At the conclusion of his Investing for Our Future forum, Chancellor James Schmidt said there are three options UW-Eau Claire has from this point onward: “Get bigger, get smaller or do nothing.”
Schmidt shared his proposed investment plans for the future of UW-Eau Claire with students, faculty and staff on Sept. 19-20 in a Q&A forum to hear their advice and suggestions.
Beginning in 2025, Schmidt said there will be an estimated 93,000 fewer high school graduates every year in the Midwest, which will ultimately contribute to a dramatic decline in the number of college-age students.
One significant goal Schmidt has is student retention, he said. At a similar Investing for Our Future speech on Aug. 27 at the Blugold Breakfast — an annual event that allows faculty and staff to gather before the start of the academic year, Schmidt said the demographic trends predicted for 2025 will call for tangible student retention objectives.
“We will need targeted, focused and proven strategies that can make a difference in attracting and retaining our students,” Schmidt said. “And we need to implement them now.”
On Friday, Schmidt said the goal is to retain 46 more students a year for a total of 138 students retained after three years.
One way Schmidt hopes to retain students is by proposing that $1.65 million be put towards faculty and instructional staff, he said, so there are more faculty and staff positions and thus more course availability.
Schmidt said he knows students are often anxious about course availability in terms of not getting into a class they need for their degree and then worrying about having their graduation date delayed.
In addition, Schmidt said he hopes that the continuing partnership with Mayo Clinic and the establishment of new programs for public health and biomedical engineering provide other outlets to help retain students as well.
“Every student that leaves (the university) is our failure,” Schmidt said.
Among other goals Schmidt proposed during the Friday forum, he said his plan also includes $300,000 for repairs and betterments, such as necessary fixes within academic buildings, and aims to build a national reputation in hopes of recruiting more students from out of state.
At the end of his speech, Schmidt asked audience members to raise their hands if they support the vision he has for future investments the university makes.
Some raised their hands. Others, like Annie Titus, a fifth-year English student, did not.
“In general, I like the direction it’s heading, but … there may be other options we haven’t thought about yet,” Titus said.
As a nontraditional student, Titus said she attended the forum on Friday, and has attended other similar presentations, because she feels that she has a responsibility to offer a different perspective on behalf of her peers who are typically traditional students.
“For the most part, many of the people who make this university run are either my age or slightly younger,” Titus said. “So perhaps maybe someone will hear me that may not hear someone else.”
Travis DuChene, a third-year broad field social studies education and political science student, said he believes that Schmidt’s plan is ultimately headed in the right direction, but there is still room for improvement.
“I don’t think that means that we can’t continually progress here,” DuChene said.
While absorbing Schmidt’s ideas from his presentation is important, DuChene said he thinks it’s more important to focus on what the chancellor didn’t say, in terms of allocating more support for current students and faculty before recruiting students to UW-Eau Claire on a more national scale.
“We have to be able to focus on the quality of student care before we open the flood gate,” DuChene said. “It’s not fair to students.”
For more information about Schmidt’s presentation and proposed plans for UW-Eau Claire, you can watch a livestream of Schmidt’s Investing for Our Future forum here: https://www.uwec.edu/learning-technology-services/live-streaming/general-events-1/.
Van Sistine can be reached at [email protected]