Features & Perspectives

This is the second installment of President Black’s Perspective, a feature on Lakeland Today, following up on last Wednesday’s post.

President’s Perspective

The previous Perspective described Lakeland as an Entrepreneurially Oriented (EO) university (i.e. a group of people whose work together is vision-centric, innovative, proactive and open to risk). We are oriented that way in part out of necessity. Years of enrollment declines have raised concerns over LU’s long-term sustainability, particularly given our region’s demographics. So, we must be more creative than our competitors in recruiting and retaining a larger share of an ever-declining number of students.

But, such an orientation is not just situational, it has always been present at Lakeland. Its expression occasionally has been subordinated to restraining forces like micro-management and “analysis paralysis,” but the driving forces characteristic of EO organizations have always burned in our soul. Both times I have joined Lakeland, we have been in the throes of declining enrollments and demographics. Both times, we envisioned growth and then innovated proactively, risking reputational damage (in 1981 as a new, untried graduate institution and in 2018 as a new, untried source of talent to corporate partners in the form of competent co-op students.

Sam Poullette’s Theory of Growth

When interviewing Sam before his return to Lakeland from Concordia, we asked him for a blueprint for growing traditional enrollment. I took notes on his response and have summarized them as follows.

Growth at Lakeland will depend on how we handle the “if’s” in five working assumptions:

  • There are enough capable students in our region to fill a class at LU if we convince them that this university offers a better value proposition (combined financial, academic, co-curricular and social parts) than our competitors.
  • Most members of that full class will stay through graduation if the value claims we make actually are experienced by the students.
  • We can predict with increasing accuracy which students will succeed here if we use analytics wisely, then target our message accordingly.
  • However, no systems approach will be sufficient if we neglect a “team recruitment” practice that includes (a) an admissions rep, (b) a coach or music director (c) a faculty member, (d) a financial aid counselor and (e) a current student, all of whom would be recognized in a meaningful way for the contribution they make to LU’s growth.
  • While developing the analytics model that will predict “fit”, LU can still retain most already enrolled students if the value proposition has integrity AND if the five-person recruitment team or its equivalent is then joined by a Student Success Coach.

One year later, Sam’s blueprint is proving right on target. The Admissions team in Nash, athletic coaches, many faculty and all of our colleagues in Educational Funding and Financial Aid have cooperated in this successful growth effort. And it could not have happened without the pioneering experiential learning model developed by the Cooperative Education Task Force, its initial implementation by Jess Lambrecht, Brittani Meinnert, Mark Edmond and the fundraising of Scott Niederjohn and Beth Borgen. 

Meg Albrinck’s Strategy for Growth at LUJ

Lakeland University Japan is growing, but in a way that demands a change in partnership strategy. We have long honored an agreement that allowed our partners in Japan to keep most of the net operating revenues while we kept all net revenues for students who come to LUW. Those latter numbers continue to decline. So, our current entrepreneurial response is to press for a different formula for net revenue distribution and an expansion to selected four-year programs via BlendEd and internships. One example would be hospitality management, which would be timely given Tokyo’s hosting of the 2020 Olympics. These are very complicated negotiating matters that include our partners, two governments, HLC, the Japanese Ministry of Education and intern-host companies. Meg Albrinck is leading LU in this response and has been given full authority in all LUJ matters. This is, at minimum, a five-year process, so it should be led by a senior officer of the university who intends to be here that long. This leadership task will be shared by Amy Wirtz, making our effort even stronger. So far, the project is proving at least twice as demanding in terms of time than we estimated when planning.

Jane Bouche – Observation on Growth in EWO

We have not yet resumed growth in EWO, but all who know Jane have confidence that we will. When inviting her to lead the enrollment and administrative work of EWO, I asked what she thought might stimulate growth, particularly in undergraduate programs. She responded that working adults value degrees highly, but not necessarily the degree-granting university. The deciding factors as to which university a student will choose are (1) time to completion, (2) cost, (2) convenience (location, technology, class schedule) and (4) impact on family schedules. The strongest influencers on retention are (1) a mentored connection with a faculty member, (2) close connection(s) with one or more fellow students, (3) a secure connection with an academic counselor and (4) customer service by non-EWO offices.

Jane added that students and prospective students are voting with their feet. We are losing current students in larger-than-normal numbers and are not competing successfully for new students, especially transfers. That is important because 90 percent of EWO students are transfers, and 75 percent of that group come to LU from a Wisconsin Technical College. Therefore, Jane advised, we need the strongest possible relationship with technical college students, faculty and administrators.

In response to EWO concerns, Scott Niederjohn and the Schilcutt School faculty have developed a team designed course option in which a faculty member, student, employer and dean can construct and deliver a co-op like experience. Joshua Kutney has convened several task forces and a summer summit to study our IDS requirements for transfers in comparison to other universities. Those deliberations have often touched on transfer policy differences as well. We are all grateful for the work by the task forces and look forward to their recommendations.

Both of those dean-led projects could affect the completion time, cost, convenience and family impact of the EWO experience for working adults. We believe that another innovative program might also help EWO grow while serving an important socio-professional development role in the region served by Lakeland. Its description follows.

An analysis of current student characteristics revels that women who are honor society (Phi Theta Kappa) members from Wisconsin’s technical colleges are more likely to enroll and persist than any other “type” of student in EWO. So, another EO influenced response to enrollment concerns in EWO will be to partner with two-year colleges and their Phi Theta Kappa chapters in collaborative Centers for Women Aspiring to Leadership on their campuses and Lakeland’s. Dual studies, scholarships, joint programming, mentoring and networking will be included as Center functions. Colleagues Beth Borgen, Jess Gaffney and Julie Steinert led the idea’s development, with counsel from several presidents of technical colleges (who happen to be women). Jess will be director of the centers, with focused efforts by EWO center admissions staff and directors to facilitate participants’ enrollment in LU.

All of our work with the state’s technical colleges will be advised by Barbara Dodge, who until now has served as vice president and chief academic officer at LTC. Lakeland and LTC and the other tech colleges have the potential for significantly more cooperation than we actually are doing. So, we asked LTC to second Barbara to LU for half of her time so that she can lead us in the expansion of cooperative programs. One example is a consortial federal grant proposal that she and Brian Frink are working on for STEM funding. (It should be noted here that Cindy Lindstrom and Rich Haen are involved in a similar collaboration with the Sheboygan Area School District and LTC).

Partnership Logistics and Patty Taylor

Recall from a previous paragraph that one deciding factor on EWO student retention is ease of navigating Lakeland’s systems. Concerned about unnecessary or outdated navigation challenges for students, Patty Taylor agreed to chair a Growth Task Force last year that included representation from all administrative departments in the university. Twenty-five difficult navigation points for students were identified and then prioritized according to the degree of negative impact. Work on simplifying or eliminating those barriers continues, but we need to strengthen the authority of the effort.

Effective immediately, Patty will add to her current duties the responsibilities of chief logistics officer of the university. In that role, while leading a smaller committee that will be designated as the Logistics (instead of Growth) Task Force, Patty will have the authority to challenge or recommend to the leadership team changes in any of the university’s administrative procedures.

Patty has recommended that all departments commit to the following partnership agreement for their work together. The agreement was developed by Douglas Klein and published in a 2016 book entitled The Enthusiastic Employee:

  • Win-Win. The departments recognize that they have key (student-centered) goals in common and that the success of one party depends on the success of the other.
  • Basic trust. The departments trust each other’s intentions.
  • Long-term perspective. The departments are committed to a long-term relationship, one that can survive the short-term vicissitudes of transactions and personalities.
  • Excellence. The departments set high performance standards for themselves and for each other.
  • Competence. The departments have confidence in each other’s competence.
  • Joint decision making. The departments make key decisions jointly on matters that affect them both.
  • Open communications. The partners communicate fully with each other.
  • Mutual influence. The departments listen to and are influenced by each other.
  • Mutual assistance. The departments help each other perform.
  • Recognition. The departments recognize each other in formal and informal ways for their contributions.
  • Day-to-day treatment. The departments routinely treat each other with consideration and respect.
  • Financial sharing. To the extent that the collaboration is designed to generate improved financial results, the departments share equitably in those gains. In tougher times, they share equitably in the required sacrifices.

Clearly, Klein’s principles should not only guide our strategic alliances with fellow administrative offices, but also with co-op partners, College Possible, tech colleges, recruitment team members and in all other collaborations.

The last item on Klein’s list should be mentioned here. HR is moving to the university division currently called Finance. One of Amy Wirtz’s contributions to employee engagement and performance will be strategic reinvestment in people and programs as we grow.  We must also invest in our physical plant. Five residence halls are more than 60 years old and in rough shape. Amy and Rich Haen have taken the lead in considering a long-term, low interest U.S. Dept. of Agriculture loan that would retire LU’s current long-term debt and fund new residence spaces while keeping our annual debt service close to its current level. New living spaces would be good for Lakeland’s students and not so good for our competitors.

LU Growth as an Executive Function: The Buck Stops Next Door

I believe that a university with Lakeland’s (1) distinctive vision for experiential learning, (2) innovative partnership-driven organizational structure, (3) proactive decision-making culture and (4) proclivity for strategic risk-taking can grow even in the face of declining demographics. But it will not happen unless one of us who is entrepreneurially oriented makes it a priority every day. Dots have to be connected: messaging prospective students, funding scholarships, building internal partnerships for recruiting and retaining the students, increasing and maintaining external co-op partnerships, building LU’s reputation as a distinctive value proposition. Each of those dots is connected to the others and each represents the work of a department. Collectively, those departments include more than 60 different jobs and people who must cooperate in pursuit of the same growth goals.

Strategic growth will remain our most critical priority for the next four years. Exceptional competence and continuity of leadership will be essential during those years. For those reasons, I have asked Beth Borgen to head LU’s growth enterprise as executive vice president. The capital campaign is in its final stages and the Co-op Task Force’s initial 18 months of planning and implementation are complete, so she has capacity for a new type of (growth) campaign. Both the [Un]Common Ground Campaign and co-op are major accomplishments, and we need similar excellence in connecting the growth dots going forward. She will continue as the chief advancement officer while also heading a growth leadership team that includes April Arvan, Patty Taylor, Sam Poullette and Jess Gaffney. The departments represented by them will now form one administrative unit that will report to Beth. Beth’s role will also include the responsibilities and authority of my office at certain times. As most know, I am the healthy survivor of a disease contacted years ago while teaching in Senegal. Continued health requires scheduled stays in a pulmonary clinic, during which time Beth will act in my stead.

Linda Bosman, formerly director of alumni and church relations and annual giving, and an advancement team member for nearly six years, will become the director of the Ulrich Center and donor relations. Andrea Schmitz, formerly alumni engagement officer, will become the director of alumni relations and annual giving. Since her start with the advancement team earlier this year, Andrea has quickly become an engaged member of the team and campus community. 

In closing, I will note that our EO - partnership culture will keep us open to other innovative collaborations that are mission centered. I look forward to those ideas and opportunities, as I believe you do.

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