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UW-RF Faculty, Staff Briefed on Upcoming Academic Year

A difficult economic picture on the federal and state government level will present a host of challenges to UW-River Falls as it heads into the current academic year. That assessment was delivered by Chancellor Ann Lydecker on Monday (Aug. 26) in her address to some 400 faculty and staff members that marks the traditional beginning of the school year. Classes begin on Sept. 3.

Lydecker and other senior administrators struck a balance between a potentially bleak fiscal picture against the University's intensive planning process that has outlined nine priority objectives that will help in setting a common vision during the coming years. Last academic year, UW-RF returned over $800,000 to the state to help address its $1.3 billion budget deficit, reported Virgil Nylander, vice chancellor for administration and finance. With a projected shortfall of $2.8 billion in the upcoming biennium, it will magnify the issues confronting UW-RF.

Addressing the political and fiscal climate, Lydecker noted, the University will have to remain aggressive at the federal level to attract funding for student grants and loans, while pursuing new research and program dollars.

"At the state level, the outlook is perhaps even more uncertain," Lydecker said. The current fiscal year budget was settled in late July by draining the state's tobacco settlement fund. "We have a major job ahead of us to educate the populace of this state, and our legislators, about the value of higher education to the long-term economic development of this state. Public higher education is an investment in the future, and it must be a legislative priority.

"The payoffs may not be immediately apparent because it takes four years to produce a graduate. But when we couple our work in preparing future teachers, scientists, artists, government workers, business owners, doctors, lawyers, and other workers with the partnerships and entrepreneurial activity we engage in with business and industry, government, and other agencies, it is clear that playing out the Wisconsin Idea through the UW System is the route to a vital and vibrant state economy in the future," Lydecker said.

She offered that the coming political season will be an important one for students, faculty and staff. National political analysts are predicting a close election for Wisconsin's governor. In Minnesota, that state's new governor will face a $2.3 billion deficit that could affect reciprocity or economic development initiatives that will affect UW-RF and western Wisconsin, Lydecker said.

"If ever there was a year to follow the candidates and vote with knowledge, this is it," Lydecker said. "Listen to what our legislative and gubernatorial candidates have to say about their priorities, about higher education, about balancing the budget. Attend forums where they present their ideas, and then exercise your right to vote, beginning with the primary elections on September 10." She noted that student leaders are planning again to launch a student "get out the vote campaign."

The state's budget situation also will raise questions about access to the University. Last year, the Board of Regents temporarily froze admissions when confronted with proposed dramatic budget cuts. While the chancellor did not predict the coming biennium's budget debate, she noted that "to maintain quality, we must make adjustments in either access or revenue. When revenue goes down, we must limit access, if quality is to be maintained."

Quoting UW System President Katharine Lyall, Lydecker noted: "The System has absorbed almost $100 million in base cuts during the past decade, while continuing to admit more students in response to enrollments needs. We lead the nation with the lowest administrative costs (5.8 percent) of any public university system, so we educate about 20,000 more students than our peers for the same amount of moneyŠ and we have now hit the wall. We cannot continue the downward trend in our budgets."

The fiscal context emphasizes the importance of UW-RF having a common vision and set of institutional priorities, Lydecker said. She noted that the institution will continue to expand on and implement its nine priorities for the years 2003-05. They are to:

•Foster a diverse, inclusive and supportive climate within the campus community. "To create a climate that supports our students, as well as ourselves, we will gather data about the climate, improve communication channels across the campus, conduct focus groups to attain suggestions for improvements, develop 'signature' all-campus interactive events, and increase opportunities for one-on-one campus interactions."

•Continue to improve the educational experiences of all students. Among the expected results are a well-integrated general education program, a broad array of experiential opportunities, expanded opportunities for student research and scholarly activity, increased knowledge and experience with technology, and validation from employers about the quality of our students¹ academic preparation.

•Design and implement an enrollment management plan for undergraduate and graduate students through 2008. Lydecker said success will be indicated by improved retention and graduation rates, the identification of programs targeted for growth‹or for contraction‹larger pools of diverse, qualified applicants, and improved conversion ratios among admitted students.

•Recruit and retain quality faculty and staff and continue their professional development. oIncrease the global involvement of students, faculty and staff. That includes internationalizing the curriculum, increasing student abroad for students and faculty, and expanding international connections in the community.

•Value, encourage and support life-long learning. "By that we mean, we will continue to develop an array of programming for students of all ages ­ whether babies and toddlers enrolled in our child care/early childhood programs, elementary and high school students in our pre-college programs, or seniors in our highly successful Senior Outreach Program ­ and we will increase participation in these programs." Lydecker said.

•Develop and implement an effective outcomes assessment plan.

•Expand the role of the University within the St. Croix Valley. Lydecker said success will be measured by the number of University employees who serve on community committees and action groups, the number of requests from off campus for faculty and staff expertise, the number of opinion leaders attracted to campus, the increased number of partnerships and outreach designed to meet the needs of the region, and the number of people from the community who attend campus functions.

"We already have a number of existing partnerships, which we think are effective, but we must continue to find means of advancing them and also communicating about them both internally and externally," Lydecker said.

•Expand and balance the resources necessary to advance the university. Lydecker said UW-RF must expand and document how resources are used. "Within this goal we will build our advancement operation in order that we may undertake a major fund-raising campaign, which will lead to increased gifts from alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and corporate foundations and ultimately to an endowment of which we can be proud," she concluded.


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