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A few students gather in the Yellowjacket Union on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior on Monday morning. The university is facing fiscal challenges due to declining state aid and enrollment numbers. (Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com)

UWS plans for success

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The University of Wisconsin-Superior has major plans to increase enrollment and revenue.

The university is using strategic planning and program prioritization to help lift it out of a challenging fiscal environment.

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“In the end, this will help us align operation to our current budget,” said Lynne Williams, director of marketing and communications at UWS. “This will help us identify opportunities of growth.”

Strategic planning will review UWS’s mission and vision on how the school can move forward in the future while the program prioritization presents an in-depth look at the university’s non-academic and academic programs.

According to UWS’s strategic plan, there are two vital factors that contribute to UW-Superior’s difficult fiscal situation — state support and tuition/enrollment revenue.

“Enrollment, state budget cuts and tuition freeze are putting us in a challenging time,” said Williams. “This process isn’t easy for anyone. I don’t think we’ve experienced anything like this in recent history, certainly not at this level.”

The university has taken numerous budget reductions over the last six budget cycles, dating back to 2003. Direct liability due to budget cutbacks and current shortages requires the university to identify an annual savings of $2 million within the next two years. UWS officials say the budget must now be reduced by $944,000 per year in order to meet the reduced levels of future state funding.

“Our state support is going down, so we are more reliant on tuition now,” Williams said. “The state has been in fiscal challenges, so we understand it’s difficult to allocate money.”

Enrollment has also gone down quite a bit. There were 2,924 students for the 2006-2007 school year, 2,856 students for the 2010-2011 school year and 2,656 for the current school year.

“We are seeing enrollment challenges and we need to fix that,” Williams said. “We must tend to the needs of admissions.”

According to the strategic plan, “the heavy dependence on tuition when combined with decreasing enrollment has added to the challenging situation. Starting with fiscal year 2014, tuition rates across the UWS system are frozen and expected to remain that way for the next biennium budget cycle. Thus, for the foreseeable future the only way to increase tuition revenue is to increase enrollment.”

UWS students say the high cost of tuition is taking a toll on their pockets. A UWS philosophy course is hosting a “Rally for Affordable Education” Thursday to say that affordable education is achievable and necessary.

“It’s difficult for students because tuition is expensive,” said senior Stephanie Ukkola, a communications and philosophy major. “Many students are facing huge amounts of debt. We are a public university, but it’s like we are paying for a private education.”

The prioritization process which started in fall 2013 is a self-review where all departments, offices and programs at the university will be evaluated based on cost effectiveness, internal and external demand opportunity and quality. It allows the administration to see where improvements need to be made. The Chancellors Cabinet will then discuss all of the evaluations and determine where to invest, preserve, merge or eliminate programs. This is expected to help overcome financial challenge by decreasing expenses, increasing revenue and helping to reduce budget costs.

 “Rather than institute across-the-board cut and trim at the margin, the program prioritization process in conjunction with the strategic plan allows us to be more thoughtful and strategic in our approach to inevitable reductions in budget,” stated Renee Wachter, Chancellor of UWS, in an email. “The major initiatives of the strategic plan help to inform us where particular emphases should occur in the prioritization process.”

 In terms of what changes have been made so far, Williams said it is still in the works.

“We are still working through the process,” she said.

The program prioritization program is currently in progress. More than 20 graduate programs were evaluated last week. Strategic issues that still need to be addressed include ensuring program relevance, ensuring alignment of budget with priorities, enhancing engagement with larger opportunity and strategically enhancing enrollment. Wachter says the strategic plan calls for examination and development of several processes which are best accomplished over the coming months.

One change the university is making is relocating the admissions office from Old Main to the Yellowjacket Union. Administration said this could help with enrollment since it’s one of the main offices prospective students visit.

“We hope this new relocation will attract a lot more students,” said Graham Garfield, student government association president. “I know administration thinks it will help with the enrollment.”

The new strategic plan will be presented to the campus on May 15. The anticipated presentation of prioritization information will be shown on campus May 22. Both meetings are open to the public.

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