Features & Perspectives

This Perspective will come in two installments, the first of which is about us as a community of entrepreneurially oriented and engaged people. The second installment will follow logically as a statement about growth. Of course, there will be some thematic overlap.

Entrepreneurially Oriented People

Private colleges and universities with low endowments, aging physical plants, high percentages of Pell eligible students and rural locations in states with declining 18-year-old populations routinely are described as “at risk” of closure or acquisition. Lakeland meets each of those descriptors. Yet, after a season (five years) of decline, we are growing significantly again in our traditional residential college. Conservative projections for the fall 2018 entering freshman class show an increase of 25 percent over last fall’s number. Lakeland’s percentage increase is the highest among all WAICU institutions, half of whom are projecting either declines or no growth from last year.

A likely reason for our bucking the trend is Lakeland’s decision to pursue the future as an Entrepreneurially Oriented (EO) university. EO organizations are so designated in business strategy literature when, among other qualities, they are vision-centric, innovative, proactive and open to risk. We have at various times in our history anchored such a mindset in this organization’s culture. At other times, we have bent to restraining forces like increased regulation (e.g. HLC policy) and leadership that micro-managed. When responding to pressures from driving forces (i.e. EO Qualities) instead, we have grown while also differentiating ourselves from competitors.

The most recent EO resurgence is best reflected in Lakeland’s new Cooperative Education initiative. Rooted firmly in the university’s longstanding experiential learning philosophy, the vision of co-op as an innovative way to provide an affordable Lakeland education while meeting the region’s workforce talent needs was accepted as logical and timely by most of us. Among the risks, two stood out: (1) non-business faculty could lose majors, and (2) partner companies could rescind the co-op slots during an economic downturn. Our Cooperative Education Task Force, which was led by Beth Borgen and logged more than 1,300 hours of work by members who already had full-time Lakeland jobs, was proactive in mitigating those risks curricularly and through corporate partnership agreements. Jess Lambrecht implemented the program, with a lot of help from Scott Niederjohn, Brittani Meinnert and Mark Edmond.

Engaged People

Lakeland’s people are engaged in their work and in the life of the university. Day after day, I watch co-laborers give their best. Many times, that includes sharing an idea or a concern, but it almost always includes an expression of friendship. It is clear that we are in this venture together and that almost all are committed to the university’s mission, direction and success.

We heard in focus groups last spring that a number of employees did not believe that the administration was as concerned about employee well-being as employees were about the well-being of the university and its students. Since that time, we have searched our soul and motives as an administration and have committed to what I hope is a different and better way of being and acting.

Our HR office has been helpful in this culture change, as has an active Employee Engagement Committee. Our Human Resources office has entered a new partnership with human resources team at Kohler Co. Laura Kohler, senior vice president of human resources, stewardship and sustainability, has committed Kohler’s staff resources to assist Lakeland’s human resources initiatives. Specifically, Carrie Estrella and Lazeric Banks of Kohler’s Global HR & Engagement team are assisting Lakeland in the quest to make Lakeland a preferred employer in the county. They bring experience in best practices and strategies that engage employees at all levels of an organization. Their understanding of the area and their combined expertise in many facets of human resources make them an exciting partner. They will be on campus soon to talk with members of the Employee Engagement Council. We expect our partnership with Kohler to be the first of several partnerships with well-respected companies in the area that jointly will form an HR Advisory Council for Lakeland.

Students as Engaged Social Entrepreneurs

My time back here has been an unexpected gift. In the years remaining, I look forward to working with Leslie Laster, her colleagues in Student Life and faculty in mentoring students in matters of civic engagement. Ideally, each of them will come to think and act proactively as citizens concerned about our world. Think of the problems they will need to address as people of influence after graduation: racism, criminalization as social policy, the most inefficient healthcare system among all developed countries, opioid addiction, foster care crisis, shrinking middle class, struggling schools, violence and divided political forces, among others. A Lakeland that is entrepreneurially oriented socially will ensure student engagement in those critical matters.

The second installment of this Perspective will address organizational structure as a framework for growing Lakeland.

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