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Agenda focuses on retention

November 16, 2006

UW-River Falls faculty and administration have put together a Growth Agenda for the campus with the main goal being retention of current students.

In recent years, the retention rate has fluctuated between 70 and 75 percent. Other UW System universities have added requests for funding to allow for higher enrollment, but UWRF is focusing on decreasing the number of students who transfer to other schools after completing their freshman year.

“Our goal is to retain the [students] we have rather than try to replace them,” Public Affairs Director Mark Kinders said.

Last month, the UWRF Faculty Senate approved a resolution supporting the proposed Growth Agenda for the entire UW System and for the UWRF campus.

The main goal for the “Growth Agenda for Wisconsin” is “to achieve access and affordability for UW students, and boost economic growth for the state.”

Other UW campuses have also instituted separate initiatives to enhance the learning environment of each university. One of the major expectations of the plan is to increase the number of Wisconsin residents enrolled at UW-System schools, as well as increase the number of four-year college graduates.

Wisconsin Vice President for Higher Education for the American Federation of Teachers Ray Spoto sent out an Oct. 23 press release on behalf of The Association of University of Wisconsin Professionals (TAUWP) titled, “No Funds? No New Faculty? No ‘Growth Agenda!’” In the document, Spoto states, “TAUWP feels that the UW System criteria for growth are ill-conceived, especially when per-student funding is $1,200 less than the national average,” and that there has been a “severe reduction of faculty positions” over the last few years.

David Trechter, UWRF’s Recruitment, Admissions and Retention Committee chair, said he is not sure what those claims are based on.

“President Reilly was pretty clear when he was here that if we are to serve more students, as envisioned by his Growth Agenda, the state will have to increase funding for the UW System, and some of those dollars would have to be used to increase the number of faculty,” Trechter said.

Kinders said because St. Croix County is the 37th fastest-growing county in the country, enrollment at UWRF will continue to rise. There are 6,105 students earning credits at UWRF. Kinders said the target enrollment for the campus is 7,500 students by the year 2012.

“We are working to ensure that bringing additional students to campus occurs in a context within which we have planned appropriately to staff the needed courses and provide the necessary support,” Faculty Senate Chair Wes Chapin said. “One of the mechanisms through which some of this is occurring is the strategic planning process.”

The Strategic Planning Committee has established initiatives to complement the objectives of the proposed campus Growth Agenda.

According to the Strategic Planning Web site, one of the goals is to promote UWRF to “increase its visibility in the marketplace by establishing our unique brand among key stakeholders,” and “engage in strategic student recruitment that are compatible with the university’s priorities and objectives.”

In the press release, Spoto also states, “the ‘Growth Agenda’ will further cheapen the already-tarnished credentials of the UW System” by increasing class sizes to accommodate rising enrollment.

UWRF is known for its student-teacher ratio and small class sizes, which will not be altered by the implementation of the initiatives.

“If additional funding is generated by the Growth Agenda so that UWRF can hire the additional faculty and support staff and can build the additional facilities needed to serve the larger student body, the Growth Agenda needn’t adversely affect the student-teacher relationships that make this such a great place to work and go to school,” Trechter said.

Since the Growth Agenda is anticipated to increase enrollment at all UW System universities, those planning the UWRF initiative have taken precautions to make sure only positive changes occur.

“Of course, growth always leads to change, but it is clear that the relationship between faculty and students is important at the UWRF, and I believe that the Faculty Senate and the chancellor will continue to work to protect that relationship,” Chapin said. “It is our shared goal to ensure that any changes that occur from the Growth Agenda are positive for the University, and for the students, in particular.”

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