Features & Perspectives

Last year, we committed as a community to an experiential education idea called Cooperative Education at Lakeland. Colleagues from every department of the university, each of whom already had a full plate of responsibilities, found time to invent co-op here. More than 1,300 person-hours of work on co-op was recorded on the calendars of various task forces. Add to those hours a probably equal investment of time as teams and individuals in carrying out planned strategies, and we get a glimpse of just how deep our collective commitment was and continues to be. It has been inspiring and humbling to be a part of this journey with you.

And, co-op is working! This fall’s new student enrollment is more than 23 percent higher than last fall’s enrollment, the largest increase among all of Wisconsin’s private and public colleges and universities. Sam Poullette and his Nash Center colleagues and April Arvan her coaching colleagues successfully leveraged co-op in making the case for Lakeland to prospective students and families.

We did not fare so well on the retention front. More students dropped out of Lakeland than even our worst scenarios predicted. Why? The most frequent cause cited historically has been finances, but students with such account balances this year were offered summer co-op jobs, discounted room and board and a free class. A number of students took advantage of that opportunity, but we still had a retention problem. We continue to contact and listen to non-persisters so that we understand the problem better and resolve it sooner.

While learning from those who left, we are also listening to the students who chose to continue. Our intent is to strengthen connections with students by limiting negative community factors and strengthening positive ones. This comprehensive effort is being led by Leslie Laster, dean of students. We are calling the effort Community Connections at Lakeland and are asking that all of us participate – much as we did last year in the co-op initiative.

Specifically, we will soon ask all employees to consider serving as a contact and advocate for 2-3 students each. The metaphor we are using for Community Connections at Lakeland is the Younger Campus Center. When it was closed for renovation, members of our community were disconnected. But what a site when we walk through Younger now! So many connections are active in every space. “Connected” students are much more likely to see Lakeland as a good place to complete college. And those connections need to include those of us who work with students.

Please expect details on this new endeavor and an invitation to participate in Community Connections at Lakeland to follow soon.

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