In her third State of the University address delivered Tuesday, University of Wyoming President Laurie Nichols gave the “very first report card” on the progress made after the first year of the school’s five-year strategic plan, which was adopted in July 2017 by the Board of Trustees.
Nichols’ speech was given during a joint meeting of Faculty Senate and Staff Senate before Tuesday’s convocation for new students.
Nichols vowed to give a report on the strategic plan’s progress each year, and said a printed report of the first year’s progress would be published in coming weeks.
The strategic plan includes four overarching goals, with 30 measurable benchmarks UW can use to gauge its progress toward those goals.
Goal 1: Driving excellence
In its work toward raising its academic eminence, UW actually regressed in the first year on several of the six benchmarks UW’s strategic plan sets out.
By 2022, the university aims to be receiving $115 million in external research funding each year.
In 2016, the university received $95.3 million, a number which dropped to $80.7 million in 2017.
The university also hopes to be receiving at least five intellectual property licenses that bear income per year, but received no new licenses in 2017.
Over the course of the strategic plan, the university aims to increase the number of international students from 791 to 1,050.
The number of international students has now made a small drop to 785, and Nichols said that number could slide further during the strategic plan’s second year “given the policies at a federal level.”
By 2022, the university hopes to have 650 students and faculty studying abroad each year. After increasing the number to 508 from 425 after the first year, UW is already 37 percent toward that five-year goal.
Goal 2: Inspiring students
During the first year, Nichols said the school made the most progress on its goal of “inspiring students,” which calls for enrollment increases and improvement in graduation rates.
UW made modest gains in both overall enrollment and enrollment of transfer students.
By 2022, the school aims to increase the retention rate for full-time undergraduates students to 80 percent from 76 percent. After the first year, UW is already halfway toward that goal.
“Don’t take that lightly,” Nichols said. “It’s hard to move retention 1 percent, and we were able to make it 2.”
Modest improvement to graduation rates were also made in the first year, though the number of students graduating with a credential from the Honors College made a slight drop after the first year.
As part of the goal to “inspire students,” UW hopes to have 2-3 new dormitories being constructed, if not completed, by 2022.
A legislative task force has been working on a housing plan this summer, with an initial bill draft being published last week proposing at least $200 million in new dorms.
“I was a little discouraged by this until our last meeting, and now I’m encouraged,” Nichols said. “I’ll work hard to make sure they don’t spell UWYO.”
House Speaker Steve Harshman, R-Casper, chairs the task force and proposed building dorms along 15th Street designed in the form of letters legible from the sky.
The drafted floor plans were panned by university officials and Harshman’s fellow legislators.
Goal 3: Impacting communities
Part of the university’s strategic plan calls for UW to play a greater role in Wyoming communities through outreach programs and other collaboration.
The strategic plan includes just two measurable benchmarks to gauge progress on those goals: Increasing attendance at UW sporting events and receiving a Classification of Community Engagement from the Carnegie Foundation. In the Carnegie Foundation’s latest round of recognition, 240 institutions across the U.S. received the Classification of Community Engagement.
Nichols said UW made “very good progress” on the community engagement process and aims to apply for the Carnegie Foundation’s next round of certification, which starts in 2024.
UW is set to open the Office of Engagement and Outreach in January, which Nichols said should help “lead to a designation at this university that I think we deserve.”
Over the course of five years, the strategic plan calls from attendance at intercollegiate athletic events to be increased from 275,372 to 310,000. During the 2017-2018 academic year, attendance already topped 300,000.
Goal 4: A High-Performing University
The strategic plan’s fourth goal includes several disparate objectives, like bettering workplace conditions and “enhancing financial resources.”
The university increased its endowment by $50 million during the strategic plan’s first year and hopes to increase the endowment by another $150 million during the next four years.
The strategic plan also calls for total university revenue to be increased by $50 million during the course of the strategic plan. Revenue was increased by $15 million in the plan’s first year, though Nichols acknowledged much of the increase can be credited to funding for the Science Initiative.
In accordance with the strategic plan’s mandate to update all university regulations, the Board of Trustees modified 23 regulations in the past year and has added three more.
Faculty Senate President Donal O’Toole said the revamp of UW regulations would occupy considerable time for his organization this year.
“Many are not contentious, but some are and it’s important that we get them right,” he said.
Goal 4 calls for strong job satisfaction among employees, and to that end, Nichols praised the market-based and merit-based salary increases given this month that were based on a 3 percent pool.
Nichols said those increases were possible because of a new salary policy that she said will allow UW to “more consistently award salary increases now because we’re putting together a strong process.”
O’Toole praised Nichols for securing the salary increases.
“I want to thank the president very much,” he said. “That was a promise she made and a promise she kept.”