College enrollment projected to drop in 2025

2025 Strategic Plan in motion to increase recruitment and retention

Bridget Kelley

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Photo by Alee Erickson

The enrollment management department is housed in Schofield Hall

The mission for any university’s success is recruitment and retention — getting students to come to the school and, subsequently, getting those students to stay enrolled.

Billy Felz, Interim vice chancellor of enrollment management, is in charge of this mission at UW-Eau Claire.

With the projected drop in high school graduates in the Midwest after 2025, Felz said the enrollment management team has their work cut out for them.

Chancellor James Schmidt put together an executive team in 2019 to create a plan to tackle this drop in 2025 and to market UW-Eau Claire to prospective students in the best way possible.

“(The idea is that) we are going to have such an outstanding presence and product people are going to want to come here,” Felz said. “Like we still want to be able to put things out into the ether that says ‘Eau Claire is an amazing school. They’re going to come here.’”

Felz joined the enrollment management team in 2019, the same year the enrollment management team began working on the 2025 Strategic Plan.

Before joining as the special assistant to the Vice Chancellor of Enrollment Management in July of 2019, Felz worked for about three years as executive director for advising and retention, and before that, was the assistant dean for the College of Business.

After Albert Colom, the previous vice chancellor for enrollment management, stepped down, Felz was made the executive director for enrollment management. He was appointed as the interim vice chancellor of enrollment management in January of this year.

The Enrollment Management division is now back to its original configuration. However, the division has called in some backup.

The enrollment management department has partnered with the academic affairs department; the equity, diversity, inclusivity and student affairs department and the finance and administration department to create a “holistic experience” for students in an effort to increase retention.

The team put efforts into making UW-Eau Claire more enticing by ramping up the athletics department by adding men’s baseball, men’s soccer, and women’s lacrosse. They also put funding towards expanding the Blugold Marching Band.

Felz said the two key points to retention are that a student is connected and successful. By expanding athletics and the BMB, enrollment management is giving students the keys they need to be connected and successful. 

COVID-19 played a major part in getting the ball rolling towards this goal, Felz said. After the plan was made in 2019, the pandemic really “hit the fast forward button” on what the university’s next steps were going to be.

“We look at what resonates with families,” Felz said. “And we know that there is a growing need in not only the state but across the country, around careers in health and human sciences and human well-being. We have great programs around that; we have great facilities around that.”

Felz cited the partnership with Mayo Clinic as a huge asset when it comes to recruiting students looking to go into healthcare.

Felz also emphasized the long-term investment of a Blugold degree. With the record number of job openings in America and the pandemic still in full swing, the idea of college is not as alluring. 

In the past few years, especially during the pandemic, many people have started their own businesses. Kenzie Beam, a fourth-year social work student, has had a business selling scrunchies that she started in high school.

Beam’s business, Every Bitch Needs a Scrunchie, sells scrunchies primarily on Instagram. During the pandemic, Beam said she thought about taking time away from school to focus on her business, but ultimately decided against it. 

“I’m a senior this year, so I’m super close,” Beam said. “I think if I was a freshman, it would have been different. I would love to do this full time, though.”

Beam said she views her business as a side hustle, and she ultimately still wants to get her degree and go to grad school. She said her plan is to get a job in social work and continue her business on the side, “for as long as it makes sense.”

Felz said the short-term benefits of a job don’t measure the long-term benefits of a college degree.

“Our struggle is getting new freshmen to come here,” Felz said. “I think some of our freshmen are looking at that and saying ‘oh my gosh, I could make $30,000 a year and not be in classes. Of course I’m going to do that.’”

Many businesses, especially those previously paying minimum wage, desperate for laborers, raised their wages and added sign-on bonuses to entice people to work for them. 

“My answer to that,” Felz said, “is that a degree — especially a Blugold degree — really does increase your earning potential.”

Kelley can be reached at [email protected]