What – if not higher education – will ‘future-proof’ society? There’s rarely a day without hearing in the news and social media how higher education is broken. Yet, there are few vibrant regions in our world without a strong research university at the center. Think about Silicon Valley in northern California, Innovation Campus Bonn in Germany, Research Triangle Park in Raleigh-Durham, Oslo’s science city, Cleveland’s health-tech corridor, or Phoenix’s bioscience core. Research universities are among the greatest sources of talent, entrepreneurship, R&D, and change – important inputs to creating prosperity in the regions that surround them. Change begets progress.
The world is changing at an unprecedented pace, with technology, society, financial and global challenges evolving rapidly, impacting us at home and work. Fortunately, for many at UWM, working in higher education is a calling that speaks to our deep commitment to help students achieve their dreams and improve the lives of those in our communities. This is an enduring mission.
What has changed is the critical importance of being future-ready at UWM. I covered this in detail during my fall 2023 plenary address, which is also covered in this UWM Report story. Below, I offer some key points.
First, we have accomplished much despite the headwinds we face. From reaching the second-highest level of annual funds raised in UWM’s history, to our institutional Higher Learning Commission reaccreditation, to our life-altering achievements through strategic partnerships, to essential 2030 Action Plan progress – we are clearly having a positive impact. And we have significant potential to have an even greater impact.
Re-emphasizing student success is critical to the lives of our students, and to our future. That means changing our culture, ways of thinking, and what we do – starting with the fact that we all directly impact the well-being and success of our students.
Each of us needs to expand UWM’s student-centric focus and help combat drops in enrollment and student retention. While overall enrollments are normalizing, our retention rates are concerning. Not including those who expected to graduate, more than 3,400 undergraduates from spring 2022 to spring 2023 did not return for their next term. The absence of those re-enrollments amounts to more than $16 million in lost revenue. It would be financially profound if we could elevate even a portion of that loss. We have a moral obligation for our students’ success. Meaningfully addressing our re-enrollment would afford funds to address salaries, recruitment and retention of talented employees, advance support for students and employees, and move us toward greater growth and financial security. That’s the difference that enrollments make.
Here are just a few ways that you can help:
- Take steps to help students feel like they belong here. No matter your role, you can make a profound difference in a student’s day simply by making eye contact, saying hello, and asking, “How is your day going?”
- Be part of the solution of employees participating in the Campus Cares program to enhance students’ and employees’ sense of belonging.
- Participate in a Support U workshop to learn how employees can foster a culture of support.
- Embrace that our students’ success is the responsibility of every employee. This is the successful philosophy at the Milwaukee Academy of Science, where the culture is that no student fails.
To continue providing an exceptional education and making a positive impact, we must be prepared for the future. To remain relevant and effective, we must be agile, forward-thinking, and open to change.
You are essential to all of this. Together, we can build a strong future, one that reflects our commitment to the success of our students, to discovery and research, and to strengthening the foundation for a strong democracy. Thank you for your care, dedication and commitment.
Mark A. Mone, PhD