September is a Month of Celebration at NMU

Monday, September 18, 2017

Happy Homecoming NMU.

Great things are happening at Northern – and we're only a few weeks into the new school year. At convocation, I kicked off the year reminding the campus of our many accomplishments of the past year. It was a list of which to be proud. Now, more good news continues to roll our way, giving us more than Homecoming to celebrate this month. Now that the semester is well underway, I thought I should give the campus an update on several topics on which I've received questions or comments. Please keep up the good work on the enrollment front.

IN THE RANKINGS: This year's U.S. News & World Report rankings, announced last Tuesday (Sept. 12), had Northern listed in four categories. Among regional universities in the Midwest, NMU was a top 100 school, tied for 83rd best overall and 18th among the top public institutions. We ranked 67th as a “best value” and tied for 52nd among the best colleges for veterans in the Midwest. I wonder where we will be ranked in five years after we've completed implementing the innovative and strategic ideas we're working on, talking about, or that come out of the Strategic Resources Allocation project?

10th DAY NUMBERS – RETENTION: Monday (Sept. 11) was Northern's 10th day of classes, which is significant in that it is the day Michigan universities are required to do official enrollment counts and submit them to the state. Among the various enrollment statistics we collected and are analyzing, one of the most exciting ones was our 1st to 3rd semester retention rate, which at 75% appears to be highest since Northern began tracking that information. That is a 3% climb from last year's 72%. There are a number of reasons to celebrate this feat. It means our students are making progress toward completing their degrees. It might also mean that more students are receiving the assistance needed to remove learning and university navigational barriers. Increased retention directly influences Northern's enrollment picture, which directly impacts the budget. The least expensive student to recruit is the one who already attends. I anticipate continued retention improvement as the university implements recommendations from the NMU Retention Committee and others on campus.

10th DAY NUMBERS – OVERALL ENROLLMENT: Another big highlight from the 10th day enrollment report is that we're up in new freshmen, new graduate students, transfer students and have added nearly 600 EAN students to our enrollment totals. The new freshmen numbers held to double-digit growth at 10.8% (146 students), which might be the largest percentage increase in the state this year. The numbers demonstrate our ability to distribute education traditionally, as well as through modern, non-traditional means. Today our traditional enrollment is 7,612. Our EAN enrollment is 585. Northern also has enrolled 2,960 students who don't fall into other traditional student categories (such as workforce development, Police Academy and MARESA partnership programs), which gives Northern a total students served enrollment of 11,157. On the traditional enrollment side, we've made a big dent in the hole created by the large graduating classes and small incoming freshman classes of the past few years. We whittled our overall enrollment decline down to 1.8%, which defies demographics and national/ regional projections. That is quite an achievement for any university, but especially noteworthy of a rural one. Keep in mind that we would have needed a +24% increase in new freshmen to not see an overall decline in total headcount. The goal now is to find ways to duplicate this success as we move forward.

THE IMPACT OF HURRICANES– Our thoughts and best wishes are with Northern students, faculty, staff and alumni whose families were impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Northern reached out to 36 students from the Hurricane Harvey-hit areas. We're in the process of doing the same for those impacted by Hurricane Irma.  We let these students know that the university stands ready to assist with such things as pushing back financial due dates until their family's situation has been stabilized, connecting them with counseling services, and notifying faculty members for excused absences if a student must travel home at some point. The NMU Alumni Association has been emailing Harvey and Irma-area alumni. A number of alumni, especially graduates of our line tech program, are working as part of the recovery efforts. Some students and employees who are National Guard members have been called into duty to help as well. Please do everything possible to help hurricane-impacted students and deployed Guard members deal with any added responsibilities from the storms. The Dean of Students office is the starting point for students and Guard members with questions or issues related to the hurricane situation, and Human Resources for staff and faculty.

DACA DETAILS – Following President Trump's action to repeal the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, I've been asked how many “Dreamers” attend Northern. My answer: I don't know since NMU does not track DACA students. Several national organizations of which NMU is a member, as well as university presidents' groups to which I belong, have sent letters to the president and members of Congress in support of university-attending “Dreamers.” NMU has a strong history of supporting the idea of educational access for all who seek it. We will continue to monitor the situation. While Congress works on this issue, please know these three things regarding recent immigration executive orders:

  • Northern WILL provide information and support to students to help them learn of and understand any changes in U.S. immigration law that may affect their ability to attend our university.
  • Northern WILL take immediate and serious action against anyone who threatens or harasses a member of our community.
  • Northern WILL NOT voluntarily disclose citizenship status information of NMU community members to federal authorities beyond what is absolutely required by law without a court-issued subpoena.

BUDGET MATTERS I want to congratulate NMU departments on their conservative spending last year, which resulted in a $1 million savings. Nearly all departments closed out the 2017 Fiscal Year with carry-over funds. This is great news because our overall enrollment decline leaves us with about a $1 million structural budget imbalance.  Rather than do budget cuts to correct this, I'm asking departments to continue to spend conservatively again and we'll manage the deficit this year through cost savings and one-time funding methods. By doing so, we can see how the recommendations of the Strategic Resources Allocation project influences the budget. It would make little sense to do a budget reduction in an area today through across-the-board cuts only to determine through the SRA process that it is an area recommended for investment. Let's see how the SRA recommendations shake out and do all of the budget restructuring that is needed at one time.

SEPTEMBER CHALLENGE – Speaking of the SRA project, the first SRA forum of the semester will be held at 8 am. Thursday, Sept. 28, in 1100 Jamrich Hall. All members of the NMU community are encouraged to attend and be an active and informed participant of this campus-wide initiative. The SRA forum is just one of many September events at Northern. This week (Sept. 17-23) we celebrate Homecoming, which includes the Dead River Games, annual parade, Step Competition, and NMU's Alumni Awards and Sports Hall of Fame events. The following week (Sept. 25-26) is Northern's annual diversity conference, known as UNITED (Uniting Neighbors In The Experience of Diversity). I challenge all Northern community members to attend one or more of these events. Faculty and staff, we need to be the example for campus involvement that our students see and follow. Students, joining the complex conversation about university decision-making for the future (SRA), introducing yourself to world and community leaders (Alumni Awards and Sports Hall of Fame), and expanding your world and cultural perspectives (UNITED) are not always easy things to do, but they present great learning and growing experiences for you.

An incoming freshman told me this summer that he chose Northern because we're a “happenin' place.” This month, all of us – whether we've been on campus 40 years or 4 weeks – have a chance to stretch beyond our daily campus routines and get involved in what's going on.

It's a great time to be a Wildcat.
President Fritz Erickson

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  • Image 1 - Fritz Erickson