University of Virginia: UVA Marks Progress, Momentum as Strategic Plan Passes Three-Year Mark

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In 2019, shortly after the University of Virginia marked its bicentennial, UVA President Jim Ryan shared a strategic vision for the University as a place both “great and good,” offering a world-class educational experience while fulfilling its responsibility as an excellent and ethical partner to students, faculty, staff and surrounding communities.

Three years in, UVA leaders are assessing progress toward the vision articulated in “Great and Good: The 2030 Plan,” which was approved by the Board of Visitors in August 2019. While acknowledging that, in many respects, the work is just beginning, University leaders said they are humbled and excited by what has been accomplished in just 36 months.

“Our community has worked incredibly hard over the past three years to imagine, design and execute so many elements of the strategic plan. This is all the more remarkable because of the challenges brought on by the pandemic,” Ryan said. “But our accomplishments have unquestionably moved us forward and toward the goal of being the leading public university in 2030 and one of the very best in the world – all in service to the unending search for truth.”

Even in the midst of an evolving pandemic that upended higher education along with the rest of the world, the University sustained momentum and made extraordinary progress toward milestones and goals outlined in the Great and Good Plan.

UVA has lowered costs for families most in need of financial assistance, established a new School of Data Science, strengthened bonds with the local community, redoubled its commitment to supporting democracy, developed medical treatments that improve countless lives, and conducted research with true promise to help even more in the future.

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Aerial view of the Rotunda and the Lawn in blue.
To Be Great and Good in All We Do
Raising the final steel beam over the School of Data Science building construction.
The University in August celebrated a milestone with the School of Data Science building construction, raising the final steel beam into place during a “topping out” ceremony. (Photo by Dan Addison, University Communications)
“We have seen outstanding efforts from our Health System, to the College at Wise, to our academic division, and now even from our new campus, UVA NOVA, to make meaningful and important progress on strategic initiatives,” Ryan added. “I’ve been continually inspired by, and grateful for, the collaborative and creative work of colleagues across UVA and the community.”

The strategic plan is built on four overarching goals: strengthening UVA’s foundation, cultivating the most vibrant community in higher education, enabling discoveries that enrich and improve lives, and making UVA synonymous with service.

Ten key initiatives provide more specific actions, programs and aspirations – the tactical work of bringing a plan to life and moving the University toward its goal of becoming the best public university in the country by 2030 and one of the best anywhere. Within the overall initiatives, UVA faculty, staff, students, researchers, alumni and friends of the University have collaborated on numerous achievements over last three years. And the pace and scope of the work continues today.

For more information on these successes, visit our site presenting voices from those contributing toward the University’s strategic successes and a detailed timeline of achievements to date.

Students walking on the Lawn to their first day classes.
The Great and Good plan has included numerous initiatives to make UVA more affordable to lower- and middle-income students and to limit the amount of loan debt its undergraduates face when beginning their careers. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
“UVA has made tremendous strides over the past few years,” UVA Provost Ian Baucom said. “Our faculty and staff are continuously focused on elevating our rigorous academic standards, emphasizing our unique residential experience and strengthening the spirit of inquiry that is the hallmark of any leading research institution. I am grateful to those who bring their creativity, craft and love for our students to work each day at UVA.”

Work That Is Great and Good
In introducing the strategic plan in 2019, Ryan said he was guided by the belief that universities must meet new expectations about how they are judged – acknowledging that a university can only be truly great if it is also good. In other words, excellent, but excellent for a purpose.

Much of the strategic work accomplished so far, and those aspirations and goals for the coming years, fits this modern set of characteristics.

In one example, the SuccessUVA initiative expanded UVA’s financial aid offerings to enable more low- and middle-income, first-generation and underrepresented students to attend the University.

Sketch of the projects at the Emmet-Ivy property.
Projects at the Emmet-Ivy property – including the School of Data Science, a hotel and conference center, performing arts center and the Karsh Institute of Democracy – provide visual markers of strategic plan momentum.

Virginia families earning less than $80,000 per year can send their children to UVA tuition-free; and UVA will additionally cover room and board for students from Virginia families earning less than $30,000 per year. Those efforts are attracting national attention. The Princeton Review in April ranked UVA as the No. 1 public college or university in the country for financial aid, for the second year in a row. In May, Money Magazine also named UVA the No. 3 Best Value college in the nation. (UVA also continues to cap student loan debt, while meeting 100% of the financial need of all undergraduates without any consideration of family finances when making offers of admission.)

The Great and Good Plan also tasked UVA with becoming one of the best and most supportive destinations for first-generation college students, and with expanding options for working adults to complete their bachelor’s degrees, a significant need in Virginia where an estimated 1.1 million adults have some college education but have not yet received a degree.

In the three years since the plan’s launch, the University launched the new Walentas Scholars program, providing scholarships and fellowships to first-generation college students, supported by a $100 million gift from David and Jane Walentas. UVA’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies has also expanded its programming, rolling out UVA Edge to offer working adults additional opportunities to take college courses, partnering with corporations and organizations including Google, InStride, Univision Communications and Germanna Community College, and in February 2021, enrolling its largest bachelor’s completion class ever.

“When the University Board of Visitors approved President Ryan’s vision for a ‘great and good’ university and committed to work with him to set it into motion, no one could have predicted that our efforts would be hampered by a historic pandemic and all the challenges that came along with it,” Rector Whitt Clement said. “Despite those disruptions, members of this community have worked tirelessly to make this strategic plan a reality, and the results speak for themselves. We should all be proud of the progress we have made over the past three years and excited for what the future holds for this University.”

On Grounds, progress spurred by the Great and Good Plan is visible everywhere. There are new schools and initiatives, including the new School of Data Science, launched in 2019, and the Karsh Institute of Democracy, focused on the study and promotion of democracy in the U.S. and worldwide. Both advance UVA’s mission to educate citizen-leaders who are prepared to serve and meet the challenges facing our nation and world.

‘Great and Good’
The parcel of land at the corner of Emmet Street and Ivy Road is being developed into a 14-acre Open Grounds site and will be home to the Karsh Institute and the School of Data Science, which broke ground in October, as well as a new performing arts center, and a UVA hotel and conference center. Across Grounds, students now are using a comprehensive, state-of-the-art Student Health and Wellness facility offering medical and disability services, counseling and psychiatry, health promotion, and research.

UVA Athletics, meanwhile, this year broke ground on a new football operations center and continues to work toward other projects in an ambitious master plan that includes an Olympic sports complex, additional practice fields and other facility additions and renovations to strengthen the Cavalier athletics program.

Classrooms and Labs
There are also new faces and new discoveries. The Third-Century Faculty Initiative, part of the strategic plan, is expanding existing Bicentennial Professorships and creating new hiring programs to recruit the very best educators, researchers and mentors – and to retain those already responsible for the foundation of UVA’s academic reputation. The Board of Visitors has approved $125 million in funding for the Bicentennial Professorships since 2019, and UVA made a $16 million investment in support of the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies, along with $5 million in grant funds for postdoctoral positions focused on diversity, equity and inclusion. In March, the Board of Visitors also approved 10 endowed professorships in the College of Arts & Sciences in a variety of fields related to the study of democracy.

In the UVA research enterprise, students and faculty across Grounds have made great strides and exciting discoveries in five priority areas outlined in the strategic plan, each representing major societal challenges: democracy, environmental resilience and sustainability, precision medicine, the brain and neuroscience, and digital technology and society.

Side by side pictures of a patient suffering from essential tremor before and after a focused ultrasound session.
UVA research leads to treatment and therapies that improve patient lives. Here, a patient suffering from essential tremor finds immediate relief from a focused ultrasound session.
Among many exciting discoveries, UVA researchers have:

Identified an oncogene responsible for glioblastoma, the deadliest form of brain cancer.
Partnered with other institutions to achieve the largest known seagrass restoration in the world.
Pioneered the use of focused ultrasound to treat essential tremor and other conditions.
Played a leading role in a National Science Foundation study of the ocean and climate change.
Explored the role of gender in the development of autism.
Earned the Comprehensive Cancer Center designation and created the world’s first Focused Ultrasound Cancer Immunotherapy Center.
Announced a $75 million investment in June to pioneer advances in neuroscience, and invested another $60 million in Grand Challenge research into climate change solutions.
All of this is supported by robust seed funding, generous philanthropy and strengthened research infrastructure, from the massive renovation of Alderman Library to a variety of programs supporting students and faculty at every stage of their career.

“Our mission at UVA Health is to transform health and inspire hope for all Virginians and beyond, and a core element of that is breakthrough research that transforms patient care,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, chief executive officer of UVA Health and executive vice president for health affairs at UVA. “We are proud to be part of a university that is taking on these significant challenges, and I am proud to work alongside an incredible team at UVA Health dedicated to improving the health of our society.”

To be great and good in all we do. Find out more.
Service to the Community
On both the academic side and in health care, the Great and Good Plan also establishes plans for UVA to be a collaborative partner with the local community, working to address challenges including housing, wages, educational and job opportunities, sustainability and access to health care.

As part of the plan’s implementation, Ryan created a UVA-community working group and, later, the President’s Council on UVA-Community Partnerships to identify key issues and build partnerships to work toward solutions. UVA also created The Equity Center to build better relationships with the Charlottesville community and address racial and socioeconomic inequality.

In March 2019, UVA announced a $15 minimum living wage for all full-time, benefits-eligible employees, and in March 2020, Ryan announced that UVA will support the development of up to 1,500 affordable housing units in Charlottesville. Among other affordable health initiatives, UVA Health launched WellAWARE, a partnership designed to improve health care access for those in Central Virginia neighborhoods with high rates of chronic disease and shorter life expectancies. The program welcomed its first patients in January.

Construction workers cheerin the change in shifts at the UVA Medical Center during the pandemic.
Construction workers pause to cheer the change in shifts at the UVA Medical Center during the pandemic. Despite the many challenges of COVID-19, UVA continued achieve strategic goals. (Photo by Sanjay Suchak, University Communications)
Throughout the rapid pace of the past three years, the University has also maintained and strengthened its financial stability. UVA maintains a coveted AAA bond rating, a signal of creditors’ confidence in operations and a rating that allows the University to obtain the most favorable rates and conditions for financing items such as major capital improvements.

“The University’s solid financial foundation was built through decades of strong fiscal management and prudent stewardship of funds, along with a continued focus on operational efficiencies and strategic reallocation of resources to support institutional priorities,” Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jennifer “J.J.” Wagner Davis said. “We have been well-positioned to take advantage of market conditions for the long-term benefit of the University. This financial strength enables UVA both to navigate economic downturns and to make critical investments in our people and in the strategic initiatives of the 2030 Plan.”

None of the progress would be possible without the generous support of numerous alumni and donors, as well as the hard work of students, faculty and staff. Yet, there is still much to be done. UVA’s third century is just beginning and it dawns in a world full of challenges and opportunities. To meet them, UVA – its students, faculty, staff, leaders and alumni – must continually push to be both great and good and to use higher education as a call to serve others.

“We have more to do, but we started from a strong foundation,” Ryan said. “If the past three years are any indication, I have little doubt we will reach, and even surpass, our goals. There’s no place quite like UVA, and I am grateful to be a part of it.”

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