Chancellor Bernie Patterson presented the university’s strategic plan, A Partnership for Thriving Communities, to the UW System Board of Regents on Oct. 9, detailing efforts to improve upon a vibrant, healthy, prosperous and sustainable community.
This plan emphasizes a learning environment that allows the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point to be more inclusive, cohesive and engaged in the community. Patterson started working on it when he came to UWSP in 2010.
“It is pretty impressive that a bunch of academics managed to fit a strategic plan onto one page,” Patterson said. “With this plan, we are trying to be more purposeful, focused and attentive to the needs of students and the community.”
Patterson clarified that “community” means anywhere from the Old Main Neighborhood Association to Rhinelander. This effort goes far beyond just the university.
The vision of this plan is for UWSP to continue to develop, support and educate students and to encourage them to actively engage in their local, regional and global communities. This will prepare students for interaction in a diverse and sustainable world.
“The problem with these strategic plans is that they all end up sounding the same,” said Kym Buchanan, a professor of education and member of the strategic planning committee. “It is laid out as a fancy document, but this is actually a mindset. This plan has very real economic and political impacts, and we have to make sure we carry it out.”
Patterson referenced the cupola as a guiding light for UWSP and the strategic plan.
“Symbolism is important, and the cupola represents both old and new tradition,” Patterson said. “It is the foundation upon which we build a successful future.”
Patterson said the university has remained too hands-off for the past 20 years. The administration needs to be more engaged with students and their families.
UWSP has added a new retention coordinator position to better interact with new students. However, Patterson made it clear that retention is everyone’s responsibility. 87 percent is the goal for retention. The university is working toward this goal by strengthening the First Year Experience program, Freshman Year Seminar and Freshman Interest Groups.
“We are especially focusing on retaining high-risk students,” said Retention Coordinator Sally Cayan. “We do our best to advise students. If we cannot, we point them to the people and resources that can.”
It was also made clear that student recruitment is everyone’s responsibility. With the new General Education Program, students are graduating sooner with less debt than before. This causes enrollment to decrease, therefore creating a need to attract more students.
Buchanan said he used to think his job began and ended in the classroom. “I thought I just needed to get in the classroom to instruct students and score assignments,” Buchanan said. “I now realize it is a responsibility of the faculty and staff to create a quality educational environment that will
help more students choose Point.” Patterson said UWSP needs to align its resources with its goals. This means faculty should be recognized for the work they do. Many faculty members are paid well below the national average. The university would need $1.1 million to bring UWSP’s average faculty salary to the national average.
“We need to attract and keep quality faculty, and that could require increased compensation once we understand where our salaries are as compared to the rest of the region,” Buchanan said.
UWSP has a high turnover rate for faculty, so it is thought that increased salaries would help alleviate this issue. In addition, the university is working toward simplifying the hiring process for smoother transitions.
The university is also going through program prioritization under the plan. This allows for every department to be analyzed and realigned, perhaps resulting in consolidation and fewer departments.
“Program prioritization sometimes receives a negativeconnotation because it is often triggered by budget cuts at universities,” Buchanan said. “Luckily, that is not the issue here. We are going through this to increase efficiency.”
Student Government Association President Chris Slattery said SGA played a major role in the development of this plan. He said the underlying principles he finds most notable in the plan are the university’s ideals of democracy and social justice students are hoped to have acquired by graduation.
“It is important to realize that the university does not exist in a bubble,” Slattery said. “The college is in a city, the city in a county and so forth. It is important to make these connections and break down barriers.”