Over many decades the University of Massachusetts Amherst has developed into a top-ranked public research university, the only one in our state and one of only a handful in the Northeast. Five years ago, we collectively took stock of our situation and prospects as we developed our first comprehensive strategic plan. In the ensuing five years the campus has made immense strides. Now we renew our commitment to strategic planning and assess how events of the past five years have shaped our thinking as we look ahead.
The role of the public research university has become more important as the nation and the world confront escalating challenges related to technological change, human interactions, and the vitality of the natural environment. We recognize that we are entering a period of historic challenge for our society, and we are determined to rise to that challenge. Some long-term trends in higher education seem likely to continue: higher expectations on the part of students and society; greater competition for talented students; growing resistance to increasing tuition; tighter competition for sponsored research; declining share of state investments; and mounting pressure on operating budgets.
And looking ahead, we can see a sharper shift. In the wake of the Great Recession, birth rates in the U.S. dropped markedly and have yet to recover. Beginning in just three years the number of high school students will begin a long decline, and shortly after that the impact will reach colleges and universities. It is a national trend, but it will be felt most directly here in the Northeast. Institutions of all kinds will need to act strategically and decisively to account for this shift.
For the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the challenge is twofold. First, we want to maintain the remarkable momentum of the past few years and continue to attract and graduate students from Massachusetts and beyond who seek an affordable, world-class education. Second, we must shape a sustainable financial strategy that can underwrite that high-quality educational experience and the impact and innovation that flow from our research, scholarship, and creative activity. These two imperatives are inextricably intertwined.
We enter this period with a strong belief in our community and a redoubling of our commitment to the values that have sustained us for more than 150 years. When this time of transition is over, we intend for the University of Massachusetts Amherst to be a national model for the very best of American higher education in a new era. Leading public research universities demonstrate excellence in a broad range of fields, including the fine arts, the humanities, the social sciences, the natural sciences, and the professional schools. The stature of an institution's faculty and the nature of their accomplishments, across the disciplines, are major contributors to its national and international reputation and impact.
In arriving at the Strategic Plan for the next five years, a large group of campus stakeholders has worked tirelessly, taking careful stock of progress to date, external threats and opportunities, and internal strengths and weaknesses. What is presented in the next section is a statement of our mission, vision, values, and campus-level goals. This is followed by an outline of our financial planning.