It’s one thing to say you want to be the best university for the world. It’s another to believe it. Here, we understand what it takes to live up to such bold words.

The people who come to this university have a desire to serve. It drives our instincts, guides our decisions, and gives us credibility in the increasingly crowded and competitive field of higher education.

From humble beginnings nearly a half-century ago, our mission was to respond to the needs of our students, faculty, staff, and community. That’s the foundation of a great public university, and it’s the reason so many people are attracted to this institution.

Before you understand the components of this book, understand who we are and what we stand for. Responsibility is the soul of George Mason University.

Our Identity—A University for the World

George Mason University is an innovative and inclusive academic community committed to creating a more just, free, and prosperous world. As a public research university in one of the most important political, economic, and intellectual hubs in the world, we accept our responsibility to serve others: to help our students succeed, enrich the life of our community, and contribute to solving some of the most complex global problems of our time. This is why our vision and strategic plan insist in defining our goal as striving to be the best university for the world.

While we hope to be recognized for our achievements, our goal is not to move up on a reputation scale or media ranking but to create the most value we can for those who invest in us and those we serve. We want to help our students succeed professionally and grow as engaged and productive citizens committed to building a better society. We want to help our community be a better place to live. We want to be a great investment for Virginia’s taxpayers, our students, our partners, and our donors. We want to be a place where diverse and talented faculty and staff can thrive personally and professionally. We want to produce scholarship, ideas, and inventions that are relevant to society. We want to deliver the type of education, graduates, research, ideas, and experiences that will make the greatest possible difference in the world.

When the namesake of our university attended the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, he was among three lone dissenters who refused to sign America’s founding document. George Mason risked friendships and personal reputation to question the conspicuous absence of a declaration of individual rights in the Constitution. He questioned conventional thinking, stood on his principles, and, because of that, his ideas eventually led to the adoption of the Bill of Rights. In some ways George Mason’s life and historical role are captured by our academic culture: our commitment to question the conventional thinking of our day; our responsiveness to the needs of the society we are part of; and our commitment to building a freer, more just world.

As we perpetuate these traditions of questioning, responding, and acting — applying them in a 21st-century context—a robust academic and financial foundation will be vital. On the academic side, our plan calls for innovative programs, learning modes, and pathways. It sets up growth goals in enrollments and completion and a commitment to the career readiness of our graduates. It also calls for an expanded research agenda to benefit our students and the innovation needs of our community.

At the same time, we consider it our responsibility, as a public institution and as a university, to be a sound investment to each of our constituents. We have proven ourselves in this area already, given the high educational value we deliver at a relatively low cost and with comparatively few resources. Our goal is to cement ourselves as the highest return on investment (ROI) in Virginia for students and the commonwealth.

To achieve these goals, we will need to be even more entrepreneurial in how we generate new resources and more effective in building a strong philanthropic foundation for the future. Gifts from alumni, friends, and organizations will fund immediate strategic initiatives, as well as procure a stable financial foundation for our future, so we can continue to offer a high ROI. To fulfill our commitments spelled out in our vision regarding student access and success, it will be especially crucial to create an innovative tuition and funding model—one that enables us to welcome a wide range of student backgrounds while not leaving those same students saddled with debt on graduating.

Following on the legacy of our namesake—George Mason—and grounded in our unique characteristics—the Mason IDEA—we will make true on our promise to be the best university for our students, for our community, for our faculty and staff, and for the world.