The University of Wyoming aims to recruit and retain more students as it moves beyond a year dominated by severe budget cuts and staffing reductions, according to a five-year plan approved by the school’s board of trustees.
The plan, which will act as a blueprint for UW from this year through 2022, was a priority for the school’s top administrators, President Laurie Nichols and Provost Kate Miller, both of whom started at the university within the last 18 months. Nichols has said boosting enrollment — which was down this past school year but appears set for a strong rebound — is a priority for the school, a stance reflected in the plan.
It was approved unanimously Friday by the board, according to a university press release. Official began developing the plan last fall. It included community and faculty input; Miller held a town hall to discuss the draft at Casper College in April.
The plan calls for the school to hit a number of targets by 2022, including:
boosting overall enrollment by nearly 1,200 students, to 13,500.
increasing the freshman- to-sophomore retention rate from 76 percent to 80 percent.
lifting the four-year graduation rate from 25.8 percent to 33 percent, and the six-year rate to 60 percent, up from its current 54.4 percent.
“annual research funding to rise from $95.3 million to $115 million.”
targeting an increase in endowed faculty from 36 to 60.
creating eight new degree programs and reorganizing or eliminating four more.
doubling the percentage of students with Honors College credentials. UW created its Honors College earlier this year.
increasing the endowment from $450 million to $650 million.
The goals are ambitious, Miller acknowledges in the press release. That’s especially true given recent funding reductions by the state, totaling around $41 million. As a result, the university has eliminated some 370 positions, laid off 37 staffers, cut $29 million and eliminated five degree programs.
The plan “is our future,” Nichols told the Star-Tribune earlier this month.
“It lays out our strategic priorities,” she said. “It talks about where we hope this university will be heading in five years. I’m anxious to get all the cutting behind us and really start to think about what this land-grant, flagship university needs to be for Wyoming.”
She added that the university was “hurting” from not having a plan, which it had lacked for years.
Focus on enrollment
The enrollment component is perhaps the most vital part of the plan. The university, along with the state’s seven community colleges, has experienced flat or declining enrollment for years, including a decline last fall. At one point, shortly after Nichols started in May 2016, she discovered enrollment would be down roughly 600 students.
After a tense summer, administrators were able to trim the decline to 190 students, but it was still the low point of years of stale enrollment, which Nichols blames largely on the school not having a blueprint for its future. The university hired a consultant to develop a strategy to boost enrollment, a mini-strategic plan that, among other things, calls for more outreach to high schools and increased cooperation with the community colleges.
Those smaller institutions often act as funnels for UW, which allows students who complete community college to obtain their bachelors degree in two years.
In addition to enrollment, the plan calls for “degree programs offered through distance technologies; collaborations with community colleges and K-12 schools; research funding; and private contributions to the university.”
It also calls for boosting and diversifying revenue options, though the university has no taxing authority and is largely dependent on state dollars. Much of the remainder of its funding comes from direct energy sources, like federal mineral royalties.
Chad Baldwin, spokesman for the university, said Monday that “revenue options” as meant by the plan were tuition and fee increases and broader pushes for private giving.
The school has raised record amounts of private funding over the past two years, officials have said. In 2016, the UW Foundation raked in more than $60 million; in 2017, it raised roughly $53 million.
The university hopes to add more distance and online students and establish an Office of Engagement and Outreach, notable goals given that the school dismantled its previous Outreach School earlier this year.
Baldwin said the new office would be focused more on serving the state, like increasing the number of lecture circuits by UW professors, rather than the Outreach School’s duty of recruiting students and offering coursework.
Still, university officials insist their commitment to satellite campuses, like UW-Casper, remains strong. Jeff Edgens, the director at UW-C, has repeatedly said there are no plans to pull out of Casper.
The plan also calls for an increase in minority students, an effort that will be aided by the chief diversity officer, a newly created position that was filled earlier this year. The plan sets a goal of 17 percent “enrollment of underrepresented students” by 2022, up from its current level of 13 percent.
Baldwin said that effort included creating closer ties with historically black colleges and universities, with the hope of recruiting alumni to attend UW for graduate school. It also would emphasize Native American outreach, specifically toward Wyoming’s two tribes.
“The general perspective is we all know Wyoming is not particularly ethnically or racially diverse,” he said. “If we want students to be prepared for a global environment ... after they graduate, they need to have experiences with people from different backgrounds. And that’s what’s really driving this.”
UW established an American Indian center earlier this year as part of that broader effort.