University of Memphis Strategic Plan

Ascend — 2023-28


Our mission describes what we do: we educate students to prepare them for productive pursuits, and we engage in research and scholarship that advances new knowledge. Although we successfully achieve many other things, education and research are what we are chartered to accomplish and must do well. While our mission remains relatively stable over time, the environment where we operate is everchanging. This continual churning creates ceaseless challenges for achieving our mission. Currently, our educational environment is being roiled by increasing competition for a shrinking pool of prospective students; more resources needed to educate students unprepared intellectually and emotionally for college; rising costs of attendance that have outstripped inflation for decades; a growing proportion of students and their families who question the value of a college education (given the cost of a college education); and growing employer dissatisfaction with the qualifications of college graduates. Our research environment is also being shaken by increasing competition for shrinking external research funding; more complex research issues that seem insoluble using standard approaches; mounting rules, regulations and restrictions in response to cyberterrorism and other threats; and, growing dissatisfaction by funding organizations with research output that is too narrow, lacking in relevance/impact and untethered from economic development considerations.

These shifting forces require us to adapt and, more importantly, present rich opportunities for mission advancement. How we educate students and how we investigate the world is rapidly progressing. The University of Memphis is fundamentally transforming our educational and research models with 1) life and career success as the goal for our students and 2) high societal impact as the goal for our research.

Success-Driven Education.

The University of Memphis excels at educating our students. Our instructional model focuses on Student Success that extends beyond graduation to encompass great outcomes for our students in their careers and in their lives. To achieve this Student Success, we apply a three-step model, summarized as Access → Opportunities → Outcomes. Every action we take on behalf of students should impact at least one of these three dimensions of Student Success:

  • Access means 1) eliminating barriers to matriculation for students who meet our standards and 2) creating easier pathways to our University that fit a student’s situation and stage in life.
  • Opportunities means we provide myriad opportunities for students to succeed by providing a full array of impactful programs, experiences, services, academic support and facilities that maximize student success.
  • Outcomes means that our instruction and student experience result in career and life success for our students. By emphasizing practical education that promotes soft and life skills, we produce well-rounded, mature and confident citizens fully prepared for professional and life challenges.

Impact-Driven Research.

Our objective is to maximize state funding through better understanding of, and alignment with, metrics in the state’s funding formulas. Currently, the State of Tennessee directly provides about 30% of our total funding. We appreciate this generous funding, which is above the national average for universities. However, for planning purposes, our aim is to achieve more year-to-year stability in state funding. A second aim is to effect an increase in state funding to median R1 state funding levels.


Our vision describes our aspiration for the University of Memphis as we peer into the future. If things unfold as expected and we execute on our plan, our vision will become our reality. While bold and ambitious, becoming a nationally recognized, leading public research university is also a logical and natural extension of the great strides we have made over the past 110 years. The long arc of our institution bends upward, marked by ever higher levels of recognition and performance. Our recent achievements, such as our R1 research designation and our athletic accomplishments, have given us national notice and significant momentum that we are leveraging.

We understand that ascending to the highest ranks of national public research universities is not a forgone conclusion. It will take a lot of work. And there will certainly be some dips in the road — setbacks that we must work through. We must be realistic optimists. We must understand our current position/ situation. We cannot reach our destination if we are unclear about our starting position. This means owning up to who we are — both our strengths and weaknesses — and clearly seeing the challenges and opportunities before us. We must leverage our strengths and mitigate our weaknesses. We must be alert to opportunities and realize them to their fullest, particularly opportunities that align with our strengths. But we must also be ever watchful and prepared for external uncertainties. Success will entail calculated risk-taking. Risk assessment and risk management must be core competencies.

Of course, we must be clear-eyed about our competition. We should not fool ourselves into believing there is not a competitive dimension to our vision. Other universities are not standing still and there is only so much room at the top of higher education. However, while we will certainly keep an eye on the competition, our focus is mostly on our own performance. Peer and aspirant universities serve a useful purpose as navigation aids that help us determine our position and where we must coursecorrect. And certainly, we welcome opportunities to collaborate with peer universities, particularly our sister institutions in Tennessee. Nevertheless, we do expect a level playing field: fair treatment and resourcing that reflects the value we provide to our students, community, state, region and society.

Rivalry in higher education makes our vision more than an aspiration. Increasing competition among universities makes ascending to the highest ranks a strategic imperative. A shake-out in higher education is occurring and accelerating. Smaller, undifferentiated and underfunded institutions are failing, merging or being absorbed (by more successful institutions). Regional universities will likely suffer disproportionately. Further complicating matters, what it means and takes to be a leading research university is a moving target, requiring us to thoroughly rethink important elements of our University. Our Strategic Plan is reflective of this essential shift in mindset. Our plan proposes significant redesign and revamping of our enrollment and recruiting; academic instruction; student experience; research; and University operations and finance. Our objective is uplifting and differentiating the University of Memphis. We have no choice but to change. However, in forging a new course, we will stay true to ourselves and our principles. We will follow our own lights and do things the Tiger Way with integrity, hard work, courage, determination, kindness, discipline and teamwork. And we will continue to serve our community and the citizens of Tennessee as we rise to meet the opportunities that summon us.


Goal 1: Aggressively Provide Access.

Grow enrollment while simultaneously improving student preparedness by pursuing a diversified and far-reaching recruiting strategy that emphasizes our university’s compelling value proposition.

Goal 2: Create Opportunities to Succeed.

Foster an exciting, all-encompassing student experience, that encourages students to persevere, grow and thrive while laying the foundations for future success and creating an enriching lifelong bond with the university.

Goal 3: Outcomes-Focused Academics.

Deliver a rigorous, practical, well-rounded and supportive academic experience through innovative programs and teaching methods that focus on student success and prepare our students for the workforce and graduate education.

Goal 4: Strengthen Research Enterprise.

Perform life-changing, interdisciplinary research and scholarship that is supported by world-class infrastructure and conducted by highly motivated researchers addressing the community and society’s greatest challenges.

Goal 5: Recruit, Retain, Reward & Recognize our People.

Cultivate a respectful, supportive culture for our exceptional faculty and staff that recognizes and rewards excellence and success and that provides ample opportunities for personal growth, professional development, promotion and leadership.

Goal 6: Exemplify Operational Excellence.

Optimize operational efficiency and effectiveness through the establishment of high standards and expectations to maximize resource utilization and to uphold accountability.

Goal 7: Generate & Steward Financial Resources.

Increase funding and improve resource allocation to fuel growth through better alignment of internal priorities and external funding opportunities, through funding diversification and through application of financial best practices.