Chancellor's Blog: Leading for Wisconsin families

| Chancellor James Schmidt

It was one of Eau Claire’s coldest mornings today, but we had a fire going in the Alumni Room for Governor Scott Walker, who was in the region to talk about his proposals to enhance affordability for higher education in Wisconsin.

I had the opportunity to join the governor at his media conference and also to meet with him briefly to talk about what UW-Eau Claire is doing to keep a Blugold degree within reach for Wisconsin families.

I was glad to hear the governor talk about the importance of encouraging more students to seek education beyond high school and the important role that the state can play in helping them make it a reality. We know the jobs of the future will require not only advanced degrees, but also global-savvy, workplace-ready individuals. And that goes to the heart of UW-Eau Claire’s mission. We’ve been preparing extraordinary leaders for Wisconsin for almost a century.

Governor Walker’s focus on affordability is important. I know it resonates with the families I meet when they tour our campus. And we have a great story to tell them. I reminded the governor that UW-Eau Claire students have the lowest student loan indebtedness among all UW System public regional universities. Pair that with one of the state’s highest salary returns over 20 years, and you have a high-value education that is serving Blugold families well.

I also tell prospective students that they should keep their eyes on graduating in four years. As I’ve mentioned many times, the cost of an extra semester or year is more than just the additional tuition. Our Blugold graduates make an average of $43,500 their first year. Add tuition to that and the cost of that fifth year jumps to $50,000.

But we’re doing more than just encouraging students to graduate in four years. We are making changes — even during times of budget reductions — that will help our students navigate and graduate more smoothly. We’ve set our guidepost goals to get at the heart of student success: 100 percent student participation in high-impact experiences; 90 percent first-to-second-year retention rate; 50 percent four-year graduation rate; and 20 percent enrollment of students of color while closing the opportunity gap.

Governor Walker specifically mentioned those goals during his media conference, and he praised our commitment to have all our students involved in study abroad, research and internships. “You’ve been a leader. You’ve been at the forefront,” he said. I couldn’t agree more.

We’re leading for Wisconsin families by creating Blugold Central, a comprehensive student services hub designed to help students manage their financial obligations. There they will receive financial aid consultation, registration assistance and convenient access to paying their bills, taking away hurdles that sometimes stand in the way of graduating.

We’re leading for Wisconsin families by creating a new Advising Center, where students will have a dedicated academic adviser to help them create a four-year plan, stay on course to graduate and work with faculty mentors to explore, discover their passion, select a graduate program and make connections to professionals in their fields.

We’re leading for Wisconsin families by creating an equity, diversity and inclusion roadmap that will help us bring 1,000 more students of color to a campus that is welcoming, inclusive and dedicated to their success.

And we’re leading for Wisconsin families by creating an Academic Master Plan that will create a distinctive learning experience for all our students, maintain academic excellence and respond to regional needs.

Affordability is meaningful only when it’s paired with quality. At UW-Eau Claire, we offer both an affordable, four-year degree and a high-quality learning experience.

I was pleased to welcome Governor Walker to UW-Eau Claire today. And even prouder to share with him all our campus is already doing to make a Blugold education affordable and second to none.

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