Open Letter to UW-Green Bay and the Region

Dear UW-Green Bay Faculty and Staff,

People inside and outside of UW-Green Bay often ask me how I feel about the future of our institution, including how I see the overall higher education landscape changing and affecting us.  On July 10, 2020, a few months after I began my role as chancellor and in the midst of the pandemic, I wrote this open letter to the communities of Green Bay, Manitowoc, Marinette, and Sheboygan.  The pandemic accelerated the evolution that was already happening in higher education. Now, we are fully experiencing the pressures of rapid change in an industry that has not typically handled change well.  Yet, I remain incredibly optimistic about our future.  It is clear that our future and the future of Northeast Wisconsin demands us to be bold.  There are a lot of loud voices saying what you do is not important or valuable. But it is. Today, I still feel what I wrote in 2020 is true in that, ‘We are positioned well to deal with whatever challenges emerge in the coming year, but it is not enough.  We must do much more.’

To do more, we will fully embrace the same skills we are teaching our students.  We will be leaders in our individual disciplines, we will be great communicators, and we will individually and collectively become increasingly relevant to the common good of the region we serve. Using these skills, we will shape our own distinct future as a university.  We need to continue to unite our region in the belief that access to education for all who want to learn makes our families and communities stronger.  Education creates bridges between people and our bridge must be built on the strength of our unique blend of rural and urban locality.  We are empowered to ask uncomfortable questions, fight through the noise of an increasingly complex world, and have a chip on our shoulder that pushes us to welcome challenges, continue learning throughout our lives and overcome obstacles.  We should celebrate our journey and show gratitude for those who have chosen to join us while embracing those who have not.

We have proven that where we are going is noteworthy.  Our enrollment has grown to 10,338 students, an increase of 17.4% over the last four years.  Additionally, in 2023, we served over 60,000 people with non-credit classes, second only to UW-Madison and gaining fast. Our Rising Phoenix program began in 2020 and currently helps 367 high school students each year, earn a UW-Green Bay associate degree while still in high school.  We were the first university in the state of Wisconsin to offer direct admission for students in the Green Bay Area Public Schools, an initiative that will now be copied across the state.  We have been recognized nationally for our expertise in serving First Generation College Students, who now make up approximately half of our student population.

UW-Green Bay accomplished all of this growth and change during a global pandemic as our country, state, and region have become more polarized.  Although we are a state institution, we cannot wait for the complex educational bureaucracy within our state to solve our problems.  Nor can we rely on politicians on both sides of the aisle to come together to fund our operations at a level that is above 42nd in the country.  Instead, we must adapt to the reality that approximately 20% of our operating budget comes from the state.  That means creating new revenue sources and further streamlining our operations to be completely focused on our strategic priorities.  In short, we must focus all of our time on making sure we are doing everything possible to meet our noble mission.  We have done a lot.  And we must do more.

So, where are we headed for the next five years?  In 2020, we agreed upon six strategic priorities that would drive us toward our access mission.  Consider what we have been able to achieve since then.  It is important to celebrate how far we have come in each of these priorities in less than four years.  It is equally important to quantify what success can look like in the next five years when we all work together in these challenging times toward the new goals outlined below.

Student Success

We must not only have more students enter UW-Green Bay, but also ensure that those who enter reach their educational goals before leaving us.  Not all students will complete a degree, but all students who start with us should leave with a credential that can be used to better their lives and career prospects.  While some will experience higher education in a linear fashion, we need fluid options for others to enter, exit, and reenter higher education when their lives allow for it and career coaching for all to help navigate those paths.  We need to start measuring and tracking retention in ways that make sense to an access institution.  What percentage of students who start with us leave with a tangible credential?  Our goal should be 100%.  Finally, we will become the largest provider of non-credit offerings in the state of Wisconsin with classes that help all people value education as opposed to just those seeking credit-bearing degrees.


Higher education has two major crises that it must deal with.  One is historic and ongoing: the exclusion of people from underrepresented populations into higher education.  The second is relatively new: the rapidly declining perception of the value of higher education in rural, conservative areas.  Both issues must be resolved for our communities to grow together, for equity in the ability to be upwardly mobile between generations, and to allow all people the opportunity to advance their careers over a lifetime.  UW-Green Bay must measure success in the following ways for this priority to be actualized.

Rising Phoenix enrollment numbers should continue to increase annually in rural districts.  In addition to providing rural students a pathway into higher education, our program also supports rural school districts to expand advanced offerings they can make to their students.  Additionally, we must create and grow a network for rural students at UW-Green Bay that creates a sense of engagement with the university and provide support for issues that concern them.

In a perfect world, the demographics of UW-Green Bay would roughly match the demographics of the region we serve.  This is why it makes sense that we are now the 3rd most racially diverse university within the Universities of Wisconsin.  Our communities are changing and evolving, and so are we.  Since 2020, We have averaged growth of 15% per year in students who identify as Hispanic.  We must maintain that pace for the next five years so that we keep up with the overall growth of the Hispanic population in our region.  Providing education for all demographics prevents large income and socioeconomic disparities due to educational opportunity gaps.  Eliminating these gaps helps the economy and improves the quality of life of everyone in our communities.  While our goal to be a Hispanic Serving Institution would highlight our service to the Hispanic population as the largest traditionally underserved demographic in our region, we will pursue the same goals to increase participation and retention for all students regardless of how they identify.  We will not stray from the overarching goal of educational equity and opportunity.  All have a place at UW-Green Bay.

Enhanced Community Connections and University Philanthropy

Since 2020, we have expanded our community reach in various ways.  We transformed the struggling Shorewood Golf Course into a thriving cross-country course that brings thousands of people to UW-Green Bay each year.  Our camps and youth programs have grown and will now serve over 1,000 students in 2024.  Estamos Aquí brought over 8,000 people to the Green Bay campus for a Hispanic arts and culture festival.  We earned the designation as a Carnegie Elective Classification for Community Engagement.  In addition, we raised $30,163,273 from 2020-2023, an increase of 43.94% over the prior four years.  To continue to support our growth, we should hold ourselves accountable by keeping up this pace over the next five years.  Finally, we should see the first physical infrastructure of the Cofrin Technology and Education Center, Phoenix Innovation Park, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) come to fruition.  Phoenix Innovation Park and the NERR connect our mission directly to the constituents we serve in our region.

Digital Transformation

Our work to modernize our practices to thrive in a digital world has created positive changes in how we educate, broaden our connections to students, and complete our business functions.  Now we need to put increased attention on how technology can further inform our work and prepare our students to thrive in a world where technology is ubiquitous.  We will develop clear strategies for how we will use emerging technologies to increase access to education and the quality with which it is delivered.  We will begin to use powerful technologies like AI to help us expand the impact of the people who work here.  We must use technology to cover the mundane and instead use our “people power” to do what humans do best: communicate, solve complex problems, and inspire others.  Given our current budget realities, we must get comfortable quickly with this way of operating.  We know we are understaffed.  Therefore, we must use technology to manage workloads, inspire human interaction, and increase the satisfaction that our faculty and staff get from doing their jobs.

Sustainability and Environmental Work

We have begun to recapture our identity as an institution that was founded on the ideals of environmental stewardship and sustainability, but we still have a long way to go to be seen as a leader in these efforts.  There are two things we should strive for in the coming years.  First, we should achieve Gold status on the STARS report for the first time in our history.  The second goal is more complicated.  We have to work together to think at scale.  Each individual makes a difference, but as a whole, we can have a much greater impact on the future of UW-Green Bay and our region.  The upcoming establishment of a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) is a good example of this.  We need to ask ourselves, what is our next NERR-like project that inspires education and hope for the next generation of leaders on these compelling and urgent subjects?

Sustainable Path for the Weidner and Green Bay Athletics

Event-generated revenue has tripled and visitors have doubled at the Weidner since FY17. We are on track to hit $3,000,000 in venue ticket sales this year. This year will also be the highest contributed revenue year since the last capital campaign in 2012 and the highest non-campaign fundraising year since 2004.  The dramatic positive trajectory of contributed and earned revenue the Weidner now generates is in stark contrast to the trends nationally of centers for performing arts.  Given the complicated history of the Weidner, this is a remarkable accomplishment.  The Weidner has fully embraced the mission of UW-Green Bay.  It is an important access point for the public, our students, and potential future students.  All of these great benefits accrue with only one position funded with state resources.  The Weidner is becoming a model for how auxiliaries should operate within a broader university budget.  We will expect continued steady growth in ticket sales and community engagement over the next five years as the Weidner returns to its rightful position as a place that the region can be incredibly proud to have built.

Despite tremendous upheaval within the NCAA, we are finding a way forward in athletics that has tremendous benefit to how we are perceived as a university.  We won three Horizon League titles in 2023, our first titles since 2018.  Our coaches and teams are engaging with the community like never before with near constant interactions across the region with civic groups, schools, and donors.  Athletics social media accounts have increased dramatically in the past year, helping us bring more exposure and attention to the entire University. Facebook and Instagram impressions are up 250%, and men’s basketball has had four different videos with over 90,000 views each. The total number of athletic gifts are the highest since 2018, and ticket sales are on track to be the highest since 2018.  While we are still the lowest funded University in the Horizon League and one of the lowest in the country for a D1 University, we have set the goal to close that gap through earned income and fundraising in the coming years so that we are no longer the lowest funded university in our league for athletics.

We should always see our glass as half-full with the opportunity to create our own future.  While we are in difficult times, my hope for a bright future has not wavered.  I believe that we can chart an even brighter future.  We have already made tremendous progress in the face of great challenges over the last four years.  We have ignited something special within ourselves and our community.  The question now is can we build on our successes, accelerate the speed of our progress, and continue to relate our mission to the region and students we serve? Can we ignite the future?

We are The Phoenix.  This is our time and together we will rise.