Robbyn Wacker, who has led St. Cloud State University as its president since 2018, announced Nov. 27 that she will be leaving her position on June 30, 2024, upon completion of her contract.
“Serving as SCSU’s president has been an honor and a privilege,” Wacker expressed. “I am proud to have had the opportunity to serve our amazing students, faculty, staff, and administrative leaders. This decision was extremely difficult; however, I feel great about what I and my leadership team have accomplished in the past six years, and the time is right to hand the reins over to the next leader.” Wacker’s appointment as the university’s 24th president and its first woman president in 2018 followed a nationwide search. She assumed this position after dedicating two decades to various academic leadership roles at the University of Northern Colorado.
“During her tenure, Dr. Wacker led the university through the most challenging time in higher education’s history with positivity, empathy, and vision,” said Scott Olson, chancellor of Minnesota State. “Her commitment to student success and Equity 2030 has laid a foundation of excellence at the university that will impact the region for years to come. I thank her for her service to Minnesota State and to the St. Cloud State University community.”
Early on as president, Wacker drew attention to the need for immediate action to address the current and future challenges facing the university and aligned efforts using a comprehensive strategy to reshape SCSU. Known as the It’s Time framework, SCSU’s strategy focused on elevating its academic distinction by building on the institution’s academic strengths. The university made significant investments in new initiatives to provide an individualized approach to student success. Additional support elevated faculty as educators and scholars, while SCSU’s reach extended to new markets in Minnesota and across the globe. Equity and inclusion continued as a core tenet of the campus community. In partnership with her leadership team, Wacker has helped SCSU reestablish itself as a higher education institution of choice.
Enrollment & Student Success
Similar to many regional universities nationwide, SCSU felt the impact of demographic shifts, changing public sentiment about higher education, and a global pandemic. Despite these challenges, plans to invest in growth continue. This Fall, for example, SCSU’s enrollment showed a 16.5% increase in new freshman, an 11.9% increase in new graduate students, and an 18.1% increase in students living on campus for Fall ’23. These numbers represent the first time since 2015 that enrollment and on-campus living numbers have increased.
Through Wacker’s leadership, SCSU revamped its advising model with the creation of Husky Student Success Coaches. This intentional focus on student engagement and planning for success, paired with the university’s work on ‘belonging’ strategies, increased student persistence by 6% and retention rate by 7.8% from Fall 2020.
A signature program of It’s Time, SCSU’s Huskies Advance was designed for students to choose from five different co-curricular tracks and explore their interests and career goals with a faculty member or staff mentor. In three years, the program has grown from 10 students to 132 and serves as a national model.
Finding ways to broaden access to a deeper level of learning, SCSU redesigned the Honors Program into an Honors College that offers a distinctive student experience, an interdisciplinary learning environment, close faculty-student interaction, and purpose-driven mentoring. The Honors College is open to first year students and transfer students and has a residential community in SCSU’s historic Lawrence Hall.
Wacker provided support for the continuation of SCSU’s international engagement. Second only to the University of Minnesota in the number of international students on campus, she supported innovative exchanges and degree completion opportunities with international universities across the globe. Most recently, Wacker was invited to participate in Governor Waltz’s Trade and Education mission to Australia to explore additional international partnerships with higher education institutions and signed a new partnership with Victoria University in Melbourne, Australia.
SCSU implemented an accelerated online graduate degree program to expand the institution’s reach to Minnesotans. Its online MBA program has yielded more than 300% growth in enrollment since its start in the summer of ’22. Plans are underway to expand online degree offerings to adult learners who wish to complete an undergraduate degree.
The university introduced undergraduate and two doctoral programs that carefully aligned offerings with workforce demand. This includes new undergraduate programs in environmental engineering and esports. The launch of a doctor of nursing practice program in partnership with the University of Minnesota positioned SCSU to provide advanced training for nurse practitioners to better serve rural communities. And a doctorate of psychology in applied behavioral analysis will be offered – one of few available in the country.
With an innovative eye on emerging career opportunities, Wacker’s leadership led to the development of new undergraduate programs in fields like cybersecurity, environmental management and a certificate in cannabis education. Graduate certificates are now offered to emerging leaders such as superintendents, principals and special education teachers, school business managers and disability leadership and advocacy. The MBA program added seven new concentrations including health care administration, supply chain management, management and leadership and professional sales.
Wacker supported the launch of new centers or institutes to showcase the expertise of faculty and provide opportunities for innovation and community engagement. Established in 2021, The Minnesota Institute of Technology is the first of its kind in the State of Minnesota. Additionally, the Center for International Disability Advocacy and Diplomacy (CIDAD) is a hub for interdisciplinary research and advocacy to promote the rights of people with disabilities locally and globally. CIDAD has created accessibility credentials and certifications for the global tourism and hospitality industry, and is beginning to offer a certificate in deaf leadership and advocacy.
Wacker also actively participated in the first fundraising campaign for SCSU in 20 years – “Unleash the Future”, where the university surpassed its goal of $35M, raising $39.8M. She was also instrumental in helping to secure funding to create a new Nursing Simulation Lab and the Jim ’73 and Ann Marie Maciej Nursing Education Suite, the Linda ’74 and Richard Offerdahl Autism Discovery Center (a clinic and research site), and the Per Rasmussen ‘86 and Nina Skage ‘86 Professional Selling Institute (a distinctive component of the It’s Time leadership focus).
Beyond university impact, Wacker has fully engaged in leadership roles with the St. Cloud Mayor’s Downtown Development Taskforce, the Greater St. Cloud Chamber Downtown Alliance Board, Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation, and the Initiative Foundation, among others. She was recently selected by the Twin Cities Business editorial staff as “100 for 2024” — an award that highlights business leaders, trailblazers, and innovators.
Chancellor Olson has announced that a search will be launched in spring to identify an interim president for St. Cloud State University for a two-year term with an anticipated start date of July 1, 2024.