One of 13 publicly supported universities in the University of Wisconsin System, the 110-year-old University of Wisconsin-Stout, located in Menomonie, has about 1,200 faculty and staff and about 8,000 students. Operating on a $95 million annual budget, UW-Stout offers 27 undergraduate and 16 graduate degrees through three academic colleges: the College of Technology, Engineering and Management; the College of Human Development; and the College of Arts and Sciences.
Nearly half of UW-Stout's programs are unique within the University of Wisconsin System, and several are not offered anywhere else in the United States. This distinctive array of degree offerings stems from UW-Stout's "Mission Driven-Market Smart" focus aimed at developing students for careers in industry and education. All key processes, including strategic planning, program development, partnership building, and teaching and learning, are guided by this special mission. Very successful in placing graduates in jobs and earning high satisfaction scores from students and alumni, UW-Stout has been described as a "hidden treasure" in a popular national catalog for high school guidance counselors.
By Wisconsin law, the UW-Stout chancellor shares many decision-making responsibilities with faculty, academic staff, and students. In addition, this "special mission" university is guided by a Board of Regents that establishes system policy and coordinates allocation of resources among UW System institutions.
Within this framework, the university's leaders established a cross-functional mechanism for organizational planning called the Chancellor's Advisory Council. The 19-member CAC, consisting of senior leaders and faculty, staff, and student representatives, aims to foster a unified view of the UW-Stout mission and its top priorities: student learning and development. Without usurping the statutorily assigned responsibilities of faculty, staff, and student bodies, theCAC requires members to work as a team and to address issues from a university-wide perspective. Payoffs are faster consensus building, improved multi-directional communication, and broader participation in efforts to set the future direction of the university and to determine its performance-improvement goals.An integrated approach to planning and decision making has enabled UW-Stout to respond more quickly and more decisively to challenges and opportunities. It also has become the model for effective cooperation on other organizational matters, large and small. While the CAC has overall responsibility for annually developing UW-Stout's strategic plan, budget, and priorities for improvement, the council is aided by cross-organizational committees and teams that contribute data, analyses, and ideas.
CAC also uses its open communication process to recommend strategic and budget plans to students, faculty, and staff for their review, comment, and action. Other means of communication and feedback include open forums, postings on the university Web site, electronic mail, and a variety of surveys.
In addition to their campus constituencies, the CAC and the university's organizational units are tuned closely to five external stakeholder groups: alumni, companies, high schools and two-year colleges, the surrounding community, and the policy-setting Board of Regents.
Productive collaborative relationships with stakeholders are vital to the university's success in accomplishing its strategic goals. Effective partnerships with businesses, for example, are necessary to ensure adequate opportunities for internships or "co-op" programs, in which students get real-life experience in their likely profession. About 400 companies recruit undergraduate students and 500 recruit graduates. As a result, more than 68 percent of students graduate with practical work experience integral to UW-Stout's "hands-on, minds-on" approach to learning.UW-Stout surveys its business partners regularly, and many provide advice on the content and requirements of degree programs to the university's industrial advisory committees. Every other year, UW-Stout surveys recent graduates and their employers to help gauge the effectiveness of its educational programs from the perspective of these important stakeholders.
With similar diligence, the university has built solid working relationships with high schools and technical and community colleges. These relationships advance the university's efforts to meet enrollment targets and to accomplish its strategic goal of recruiting and retaining a diverse university population. Clearly detailed agreements with the two-year colleges are resulting in a growing number of "2+2 programs," in which students complete two years of technical coursework before transferring to UW-Stout for two years of professional and general studies. Consequently, UW-Stout leads the UW System in the number of transfers from technical colleges.
Career focus, high rates of job placement success, and active learning opportunities are key attributes that help to differentiate UW-Stout from other universities competing for essentially the same pool of students. To maintain these distinctions, UW-Stout benchmarks its performance against other UW System campuses and nationally recognized universities with similar missions and programs.
UW-Stout must be quick to recognize and identify changes in the mix of skills and knowledge that industry will demand from future employees. Between 1995 and 2001, UW-Stout revised requirements for 26 degree programs and added seven new ones.
Speed and agility in academic program planning is accomplished in a traditional organizational structure, but with an important twist. Program directors, who are faculty members reporting to one of the college deans, lead program development across all three colleges. Working with a university-wide Planning and Review Committee, directors are charged with developing program proposals that are consistent with the university's mission, strengthen each college's curriculum, and enhance job and career prospects for graduates. With this cross-organizational approach, which benefits from extensive reviews of systematically gathered data, industry input, and educational research, the university can develop new concentrations in one year. The Institutional Budgeting Consortium of the American Productivity and Quality Center has selected UW-Stout's program development process as a best practice.Listening to Students
UW-Stout uses a comprehensive set of methods for listening to and learning from students throughout their academic careers and beyond. Student needs, expectations, attitudes, and performance are tracked through surveys, course and program evaluations, and a variety of "success measures" that link student performance to educational effectiveness.
The university began conducting student satisfaction surveys in the mid-1970s. Since then, it has supplemented its efforts through participation in state and national student surveys. Survey results and other student-related information are evaluated from numerous perspectives. The university's integrated relational database system permits almost unlimited segmentation of data. For example, student performance and satisfaction can be evaluated for standard categories, such as academic programs, diversity group, gender, or for unique segments of students. This ability supports efforts to determine the root causes of problems and to pin down the relationship between processes and outcomes.
The results of these and other analyses are helping UW-Stout to sharpen its "Mission Driven-Market Smart" focus, to the benefit of students and employers alike. UW-Stout seniors exceeded the national peer averages of "active" learning--traditional instruction reinforced with real-life experience--by 13 percent in 2000. Since 1996, the job placement rate for graduates has been at or above 98 percent. Moreover, alumni earn salaries that exceed the national average from other institutions and the average for graduates from UW System schools.
Such results also lead to satisfaction. For example, more than 90 percent of graduate program alumni and almost 90 percent of undergraduate alumni say that, if they could do it all over again, they would choose to attend UW-Stout. Among employers, UW-Stout also earns consistently high marks. In the university's five most recent follow-up surveys to learn how employers view its graduates, 99 percent to 100 percent of respondents rated UW-Stout graduates as well-prepared for their positions.