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UW’s Progress During My Presidency

May 3, 2019
woman handing a ribbon to a young woman with a sheep
President Nichols presenting a ribbon to Katie Lee at the 2016 Wyoming State Fair in Douglas.

By Laurie S. Nichols

During the past three years, it has been an honor for me to serve as the University of Wyoming’s 26th president. I have learned a great deal as I have led the state’s land-grant and flagship university through some difficult times, and I have enjoyed my associations with the people of Wyoming; our faculty, staff and alumni; and, especially, our students.

With my presidency nearing an end, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the progress we have made as an institution.

Shortly after I arrived at the university in May 2016, I learned that a downturn in the state’s economy resulted in the need to reduce the university’s biennial budget by $42 million. This was an extremely challenging task, but we tackled it head on, following a transparent process that included participation from across campus. Using retirement and separation incentives and finding efficiencies, we achieved the reduction with minimal layoffs, while prioritizing our core mission of quality education for students—and research and service to benefit the state.

Before the dust had completely settled on the reductions—recognizing that the university was lacking a comprehensive plan to guide its activities—my administration launched a strategic planning process that included participation from across campus and input from UW’s various constituencies. The result was “Breaking Through: 2017-2022,” the university’s first comprehensive, strategic plan in many years. It has guided just about everything we’ve done during my time as president and, after almost two years of implementation, it provides a strong roadmap for my successor.

Here are some of the outcomes we have seen so far:

Rising enrollment – After years of stagnant and even declining student enrollment, we have stopped the slide and are growing once again. We have now seen two straight years of fall semester enrollment increases, including nearly double-digit percentage increases in first-time students. Our fall 2018 freshman class of 1,859 was the largest in the university’s history, and our overall enrollment has risen as well—this at a time when Wyoming high school graduate numbers have declined, and when most Wyoming community colleges have experienced decreases.

This momentum has been built due to the hard work of many, and there’s good reason to believe it will continue, even as universities across the country continue to see their enrollments drop. That’s because UW is increasingly being recognized as an outstanding value.

Marketing campaign – Recognizing the need for a campaign to promote and differentiate UW in the competitive world of higher education marketing, we launched “The World Needs More Cowboys” last summer, and the response has been remarkable. It has caught the attention of prospective students and others across the country and internationally, while galvanizing our students, alumni and other supporters.

The full impact of the first year of the campaign won’t be known until the fall 2019 enrollment numbers are reported, but we’re encouraged by what we have seen so far. The campaign also has received awards from regional and national organizations, showing that it has helped put UW on the map.

Honors College – In an effort to recruit more high-achieving students and enrich our undergraduate experience, we elevated our former Honors Program to the Honors College. This will infuse and formalize high-impact practices for its students, including first-year experiences, writing-intensive courses, undergraduate research, service learning, internships and capstone projects—and better prepare students for professional or graduate school success.

Native American center – As part of our outreach efforts to the Wind River Indian Reservation tribes, we opened our Native American Education, Research and Cultural Center in the fall of 2017. In addition to helping us recruit more American Indian students, it provides opportunities for personal growth, physical health and leadership development for our Native American students, helping them connect their traditions and cultures to their education.

Statewide outreach – Our new Office of Engagement and Outreach opened in January, creating a portal of access to UW for the citizens of Wyoming (and beyond) and to coordinate and streamline engagement and outreach efforts to achieve enhanced consistency, follow-through and impact. The office responds to the challenge in our strategic plan committing UW to “scholarship, outreach and service that extend our human talent and technological capacity to serve the people in our communities, our state, the nation and the world.” At the heart of that commitment is a goal to improve and enhance the health and well-being of our communities and environments through outreach programs and in collaboration with our constituents and partners.

Degree programs – Responding to workforce needs, we have created a number of degree programs. They include bachelor’s degrees in outdoor recreation and tourism management; construction management; general studies; elementary and special education; and art education—along with a certificate program in cybersecurity.

Financial management – The project was in planning when I arrived, but we have now implemented most of the university’s new cloud-based finance, administrative, research support and business intelligence reporting system. WyoCloud has been a massive undertaking, and it will provide the tools for improved administrative reporting, budgeting and decision-making.

Sexual assault – Through the establishment of our NO MORE campaign and its supporting task force, we have taken concrete steps to reduce sexual misconduct at UW through both prevention and enforcement.

Student housing and master planning – Shortly after I arrived, I identified a need to upgrade our aging student residence halls. It has taken some time, but during the past legislative session, a funding mechanism was approved for us to proceed with construction of new, modern residence halls that will improve our student experience and help us achieve our recruiting goals. More broadly, we have launched a yearlong process to produce a master plan that will provide a roadmap for the development of the physical campus for the next 20 years and beyond.

Employee compensation – Finally, it’s worth noting that we have managed the budget in such a way that UW employees this year received their first pay increases since 2015-16, based on market and merit. And the stage is set for an across-the-board compensation increase in the next fiscal year.

These are just a few of our accomplishments during my time as president, a result of the combined efforts of many. They illustrate the commitment of a university to persevere through difficulty and continue striving for excellence for the benefit of our students, our state, our nation and the world. It has been a privilege to be a part of this work, and I’m confident UW is positioned to reach even higher levels of achievement in the years to come.

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