the relevant local actions necessary for implementation. The University Strategic Planning Committee will review and approve the unit plans that are drafted by the following areas:

College of Arts and Sciences

College of Health Sciences

Degree Completion Program

College of Business

School of Divinity

College of Education

School of Graduate Studies

School of Psychology and Counseling



Christian Life and Service

Student Development

Unit-level plans are due to the University Strategic Planning Committee by October 1.

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