Less than four months after the process began, the University of Wyoming’s first strategic plan since 2012 is taking shape, and a considerable part of that effort will likely involve increasing UW’s enrollment numbers.
One of UW President Laurie Nichols’ first orders of business when she arrived on campus in 2016 was developing a strategic plan to guide the university through the next five years. Nichols informed the UW Board of Trustees during its meeting Thursday that the plan is moving along the timeline laid out for its completion.
“I would summarize it by saying we are on schedule as the plan had laid out for strategic planning,” she said.
The fall semester was a time of “intake” as several listening sessions were hosted across the campus and state, drawing hundreds of people looking to tell UW’s leaders where they think the strategic plan should go, Nichols said.
“I hope people feel good about the fact we’ve taken time to listen,” she said.
Nichols said UW’s disappointing enrollment numbers in recent years was of high concern to many who attended listening sessions. Enrollment numbers for the fall 2016 semester were down despite considerable efforts to break a stagnant streak.
“Enrollment took many different takes, but one piece is we need to do everything we can to stabilize enrollment and get us growing again,” Nichols said. “A number of people are aware we’ve been losing enrollment for a couple of years here and there are concerns about that.”
The discussion on how to accomplish that goal ran the gamut, including recruiting high school students, increasing outreach efforts and working better with community colleges to ensure Wyoming residents looking to obtain a degree do so in the state, Nichols said.
“We’re losing too many students to surrounding states,” she said. “There’s concern about that, because everyone is aware that once they leave, they’re hard to get back.”
Provost Kate Miller said transfers and retaining undergraduates would be critical to that process.
“The no. 1 short-term way to increase enrollment is through transfers, and that’s a unique opportunity,” Miller said. “The second is retention, and we are working very hard.”
Nichols said UW’s relationship with Wyoming’s seven community colleges is strong, but that there are some where it hasn’t “closed the gap.” Trustee Mel Baldwin said he continues to hear of challenges facing students at Western Wyoming Community College in making smooth transitions to UW.
“I don’t hear this as often as I did say a year ago, but I still get the feeling that kids can’t transfer their credit in my part of the state to the University of Wyoming,” Baldwin said. “But they can to Utah State. ...That’s been a real challenge in my part of the state and we’ll have to continue efforts in that.”
Miller said it would be important to continue trying to communicate with prospective students so they know what community college courses could toward university degrees. Nichols said UW is also exploring dual enrollment to help students seamlessly work toward degrees.
“That would be an opportunity for students to enroll at community college and the university,” she said. “We can be even more deliberate about the program’s steps, including dual advising.”
As draft reports of notes from the listening sessions are nearly complete, the Strategic Planning Advisory Council is scheduled for a five-hour retreat style meeting to start identifying categories that would be important areas of focus for the plan.
“We’ll be thinking of themes like broad topics that will end up in the plan, then move on to goals,” Miller said.
Miller said a more definitive report would likely be ready by the trustees’ Feb. 15 meeting.