MARQUETTE –Northern Michigan University president Les Wong stressed continued enrollment growth in new markets and with new types of course and program offerings in his convocation address to faculty and staff Wednesday (Aug. 24).
Wong briefly recapped his “rookie year” at Northern, remarking on the challenging legislative funding process of the past year, but he spent most of the time focusing on four short-term activities the university will undertake now to shape its future. These include developing an off-campus enrollment base; formulating a strategy to reduce semester credit-hour production per full-time teaching faculty; ramping up the areas of continuing education, online course development, grants and enhanced gifts; and undertaking the implementation of the Internationalization and Superior Edge initiatives.
Wong said it is critical for Northern to find new and creative ways to reach audiences who can’t come to campus.
“I will ask the provost and academic deans, faculty and staff to begin the process that will set realistic targets for off-campus enrollments,” he said. “We are fighting against a demographic curve that is telling us that fewer and fewer traditional-age students will come to us from the Upper Peninsula.”
The NMU president noted that continued efforts toward growth and implementation of new initiatives is challenging in the current economic climate, but said the university’s spirit is “undaunted.”
“We must put our thinking to the question of managing enrollment, reducing costs and remaining affordable,” said Wong.
Wong said Northern will move forward with two initiatives that came from last year’s campus-wide “Curriculum for the 21st Century” discussion: working to ensure an internationalization experience for each student pursuing a bachelor’s degree, and developing the Superior Edge program, a 400-hour, directed effort in the areas of leadership, diversity, community service and theory-to-practice experiences.
Higher education funding in Michigan – particularly House and Senate proposals to significantly cut Northern’s state appropriation – have made it a challenging first year for Wong. While the hard-line positions have softened and state revenues will be higher than projected, he said the so-called “funding gap” and formula funding issues will force Northern into a fight every year during the legislative budget process. Efforts to address these problems will be discussed at upcoming university forums.
Wong also thanked the Upper Peninsula community for its continued support during the legislative process.
“Special thanks to the citizens of Marquette and the people of the Upper Peninsula. You’re the best. Your voice for fairness and respect was loud, consistent and effective. Without it, I would have been a nervous wreck. You gave me confidence with your support,” he said.
Wong told the faculty and staff that while Northern was known nationally for its award-winning technology program, NMU’s technology should be considered the “how we do something, not why.
“Despite the lure and appeal of technology, it will never be Northern’s main strength. Technology helps us remain distinctive and is one strength of NMU. Northern’s signature is its paramount and clear commitment to students. When you engage NMU, you engage a culture that prides itself by the learner’s accomplishments. We pride ourselves on being high tough – that is our soul, our strength, our hallmark.”