Wong Delivers Fall Convocation
In his annual convocation address, President Les Wong told faculty and staff that NMU enters the fall semester with “favorable conditions.” Enrollment is up for the ninth consecutive year, state funding has rebounded, and the innovative Superior Edge program officially kicks off this year.
But Wong said the university continues to face challenges. Demographic studies indicate that the traditional college-aged population, already on a steady decline in the Upper Peninsula, will begin a downward trend nationwide within a few years. This will require creative strategies for recruiting students and expanding online programs.
The legislative process is a more timely concern. Wong said, “Our funding is secure for this year, but there is still a huge question about how the state will replace the nearly $2 billion in revenue generated by the former single business tax. The answer could have huge implications for the funding of Michigan’s public universities. Another key challenge is the continued existence of the House funding formula. As it currently exists, Northern is adversely affected and even penalized for what we’re doing. Fortunately, legislators have responded positively to NMU concerns about the formula this year."
Wong added that Northern remains politically vulnerable because its state funding per fiscal year equated student is still higher than peer institutions, despite some progress in closing the gap through cost-cutting measures, declining state support over several previous years, and enrollment increases.
The growth in student numbers has created its own set of challenges. Wong said several departments on campus are stretched, making adequate staffing a major concern. He repeated his plan to increase faculty by 60 full-time equivalent positions over five years and said administrators are also working to address non-academic shortages.
“We need more support to continue to be the university known for its personal attention to students. But we simply can’t afford to go on a massive hiring binge. So we need to determine where the most critical needs exist.”
Wong also highlighted recent positive strides made by Northern: increased research and related funding; new business and educational partnerships; enhanced efforts to “build bridges” internationally, including a previous trip to Mexico and an upcoming trip to meet with education and corporate representatives in China; and the new Superior Edge initiative.
“Never before has a higher education institution taken the responsibility to incorporate key aspects of citizenship, diversity, leadership and real-life applications into a single, voluntary, structured program that directly supports a student’s major,” Wong said. “Many campuses have bits and pieces, but the Superior Edge is unique in its scope and effect. Imagine our modest goal of 10 percent of our students putting out 400 hours of service to their community, without receiving any pay or grade for their efforts. That is 400,000 hours of work. It's like suddenly putting 200 full-time employees to work in the community.”
For the full text of Wong's speech, go to Convocation.