The UW System's Institution of Access
with UW Colleges Chancellor William Messner
To quote Charles Dickens,
the last decade has been the "worst of times, and the best of times"
for the UW Colleges, the 13 freshman/sophomore campuses of the University
of Wisconsin System. After losing 25 percent of its enrollment in the
mid 1990s, the UW Colleges has grown to an unprecedented number of students
while also embarking on new online courses, new collaborations with four-year
UW campuses, and dramatic increases in returning adult students and students
of color. UW Colleges Chancellor William Messner explains how his institution
and its campuses are faring at a time of unprecedented demand from prospective
students and budget cuts.
WI: What has been
the history of enrollments at the UW Colleges?
WM: Historically, the campuses of the UW Colleges have had a fairly
volatile history of enrollments. We have been called the UW System's "shock
absorber," and this term encapsulates our enrollment history. Our
enrollments have soared during periods in which student demand for access
to the UW System has been strong, and we have experienced precipitous
declines when demand for access to the system as a whole has waned. These
swings in enrollment reflect the fact that historically we have been an
institution of second choice for many students. As a result, when access
is limited at other UW institutions, our enrollments prosper, and when
the opposite situation is evident we have suffered.
WI: What is the
current enrollment situation at the UW Colleges?
WM: For the past five years our enrollments have been on an upswing,
and are currently at an all-time high. From a low of 6,000 full-time equivalency
in 1997 we have increased to over 8,500 FTE in the fall of 2001. And for
this coming fall it is quite possible that we will set another enrollment
record as admissions and registrations are currently in the double digits
ahead of last year's record pace. In part these enrollment increases reflect
growing demand for access to the UW System as a whole, but to a significant
extent they are the result of a carefully crafted institutional enrollment
and marketing strategy. This strategy has focused on developing a mentality
among prospective students that the campuses are "the best start"
for a variety of individuals who want to access the resources of the UW
System. In other words, we have attempted to become less of an institution
of second choice, and instead the first choice for many students whose
chances for academic success will be enhanced by accessing our campuses
with their tradition of quality instruction, caring faculty and staff,
small classes, convenience, and modest cost.
WI: What strategies
are being used to manage enrollments in the future?
WM: Over the past several years, the institution has made a significant
effort to diversify its student body to better reflect the communities
that we serve. As a result, we have experienced significant increases
in the enrollment of adult students, students of color, and high school
students anxious to get a head start on their college studies. We have:
- utilized various
strategies to address these populations' educational needs;
- become much more
aggressive in outreach to diverse populations;
- developed collaborative
degree efforts with other UW institutions for delivering baccalaureate
and graduate work on our campuses; and,
- developed an online
degree program for addressing the educational needs of those who cannot
access our campus-based programs.
These strategies reflect
the fact that we are the UW System's institution of access, and our enrollment
efforts should encompass all those in our communities who can benefit
from our educational services. By attracting these varied populations
to our campuses, we insulate ourselves somewhat from the enrollment swings
among traditional college-age populations that have historically plagued
William F. Messner
is the eighth chancellor of the University of Wisconsin Colleges, having
been appointed to the position in 1997. He previously served as a faculty
member, academic vice president, president and system vice provost in Pennsylvania
and New York. A native of New York City, Messner received his bachelor's
degree in history from Concordia College, River Forest, Ill., and a master's
and Ph.D. in American history from UW-Madison.