By Abby Vander Graaff
Via- Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — A rapidly changing world both in and outside Wyoming is impacting the University of Wyoming, and trustees are considering how UW can adapt.
Trustees and other university representatives shared during their retreat in Pinedale last week views on how the university can keep with the times during a period of extreme technological advancement and social polarization.
Highlights include increasing focus on faculty and programming as well as retaining and recruiting students to UW and to become part of Wyoming’s workforce after graduation.
In the past, the university has focused on building high-quality facilities and on construction initiatives to attract students.
Now, UW President Ed Seidel and trustees agree that focus has to shift toward programming development if UW is to remain competitive.
“I don’t think we can any longer do the ‘if-you-build-it-they-will-
After having two years of record-breaking freshman enrollment in 2018 and 2019, the number of students attending UW dropped 3% between the semesters of 2020 and 2021 for a fall 2021 enrollment of 11,479 students, according to UW.
Many trustees agreed that increasing student recruitment and retention is one path toward success.
Trustee Kermit Brown said the university should work on doubling its student population, which would still make it only half of neighboring Colorado State University. Having a larger institution would allow for more funding opportunities for the university and less dependence on state money, Brown said.
Trustee Macey Moore said that building a campus culture that is conducive to relationship building between students, faculty and staff would create a more memorable academic experience that would attract students.
UW has an undergraduate student-to-faculty ratio of 14:1, which is better than the median ratio of 18:1 for land grant universities, said UW Provost Kevin Carman. Despite this, the university does not have enough faculty to cover the diverse areas of study available.
“We’ve seen a disproportionate erosion of faculty as a result of our budget cuts,” Carman said. “Before we even think about growing enrollment, we need to shore up our faculty and staff.”
This could be an obstacle for greater goals of the university that require faculty engagement, which include expanding programs to be more interdisciplinary and emphasizing work in the arts and humanities in addition to scientific research.
“One of the biggest challenges is how do we retain and attract faculty and make sure (UW) has not only world-class facilities, but programs that attend those facilities?” Gov. Mark Gordon said in an address to the trustees.
The university also faces a longtime request from staff to raise salaries, expand benefits and improve the overall workplace environment, said UW Staff Senate President Tim Collins.
Associated Students of UW President Allison Brown said issues of low wages also impact students, whose struggles to pay for tuition, fees and housing are compounded by a dearth of available funding channels.
“Finding a balance between prioritizing our research and excellence as an institution, as well as the current students we have at the university, is really essential,” she said.
A sense of disconnect between the university decisions and students’ daily lives was not the only concern raised at the meeting.
UW faculty representative Renee Laegreid explained that in the past semester, she had a high number of students say they didn’t plan to stay in Wyoming because of a lack of diversity and hostility toward people from diverse backgrounds.
“This is really a place where UW can make a difference,” Laegried said. “By making all of our students feel welcome and appreciated.”
Seidel highlighted inclusion as one of his top priorities for the university, noting that these considerations will be important to the state’s economy as well. He and trustees mentioned that the university’s ability to impact the state’s economy could ultimately benefit the entire state of Wyoming moving forward.
“We need to get on the cutting edge in the research and some of the thoughts going forward,” said Trustee Chairman John McKinley.