Embracing Renewal

by Andrew Barton

Since its launch in September 2020, APU’s seven-year Strategic Plan—Renewal: Strengthening Our Capacity for Cultivating Christ-Centered Scholars and Leaders —has shaped the focus of the university with its three-phase approach to Refocus (2020-21), Rebuild (2021-22), and Renew (2022-27). Despite myriad challenges during the 2020-21 academic year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first nine months of implementation brought remarkable gains in delivering on APU’s educational mission with excellence, addressing issues of equity and justice, and creating a sustainable financial enterprise. Considerable university-wide collaboration, new external funding sources, financial targets met, and student success in a year of imposed remote learning highlight meaningful progress toward the aspiration for APU to be the premier Christian university of choice for our culture and times.

Strong Collaboration and Engagement

Resulting from broad community engagement in Fall 2020 to better understand the five Grand Initiatives of Renewal, 275 faculty, staff, and students now serve on 18 working groups. These groups assess and make recommendations for improvement in key areas of focus for 2020-22. Important institution-wide issues include communicating our institutional identity in the 21st century; student and employee enrollment and hiring, retention, and success; academic program growth and alignment; diversity, equity, and inclusion; financial sustainability in a postpandemic environment; and much more. Active involvement across the institution reflects APU’s commitment to become a more transformational and collaborative organization in harnessing the expertise, interest, and leadership of our faculty, staff, and students. This university-wide collaboration reflects an overall commitment to seeing the plan move forward to positively impact the delivery of our Christ-centered academic mission.

Early Fundraising and Financial Success

A byproduct of this clear and compelling plan has been early success in raising external funding for Renewal priorities. One such priority includes growing the university’s endowment to enhance student scholarships, faculty research, and campus facilities. Already this year, $5.18 million in gifts and commitments have been secured for Renewal endowment projects, including $1 million from the Fletcher Jones Foundation to provide seed funding for a new Endowed Chair in Citizenship and Civic Virtue. APU’s prestigious national R2 Carnegie research designation was enhanced by a $650,000 National Science Foundation grant award to enhance engagement of first-generation students in the STEM fields, while $120,000 founded the President’s Scholarship Enhancement Grants Program for new faculty research. Committed to meeting the need of APU’s increasing commuter student population, the university announced $6.5 million in private donations dedicated to a comprehensive renovation of space on West Campus. In addition to these remarkable strides, APU made significant progress in meeting all operating financial and budget targets for 2020 amid the COVID pandemic and closed campuses. All nonacademic divisions engaged in a university rightsizing initiative by June 30, leading to a reallocation of $14 million to the university’s operational priorities. The academy’s rightsizing and realignment efforts are slated for completion by Fall 2022. This challenging work will ensure APU effectively allocates its resources for current needs while attending to financial sustainability in the future.

Remote Learning and Community Well-Being

APU faculty, staff, and students adapted admirably to the unexpected impact of a global pandemic on the face-to face learning environment. Delivering on APU’s core academic mission in a safe, responsible manner was foundational to the first year of Renewal implementation. In a year marked by agility and adaptability, APU invested $1.3 million in expanded hyflex technology in classrooms and enhancements to the remote learning management system and mobile platforms. In addition, $1.2 million was raised to establish a COVID-19 Testing and Vaccine Center on the Azusa campus in support of a year of remote learning and in anticipation of a hopeful return to in-person learning in Fall 2021. To help attract and retain the best employees, APU launched a new flexible-time-off policy for eligible employees, as a commitment to employee well-being and leadership in provision of contemporary benefits in the higher education sector.

Commitment to Our Mission

Renewal seeks to advance APU as a university of impactful Christian scholars and leaders characterized by best practice of the highest quality. In light of unprecedented challenges in 2020-21, many would understand if it got off to a slow start. To the contrary, just nine months into a seven-year plan, the level of commitment to Christ-centered academic excellence is strong, the sense of anticipation for a bright future is high, and the recognition of God’s provision is clear. A spirit of hope and Renewal pervades APU.

To learn more about Renewal and its highlights and distinctives, as well as news and updates, visit apu.edu/renewal/.

Andrew Barton, EdD, is vice president for strategic planning and mission integration and chief of staff at Azusa Pacific University. abarton@apu.edu

Originally published in the Spring '21 issue of APU Life. View all issues.