Chancellor’s Activities: A Vision for 2020

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Dear UWM Faculty and Staff,

In my latest campus message, I talked about setting our sights on the future. Today, in my first ‘Chancellor activities’ update of the year, I share an overview of my 2020 vision for UWM. This direction has benefitted from recent discussions with our governance groups.

UWM’s Remarkable Rise

UWM has come a long way since 1956. It took 8 years – yes, 8 years – of advocacy for a proposed merger of the then-Extension Center and the Wisconsin State College in Milwaukee to create what is now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. In today’s fast-paced environment, taking 8 years to move forward with a major initiative would be deadly. Innovations and improvements stand still for no one.

Together, we have monumental impact on lives. Thanks to your efforts and talent, alumni from all of our campuses find great successes. We have become a research powerhouse. UWM is the most diverse campus in the UW System (UWS). Our communities have grown and have been positively impacted through our engagements, partnerships and giving back. My goal is to  continue these efforts and to have even greater impact.

Things That Make Us Move Faster

The world of education and expectations of us are moving faster. Take technology, distance education and all forms of online learning, for instance. UWM offered its first online course 25 years ago. Today, we offer more than 850 online classes and 30 fully online degrees and certificates – more than any other institution in the UW System and with the largest number of online students in the state. Yet, it takes us days to approve a prospective student application in a world where you can get a $1M mortgage approved in less than an hour. Competitive ‘promise’ packages and attractive career alignment programs put other institutions out front. Dual enrollment options are expanding furiously. These are all ways to speed along completion for our students. We need to be in front of this. These are key opportunities to expand our enrollments, and, in turn, our diversity, equity and inclusion.

Things That Slow Us Down

Inertial forces exist, either pushing us back or constraining our ability to be nimble. Externally, we are part of a state system with bureaucracy and limited authority for the allocations we receive. This, in part, creates resource and funding constraints on our campuses. While we educate a comparable number of Wisconsin individuals as our state’s flagship institution, our funding allocation per student, while growing, is comparable to the comprehensive institutions. How might we obtain a funding level that is supportive of a top-tier research university with an access mission?

Demography is not our friend. As I’ve said more than a few times, “higher ed is running out of teenagers.” We have nearly always been in politically-challenged environment. We battle negative perceptions about the value of higher education. The cost of college and increasing debt load for students are serious state and national concerns – and they impact equity and inclusion. Changing workforce needs require different learning opportunities.

Internally, we are part of a higher education culture that is steeped in long-standing bodies of knowledge and established pedagogy. There is some denial that changes in our field will actually occur and a proclivity for “this is how we have always done things.” This is not agile. Then again, learning and research take time. There are some things that cannot be accelerated. Within our system, our structure, levels of governance, policies and procedures, and slow approval processes are monumental and, at times, detrimental.

What We Are Doing And What We Need To Boldly Pursue

Of the many extraordinary things we do at UWM, what can we do more of or do differently? How are we elevating our thinking? 2020 is a time to consider these options.

We have elevated and enhanced in major ways the importance of student enrollment and success priorities. We are creating an outstanding learning environment for our students. Our high impact practices such as invasive advising and academic supports, experiential learning, and engaging in research are just a few examples. Our continued focus on enrollment management – across all functions – is how we will successfully attract, retain, support and graduate students more effectively. This leads to prosperity for them and for us. Enrollment is our most important revenue source.

As a university with a dual mission, we have the unique distinction of being the ONLY university in the system that is an access and research institution. No other ‘R1’ university does research better on such a lean budget: focusing on critical areas and reinvesting where possible has kept us in the ‘R1’ rankings. This will continue and collaborative research is essential.

Our future will be shaped by partnerships. They bring resources to the table, help align priorities, increase engagement, create and focus educational progress and research, expand the talent pipeline, and provide opportunities for growth. Our major partnerships include, for example, the Northwestern Mutual Data Science Institute, Connected Systems Institute, Freshwater Collaborative of Wisconsin, and M-Cubed. These will change us in profound ways. Some thought-provoking examples outside of UWM are Cornell University’s partnership with Technion-Israel Institute of Technology; and the Starbucks College Achievement Plan at Arizona State University.

Partnerships also help us build a stronger case for elevated state General Purpose Revenue/base funding. Coalition-building is essential for us to attain greater UWM support and increased resources from the state. In the same way, philanthropic support is key to our fiscal future. Based on our recent campaign, we will increase our endowment and scholarships to attract and retain students, faculty and staff as well as strengthen partnerships, research, and targeted activities.

To attain higher levels of support, we must elevate our visibility and build our image through paid and unpaid media, marketing and branding. Our University Relations team will roll out a new branding campaign this spring that spotlights our people, programs and unique aspects, all of which position us to be considered as a top choice university.

Yesterday, at our Chancellor’s retreat, we examined our strategic directions to shape a stronger, more successful UWM. We took a careful look at our most valuable attributes and actions, sought additional elements to further advance our goals, discussed concerns and problematic areas, and how we can more fully reflect diversity, equity and inclusion in all that we do. As an institution, we are preparing for the next 10+ years through initiatives such as our 2030+ Think Tank. We need everyone to contribute to our efforts. One example is how Alejandra Lopez in the Lubar School of Business led a collaborative effort to integrate retention initiatives and create connections with first-year students, resulting in a significant improvement in retention. New ways of doing things will better position us internally.

During the year, I will share more detailed information in future activities updates. For now, this message serves as the big picture – our road map – to preview the directions that will bring us the results we want and need. We have much momentum thanks to you. I am confident that, together, we can increasingly become a university that is the top choice for our students, faculty and staff.

Best regards,

Mark A. Mone
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee