New U of I president takes on education goals and sticking around

Idaho’s goal of having degrees or certificates in the hands of 60 percent of  25- to 34-year-olds in seven years is a stretch.
The University of Idaho’s sagging enrollment needs attention, but strategies exist that can help.
Those are a couple of thoughts from Chuck Staben, the University of South Dakota provost who will become U of I’s next president in March.
Here are some excepts from my Tuesday question-and-answer session with Staben. You can read more about what Staben had to say here.

The state board has set a that goal by 2020, 60 percent of Idahoans ages 25-34 will hold some sort of post-secondary degree (up from about 39 percent now). Does that goal strike you as attainable?

Chuck Staben

Chuck Staben

That seems like a very challenging goal. That’s a major cultural shift. Major cultural shifts take time. 2020 is (in) seven years. That’s very aggressive, it seems to me. I don’t want to go out and be against the goals of my board. It is a challenging goal.

University of Idaho’s enrollment by headcount is down 5 percent. How do you turn that around?
Difficult problems don’t usually have one simple solution. But there are some things I am pretty certain we can do. We have to be very smart in the way we apply financial aid, ensuring the access and affordability questions get addressed. And then you will need a really aggressive recruiting strategy.  When I came to the University of South Dakota, we were declining in enrollment (in first year, full-time freshmen). We went down below 1,000 for the first time in many years. Then we invested in various recruiting strategies and those have paid off.  Our first time, full-time freshman class last year was 1,251. This year it was 1,221.
Briefly cite an effective strategy that worked for you in South Dakota.
Increasing the number of regional recruiters we have in our markets that are important to us. We didn’t have regional recruiters based in Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, Omaha and Rapid City.It’s not just getting us more students. That’s important for the university but you have got to look at it from the other side. That’s more students who are going to be college-educated.

One of the primary issues in finding a new president was finding someone who would commit to stay. You’ve committed to staying in Idaho for a while. Why should we think you will resist a call to lead a bigger or more prestigious university if it comes?
It’s partly a matter of trust. But there is one other factor.I have been pretty open about. My wife and I made a fairly conscious decision that I would pursue  a presidency. She doesn’t like to move and didn’t move when I became provost at University of South Dakota. She is definitely planning on moving to Idaho. It’s an area of the country we like. I know she really doesn’t want to move again. I’ve tended to be a person who does what I say.
Do you recognize how important an issue this is for the people of this state?
It came up in essentially every aspect of the interview process. I get it.

Posted in In The Classroom