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Looking to the future: UW-Eau Claire announces investment plan for continued student success, contributions to region

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire has announced the launch of a plan for investing in its future to ensure student success and bring talent to the region for years to come.

“We are in the midst of an exciting time for UW-Eau Claire,” Chancellor James Schmidt said. “We are making strides toward improving success outcomes for our students. We’re launching new in-demand academic programs and moving forward in important initiatives like our research collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System and our public-private partnership for the new Sonnentag Event and Recreation Complex — all developments that will bring significant new opportunities for our students while serving the needs of the Chippewa Valley and our state. That’s what this new investment plan is all about.”

Investing in student success

In support of student academic success, the investment plan — which has been endorsed by UW-Eau Claire’s University Senate, University Staff Council and Student Senate — calls for funding additional faculty and instructional staff and increasing the number of sections of high-demand classes, thereby reducing the bottleneck some students experience when classes they need are already full. Among the plan’s additional funding priorities is hiring faculty to teach in new academic programs, including new majors in biomedical engineering, actuarial science and public health and a master’s program in athletic training.

“Helping students complete their coursework in a more timely manner, leading to higher retention and four-year graduation rates while reducing student debt, is of highest priority,” said Patricia A. Kleine, provost and vice chancellor for academic affairs. “We also are excited to have the additional faculty and staff in place to teach in our newest academic programs which launch in fall 2020. These are new majors that complement our existing program array and meet demand we are seeing from students as well as in the job market.”

Growing enrollment

Another component of the investment plan is growing enrollment by 405 FTE over the next three years, which will restore UW-Eau Claire’s enrollment to the level it was in 2010 and generate the funds needed to make investments in new or high-demand academic programs. Improving student retention and increasing transfer students will contribute to that goal, as will increasing membership in the Blugold Marching Band and the addition of three athletics programs.

“Students who participate in co-curriculars like athletics and the Blugold Marching Band make all-important, supportive connections on campus,” Kleine said. “By attracting students interested in these co-curriculars, we bring in individuals likely to stay here and succeed here.”

That likelihood of student success is apparent in the first-to-second-year retention rates among student-athletes and BMB participants. For all UW-Eau Claire students, that retention rate is 82.3%. Among BMB members who were first-year students in 2018, 89% returned to UW-Eau Claire for their second year. Among all Blugold student-athletes who were new freshmen in 2018 the second-year retention rate is 87.9%, and it rises to 89.1% for student-athletes of color.

Increasing the number of student participants in athletics and the BMB also aligns with UW-Eau Claire’s strategy to expand its recruitment to areas beyond Wisconsin. The BMB currently includes members from 10 states, and UW-Eau Claire student-athletes come from 13 states.

“Higher-ed student recruitment continues to be increasingly competitive, so we are now reaching out strategically to broaden our recruitment area to connect with students who will find UW-Eau Claire to be a good fit,” Schmidt said. “Not only do we diversify our campus in this way, but we bring talented out-of-state students to Eau Claire and Wisconsin who increasingly want to stay in the Chippewa Valley after graduation.”

Schmidt noted that since 2014, the number of UW-Eau Claire graduates staying in the Chippewa Valley has grown by 12.5%.  

“This is an important facet of our investment plan: As graduates leave UW-Eau Claire, increasingly they are staying in the region. And the stars align for us on this, as our city of Eau Claire is increasingly featured by statewide and even national media as an attractive place to live and work, which is a draw for young graduates.”

Blugold Marching Band growth

The BMB already is well on its way toward the goal to increase its membership to 500 students as part of UW-Eau Claire’s plan for strengthened enrollment.

The band’s size increased from 400 members in fall 2018 to 475 members this year, making the group the second-largest collegiate marching band in the world.

New members of the BMB are selected through a competitive application process. And the increased number who come from other states is a direct outcome of the BMB’s many exhibition performances at high school band competitions around the upper Midwest — including the greater metro areas of Chicago, Indianapolis and St. Louis, said Dr. Randy Dickerson, professor of music and BMB director.

“Overall, our applications far exceed the number of positions available and continue to increase yearly,” said Dickerson, adding that given the strong academic backgrounds among new 2019 recruits, “we are developing a selection process that will better identify students who are not only great BMB students but who will also be assets to the university as a whole.”

An assistant band director, Sharon Laird, was hired this year to help with the increased leadership responsibilities due to the BMB’s rapid growth. Support from donors has and will continue to supplement university budget funding for the marching band, which takes on increased expenses as its membership grows.

New athletics programs

The expansion of UW-Eau Claire’s athletics teams will include the reinstatement of men’s baseball (which was discontinued in 1995) and the addition of women’s lacrosse in the spring 2021 season, as well as the addition of men’s soccer in the fall 2021 season.

The hiring process for coaches will begin immediately. Alumni and friends of the baseball program are actively raising funds to support facilities and operations, said UW-Eau Claire Athletics Director Dan Schumacher.

With a three-year average second-year retention rate of nearly 90% among Blugold student-athletes, growing UW-Eau Claire’s array of athletics programs will be an important piece of the university’s overall enrollment goals, Schumacher said.

“Our student-athletes stay and complete their degrees due to strong connections they make with their teammates and coaches, as well as this university’s outstanding faculty and staff. I truly believe that retention creates winners both in the classroom and on the field.”

The addition of the three sports will increase the number of Blugold athletics teams to 25, including 12 men’s teams and 13 women’s teams. The new teams are expected to bring in 94 additional student-athletes (42 for baseball, 24 for women’s lacrosse and 28 for men’s soccer) and generate revenues beyond their costs of operation that will be reallocated to academic instruction.

“Blugold athletics is excited to play a role in UW-Eau Claire’s enrollment initiative,” Schumacher said. “It is a great compliment to the department and especially the great work of our coaches and student-athletes in support of retention and graduation rates. These additions to our athletics program array will not only strengthen enrollment but also serve to benefit our entire student body.”