Friday Focus: Enrollment is key to a vibrant campus

December 20, 2019

Tori Tragis

UAF photo by JR Ancheta
UAF photo by JR Ancheta

— by Dan White, chancellor

As we head into the holidays, I hope that you will each think positively about our future at UAF. It has been a challenging summer and fall and I am afraid that there is a case of the budget cut blues lurking out there. Well, lucky for us there is a cure.

When I think about what affects morale, I think of two things. First, our morale increases when we see a positive future ahead. And second, our morale gets a boost when it is clear that we, individually and collectively, have a role in shaping both where we are going and how we get there. What we need now is a way to retrain our energy back to the future.

Are we ever in luck!! We have a solution and it just so happens that it will alleviate the budget cuts too.  I had the great fortune on Thursday to revel in a report on UAF’s strategic enrollment planning (SEP) effort. This is work that key leaders at UAF and many faculty, staff and students have done on growing enrollment and retention. Associate Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Mary Kreta, eCampus Director Owen Guthrie and Vice Provost Alex Fitts presented their teams’ work on enrollment and retention to President Johnsen and others in the system office. This was a presentation that demonstrated UAF’s focus on our future. Not a future of budget cuts, but of future enrollment growth and financial stability. In fact, we did not discuss budget cuts once. In addition to helping the budget, a healthy enrollment is key to a vibrant campus, a rich educational experience, broad diversity, and robust academic programming! It turns out that all faculty at our university, whether they are in teaching, research, or service, are in the business of enrollment. And it is not just faculty. If you are staff or a student employee working on the grounds crew, in a research lab or in the division of design and construction, you are in the enrollment business too. We are all in the enrollment business.

I know that I am in the enrollment business and just like me, you and everyone you work with can make a difference in our efforts to attract more students to UAF and support them through graduation. And, according to Associate Vice Chancellor Kreta, we are. UAF gets it and it is starting to show. Faculty are calling newly admitted students and students who have not yet registered. UAF eCampus advisors are creating mentoring programs for high school students, and our out-of-state recruiters are opening new markets, sending students to UAF from Washington and Oregon. Through the great work of many at UAF and the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, we will soon be opening a brand new Middle College, right here at UAF. This is just the beginning. The beginning of something great. It is true. UAF is or will soon be surpassing Arizona State for contracts with Alaska high schools in online dual enrollment. Just one year ago, the talk across the state was that ASU was eating our lunch. The tide is turning and everyone has a role. UAF is not outsourcing our online programs, we are not contracting with “outside” faculty at lower rates; we are doing this with UAF faculty who we know deliver a world-class education.

At a time when negative budget headlines filled every news cycle for months, UAF’s enrollment grew. What? And for the first time in five years and in the face of the worst news of the century. This isn’t by accident and it is just the beginning. The beautiful thing about this is that you have a role. At the Troth Yeddha’ campus, at the Community and Technical College (thanks to leadership of Dean Stalder, Associate Dean Swarner and Director Tilbury) as well as the College of Rural and Community Development (thanks to Interim Dean Uher), we can shift the conversation from budget cuts to robust programs that operate on a model less dependent on state revenue.

I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to research. We are a world-class university because we are a research university. And not any old research University. We have global leaders in their fields and boast a variety of national rankings. That drives reputation. Reputation drives enrollment. In spite of the budget news, research has been holding its own; showing why every researcher on campus is in one way or another in the enrollment business.

How do you participate? Call one of the people named above — they would love to hear from you. Our brave new world has less state general fund in it. At this point, we don’t have much choice in that. But we do have many choices and how we respond is one. Choose to make your mark in the enrollment business. We have a positive future ahead and you can help shape it!

My morale is better already.

Happy holidays!

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.