Southeast Missouri State University Shapes a Forward-Looking Strategic Plan Through the ACE Learner Success Lab

August 2022

Southeast Missouri State University (SEMO) is a public regional comprehensive university with its main campus located in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. SEMO joined the ACE Learner Success Laboratory (LSL) as a member of the inaugural cohort in 2020, and it employed the LSL’s facilitated change management process to further build upon and enhance student success initiatives related to the institution’s strategic direction as well as to create an actionable, forward-looking plan for increased graduate outcomes and success.


Initially, SEMO’s goal for participating in the LSL was to strengthen the institution’s ability to create a clear and concise pathway for students to access postsecondary education. Noting the LSL’s emphasis on equity, and continued demographic shifts at the university, SEMO also sought to discover strategies for improving learner success by focusing on equity as an approach to eliminating achievement gaps, which in turn helps lead to increased retention, persistence and completion rates.


SEMO’s Strategic Action Plan, developed through the LSL, includes the following recommendations and desired outcomes:  

  • Educate students to success and make positive impacts in their communities
  • Stabilize SEMO’s enrollment and graduate a diverse community of learners
  • Enhance stewardship of SEMO’s resources and promote a culture of belonging, respect, and continuous improvement

A subcommittee has since been established to identify, track, and report key performance indicators to measure progress toward the goals and actions included in the plan.


SEMO used the LSL’s facilitated change management process as a framework for developing a new, university-wide strategic action plan. A Strategic Action Plan Steering Committee was charged with developing a focused, prioritized, and concise plan to shape a vision for SEMO that was targeted, comprehensive, and forward-looking. The steering committee, composed of 21 representatives from across the institution, placed heavy focus on incorporating constituent input and feedback. The LSL process and invaluable guidance from their LSL adviser enabled the institution to create and adopt this new action plan, paving the way for SEMO’s faculty, staff, administration, and students to work innovatively and energetically together toward increased learner success and a full realization of the plan’s stated outcomes.

“The ACE Learner Success Lab led us to quickly understand that the future of learner success at SEMO hinged upon a comprehensive university-wide strategic action plan that encompassed three major outcomes. As a result, we now have a living, breathing plan. We credit the LSL’s change management approach and the coaching and mentorship of our LSL adviser for our success in developing an action-oriented path forward.”—Carlos Vargas, President, SEMO


As other institutions are thinking about—or preparing for—participation in the ACE Learner Success Lab, SEMO offers the following advice for consideration.

The opportunity to work with an accomplished strategic adviser throughout this process was invaluable. Recognize what an asset and value-add your adviser is and involve them in your LSL thinking and planning early and often.  

According to SEMO President Carlos Vargas, their adviser’s “knowledge of the present and future higher education landscape and university governance, combined with her positive energy, contributed significantly” to SEMO’s success throughout the LSL journey.

​The ACE Learner Success Lab

The Learner Success Lab is an inclusive learning community that integrates evidence-based practices for persistence and completion, life design and career exploration, and workforce skills development to assist participating institutions in developing a comprehensive strategy for learner success.