Draft Strategic Initiatives

strategic initiative is set of actions for achieving UM’s vision and mission in alignment with our design principles and UM's five Priorities for Action. Strategic initiatives can be specific to a single unit or involve multiple areas, and can may encompass curriculum design, research emphasis, student experience, operations, marketing, community engagement and more. 

Strategic Initiatives are not a product of the UDT, but rather a product of a process the UDT has created to gather creative ideas from all UM stakeholders. Right now, the UDT is broadening to generate ideas, some of which originate outside of the UDT. Ultimately, the UDT will narrow to recommend specific Strategic Initiatives the team has broadly agreed to endorse.

For the last year, the UDT has conducted extensive research on higher education, finding "signals" or common themes that pose a challenege and opporunity to UM. The strategic intiatives are drafted in response to these signals and reflect each of UM's Five Priorities for Action. Singals found specifically pertaining to UM are: 

  • UM recognizes the shifts in higher education and the need to develop structures, programs and practices designed to attract and serve a broader array of learners' and help connect learner’s academic experience to career options and opportunities. 
  • With rapid change across virtually all sectors of society, accelerated by COVID, it is clear that universities must develop systems and programs that allow them to adapt, recognize opportunity and develop high quality, relevant teaching and research with impact.
  • Like many higher education institutions it has been a challenging decade at the University of Montana. Morale is low, stress is high and our culture needs investment. People must feel valued and empowered to do good work and UM must become a performance oriented, inclusive institution across all sectors.
  • Place is one of UM’s truly distinctive assets but with learning moving increasingly online (exacerbated by COVID) and with some new segments of learners no longer looking for a traditional 4-year campus experience we must elevate the relevance of place and connections to our community in the academic, research and creative scholarship experience. UM must capitalize on its distinctive location, both in terms of unique access to natural laboratories as well as its attractiveness to a wide array of employers wanting to locate in such a desirable place to live.

 Draft Strategic Intiatives, Organized Under PFAs:  

For an in-depth look at each individual Strategic Initiative and how they were developed, view this document.  

PFA 1: Place Student Success at the Center of All We Do

Employing incentives and gamification, ElevateU is designed to move students through levels of career readiness and personal/professional wayfinding; starting with exploring interests in their first year, then gaining experiences, embracing opportunities, and elevating to a career post-graduation.

Transition from a one size fits all calendar to a more dynamic model that provides alternative options. This SI would seek to leverage the increased use of online, asynchronous and experiential teaching modes as alternatives to the traditional synchronous in-person teaching.

Developing an equivalent program to ELEVATEU for graduate students helping them identify career options, engage in relevant experiential learning opportunities and equip them for career success.

Complementing "Career Readiness" to equip students with life skills, mindset and self-actualization needed to navigate today’s complex world and applying the whole person learning that is central to a liberal arts education.

Focusing on ways we can reduce the hurdles and friction that many of our students already experience in balancing work with study as they try to pay their way through school, and creating messaging and onboarding to support aspiring learners who may have concluded they can't afford the time or money to get an education.  Explore options to front-load some classes/micro-creds that may enhance the job/earning prospects of a student while they continue their progression to a degree or graduate qualification. By leveraging high school dual enrollment, prior learning assessment and/or apprenticeship models offering high schoolers or non-traditional learners a path to a 4 yr degree in shorter timescales that result in a job and no student debt. E.g. the Missouri Innovation Campus as an example and this interview from EAB.

A new model for matriculation that charges an annual membership fee to UM allowing a student to take whatever class(es) they want for a lifetime. Degrees, certificates or micro-credentials can be accumulated along the way. Other services (dining, fitness center) and experiences (athletics, arts) could be bundled with this offer.

As individuals are increasingly experience multiple career shifts our alumni are increasingly seeking assistance in navigating those shifts, through re-skilling and up-skilling as well as more general career coaching or practical assistance such as resume and Linkedin profile development, networking skills and interview preparation.

UM has an incredible alumni community who have deep expertise across a wide range of fields. Currently we loosely tap into that expertise via ad hoc talks or class visits. In light of the expanding interest in lifelong learning, career awareness, career readiness and career success we should explore opportunities to more formally integrate alumni expertise into our existing programs while also developing programs built around alumni expertise.

PFA 2: Drive Excellence and Innovation in Teaching, Learning and Research

For making a difference through research: This SI will expand on something that UM already does exceptionally well: Provide opportunities for out-of-classroom mentored research experiences. Centralizing and funding undergraduate research will make it easier for students to find faculty mentors, interact with other student researchers, and share their findings, making this type of impactful experience accessible to more of our students. It will also help UM tell its students' stories, leveraging this research strength for recruitment and marketing.

This initiative will prioritize impactful summer residential learning and research experiences for high school students on the UM campus with particular attention to a.) supporting, sustaining, and expanding ongoing summer institute efforts, b.) recruiting undergraduates more widely from both inside and outside of Montana and the Mountain West region, and c.) bolstering UM’s reputation for academic excellence and outstanding student/campus life. This initiative will complement—and is intended to be paired with—other ongoing campus initiatives as well as SIs that emerge from the UDT's work, such as the “Grand Challenges” and “Making an Impact through Research,” SIs.

Across the country, from Vermont to Colorado, colleges and universities are announcing and enacting massive cuts to their humanities, sciences, and arts programs. The University of Montana could follow suit; or, we could adopt a strategic planning mindset and approach that embodied our commitment to ensuring UM’s excellence in the liberal arts for the twenty-first century and signal that at this moment of crisis in higher education, we are prepared to lead, not follow, stand out, and be bold: we are prepared to become a flagship of the future.

A capstone is a one semester, credit bearing course wherein students work with businesses or not-for-profit organizations on a short-term project that provides ideas, solutions, or simply additional help to the partnering organization, while providing students career relevant experience and learning.

In addition to any course outcomes/objectives created by faculty as it concerns the specific discipline, all undergraduate courses would be encouraged to include at least four of the eight NACE competencies as part of their course outcomes/objectives. Semesterly institutes hosted by OOLD, ELCS, and Faculty Senate could serve as the place where faculty learn about the competencies, why they are important, and how they can make them part of course learning objectives.

Today we are surrounded by grand challenges ranging from climate change and public health emergencies to systemic racism and crises in democratic governance, and young people worldwide feel the urgency to confront these problems as part of--rather than separate from--their college education. By creating the option for all UM students to pursue, in addition to their major, a Grand Challenges Mission--a combination of coursework, experiential learning, and research--that aligns with university-wide programming, this initiative will establish the University of Montana as the premier institution for undergraduate involvement in addressing the grand challenges of our time.

The place for engagement and collaboration among learners, faculty, employers and other external stakeholders for learning, research and other activities that are not specific to an individual college, school or unit (i.e. interdisciplinary, and/or cross-campus and/or co-curricular).

PFA 3: Embody the Principle of Mission First, People Always

The UDT's signals work has illustrated the need for UM to stay alert to the changing environment in which we operate, we have also highlighted the value of inquiry and innovation and drafted SIs that embed research and exploration of grand challenges in our students learning and faculty research. How can we connect these activities so our strategic direction is informed by the external environment and aligned with the research and grand challenges our community is engaged in - and vice-versa?

Our jobs are hard; there are fewer and fewer people around to do the work, and productive faculty, staff and administrative innovators feel constrained by outdated and/or inefficient organizational systems. UM will create a dedicated structure to maximize institutional effectiveness, improve processes, and support the innovation and performance orientation required to become a flagship of the future.


The people in our community are the engines that drive our success and it is only by recruiting, developing, promoting, and investing in diversity and excellence in our people, might we create the firm ground to achieve our visionary strategic flagship-of-the-future goals. Although we at UM have developed some important leadership, diversity, equity, and inclusion programming we are still not yet doing enough in a sustainable, and/or coordinated way to fully support our community’s needs. The purpose of this Strategic Initiative is to create an effective and robust community, infrastructure with leadership to unite, expand, and develop student, employee, and faculty support in inclusive and equitable ways. The focus will be on sustainable and strategic support of people in our own UM community to provide a strong foundation on which to build our flagship of the future.

The presence of racism in American society is a signal from the past, present and future, and the university has an urgent obligation to work toward abolition and liberation. Racism can be seen in the inequalities present in every level of society: ranging from public health, access to housing and education to police brutality. The University needs to see in its definition of “inclusive prosperity” a commitment to a series of ongoing anti-racist actions that propel everyone into a new and more accessible society.

PFA 4: Partner With Place

Helping high schoolers and adult learners understand different careers and how different disciplines can contribute to career success in those fields. This is something that has been highlighted in interviews with industry and non-profit leaders. Note, this is not solely about vocational skills, but often about leadership, team-work, problem solving etc., and exploring what those roles look like in different sectors.

The UM Collaborative Rural Residency Initiative would send interdisciplinary teams of faculty, students, and staff to rural communities to learn and serve for a semester. While all members of the team would continue to participate in classes and work at UM via remote technology, most of their time will be spent engaging with the rural community in ways that would lead to a reciprocal relationship between UM and the community.

Committed to educating the next generation of problem solvers and change makers, the University of Montana is working towards Global Learning for All - a goal aiming to provide 100% of our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students with global learning opportunities that change their lives and our world. To achieve Global Learning for All, we also look beyond the curriculum to infusing global education into co-curricular, extra-curricular and other local experiences in which students are already engaged.

This initiative seeks to create a diverse, inclusive, and global student body at UM. By recruiting international students and prioritizing program mobility and international partnerships, UM will help students develop the requisite.