An open university forum hosted by the NMU Board of Trustees (BOT) Chair Steve Mitchell and NMU President Fritz Erickson was held on Feb. 12 to discuss investments made by the BOT. These investments focus on university initiatives that were approved at the BOT December meeting, which are to be implemented over the next five years.
The main concern guiding the BOT in making their decisions is data that shows enrollment will likely go down 15% over the next decade. This has led them to pursue a proactive approach to student retention, culminating in a comprehensive student success package. The goal of the proposal is to create a holistic set of conditions to help new students integrate into campus life and encourage them to stay enrolled until graduation. New analytical software and methods of increasing student involvement in extracurricular clubs through the “Pick One” initiative will work hand in hand with “success coaches” and an expansion of the career services center.
The planned implementation of the first wave of “success coaches” is the upcoming Fall semester. These coaches are to be gradually embedded into departments with low retention rates in an effort to give students a one-stop advisor to help them with anything from navigating the university bureaucracy to being a life-coach for any personal problems.
“By the time a failing student comes to us, it’s too late,” Mitchell explained. “[NMU] can’t always be dependent on a sexy new program like Medicinal Plant Chemistry [to maintain current enrollment levels].”
While the Medicinal Plant Chemistry program has brought in around 250 new freshman students per year since its conception, maintenance of existing enrollment was identified as a priority at the forum. Declining enrollment is a trend that NMU has managed to buck in recent years.
“The goal for the next five years is to maintain the gains that we have,” Erickson explained.
This view was emphasized by Mitchell, who described the demographic trend as an “urgent situation” that required action.
All the initiatives discussed were explained as investments in NMU’s future. Among the topics were new scholarships for Esports and Alpine Skiing, partnerships with Finlandia University and some programs that are important not just for NMU, but the Upper Peninsula as a whole. Among these is a Rural Health center designed to combat the high levels of addiction and poverty-related diseases that the U.P. experiences. It also includes a new SISU innovation center, described as a place to cultivate collaborative campus culture by linking great ideas with the funds to make innovative ideas a reality.
Additionally, plans for a new cyber-security computer lab are being put in motion. Mitchell explained that the number of new cyber-security programs has increased by 33% in the United States recently, but the demand is growing much faster.
The new lab would allow NMU to achieve a Department of Defence designation as a “center for excellence” and likely increase job opportunities for graduates as a result.
ASNMU President Paige Pucelik said that events like this forum are important for students “to know what’s going on.”
With all these changes coming to NMU, open forums such as this are an essential part of the process, and Erickson explained that these open forums help him understand how the NMU community feels about various proposals.