Chancellor Ford Takes on Tough Issues with Regents
With everything that makes UW-Parkside so amazing on display for the UW System Board of Regents last week, no one would blame Chancellor Debbie Ford if she chose to stick to the brighter side of the story. Regents enjoyed outstanding arts presentations in The Rita, learned about the success of pre-med students in the UW medical school RUSCH program, and met community partners who highly value the university's intellectual resources.
However, Chancellor Ford also included in her address to the Regents during the opening session, the potential barriers to success in meeting the needs of students and the communities of southeastern Wisconsin. She singled out reductions in state funding for the 2011-13 and 2013-15 biennia, the tuition freeze, increased costs, and reliance on cash reserves to fund base expenses as barriers to progress in advancing the mission of UW-Parkside.
"As chancellor, I am very concerned about our inability to reallocate internal funds to provide competitive salaries for our dedicated faculty and staff," she said. "I wanted to make it clear to the Regents that the use of reserves can only meet needs on a one-time basis and is not financially sustainable."
Ford readily admits that the challenges are not just about what happens in the Legislature and the governor's office. "Our enrollment has been flat to declining for most of the decade," she said. "For total headcount, we are off 3 percent this fall. However, I asked the Regents to look at the latest data. It is very apparent that there are many areas of opportunity. We are highly focused on 'optimal enrollment.' We are realigning resources and forming finely tuned enrollment plans that span every program within the university."
Ford pointed to recent "good news" for enrollment, graduation and retention this fall:
- new-student enrollment up 7.6 percent;
- transfer-student enrollment up 9 percent;
- housing occupancy up 9 percent;
- year-one to year-two retention up 10 percent; and
- for the past three years, the number of graduates is tracking ahead of the university's "More Graduates for Wisconsin" goal.
Chancellor Ford helped to clarify some of the intricacies of sustainable enrollment growth, "It is very easy to only look at whether enrollment is up or down. That is usually the main point of the story in the media," Ford said. "We are projecting enrollment growth, stronger retention and higher graduation rates. It is our responsibility to do the best job possible to ensure the success of our students. That is what we are doing and the results of our efforts are beginning to show.
"Every member of our campus community is very aware of the intense process examination that has been going on here for the past three years. Our students and our community depend on this university as a vital partner. The Regents saw that. And if they didn't know it before they arrived here, they now know the challenges we face and how we are meeting those challenges."
Another stressor Ford presented to the Regents was the pace of change facing UW-Parkside. "We're certainly not averse to change," she said. "But we are balancing many priorities at once. Change combined with declining funding and stagnant salaries can take its toll on morale.
"Maybe the challenges come a bit more rapidly today. However, this is our generation's calling. I am certain that UW-Parkside, our students, faculty, staff and alumni, will be better off tomorrow because of the work we are doing today. That was my message to the Regents."