In her annual address to faculty and staff to start Convocation for the 2019-20 school year, Wacker acknowledged the difficulties facing higher education institutes as the higher education landscape adapts to the digital revolution — and the impact those changes have had on St. Cloud State’s enrollment during the past decade.
“We have to act now,” she said. “We must act in bold and courageous ways to take control of our future in this new landscape. It’s time.”
To do so, Wacker invited faculty and staff to help identify action steps the University needs to take to meet the needs of today’s students.
Wacker recognized the good work being done on campus to improve enrollment and student success with the creation of transfer pathways and 2+2 programs with international partners, the creation of the Strategic Enrollment Management division under Vice President Jason Woods and implementation of Re-imagining the First Year. Vice President for University Advancement led his team in surpassing fundraising targets and collecting donor gifts that are improving student learning in nursing and the Herberger Business School.
“Unfortunately, our high-quality academic programs and incredible educational experience we offer continues to be overshadowed by our steady decline in enrollment and retention,” Wacker said.
Higher education is in the midst of accelerated and disruptive social, demographic and technological changes that only come once in a generation. These changes have had a direct impact on St. Cloud State’s enrollment.
Changes such as decreases in state funding, demographic changes, increased competition from other universities facing declining enrollment and online universities have had an impact on enrollment at St. Cloud State and other regional comprehensive universities.
Students no longer come to their education in a linear fashion where they graduate high school, enter college and then go into the workforce and retire without returning to further their education. Today a new trend is emerging. Students are looping in and out of education due to college learning being available in high school and the need for lifelong learning.
“Looped engagement with post-secondary education means that students are coming to us with unique and different circumstances on different timelines, with different needs and different life circumstances,” she said.
That’s why it’s time for the University to find ways to better serve the needs of today’s students, Wacker said.
“It’s time to stop talking about budget cuts and falling enrollment rates and time to start talking about growth, increased budgets and the addition of new programs,” Wacker said.
She encouraged those present to be part of the journey and help write the next chapter of St. Cloud State’s history.
“It’s time to stop doing things the same way we always have and expecting different results,” Wacker said. “It’s time to push ourselves to think differently to meet today’s learners where they are at and continue to provide them with the world-class education that St. Cloud State has been known for.”