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February 10, 2000

UW-RF Outlines Student Growth Proposal

UW-River Falls recommended to the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents on Thursday that the University should be allowed to grow modestly over the next six years. Each UW System campus has been presenting its proposals to the Regents, who are expected to act later this year and set enrollment targets by campus for the years 2001-2006.

This past fall semester, UW-RF enrolled 5,212 full-time-equivalent students. That translated into a total enrollment of 5,728 students. The proposal offered Thursday would have the University increase its full-time equivalency to 5,500, with about 6,000 total enrollment.

Chancellor Gary A. Thibodeau said the proposal is a reflection of UW-RF's location in a dynamic growth region of western Wisconsin. It's home counties of Pierce and St. Croix are part of the official Twin Cities Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. Thibodeau noted, too, that UW-RF is the only public higher education institution in the 7,500 square miles of the St. Croix Watershed of Wisconsin and Minnesota.

"With the strong academic credentialing of faculty, the quality of our programs and our facilities, and the fact we are the only University in the St. Croix Valley,means that the potential for this University is phenomenal," Thibodeau said. "This University is looking at an extraordinary future."

According to Thibodeau, the proposal will strike a balance between maintaining quality of academic programs and ensuring the UW-RF's historic role of providing access. Sixty percent of UW-RF's students are the first generation in their family to attend college, while the national average is 40 percent.

"We don't want to lose our tradition of access, but we have set the bar very high in the outcomes we expect from our students when they leave here," Thibodeau said. High expectations in outcomes require sufficient resources to ensure a quality education, he said.

The University's presentation provided the Regents with an extensive environmental scan of the region and its growth. Among the growth indicators that Provost Robert Milam cited in his presentation, drawing on sources in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, are:

-The highest increases in traditional aged high school students over the next five years will occur in Pierce and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin and the southeastern corner of the state.

-Over the next two decades, Wisconsin's population is expected to increase by 18 percent, while Pierce County will grow by 19 percent and St. Croix County by 31 percent. Neighboring Dakota and Washington counties in Minnesota may nearly double in size, increasing their combined population to over 1 million persons.

-A survey conducted last year of business, government and non-profit human resources professionals by UW-RF and the University of Wisconsin System found strong interest in evening courses for workforce development. Some 5,000 persons are likely to seek courses in such areas as management skills and in technology.

-The same survey found potential candidates for a proposed master's of management degree now in planning in UW-RF's new School of Business & Economics.

According to Milam, the University hopes to meet the needs of the adult learners through evening courses and through Web-based learning.

Thibodeau noted the University will remain flexible in its growth and programs. With predictions of a continuing expansion of its knowledge-based economy, the region will demand that UW-RF "include room for flexibility. A public higher education plan should have the opportunity for change. The Board of Regents will insist on it," Thibodeau said.

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