University of Iowa President Dr. Barbara J. Wilson joined for the Annual President’s address to Staff Council at the April meeting. This came as she concludes her first academic year at UI having taken the helm on July 15, 2021 after serving as the executive vice president for the University of Illinois System. Here are some highlights of her remarks to Staff Council:
President Wilson discussed strategic plans and areas of strength and improvement for the UI. One topic that could impact staff is President Wilson’s belief UI’s pay scale should be competitive with national rates because Iowa is competing nationally for talent and pay impacts Iowa’s ability to attract and retain faculty and staff.
President Wilson identified four pillars of the draft strategic plan that is under development. These include increasing student success, enhancing faculty and staff recruitment; mental health and wellbeing, and ensuring diversity, equity, and inclusion. The pillars will guide funding priorities and investments to improve the state.
Iowa is known for its creative writing program, but UI has also received recognition as a top 10 school for infusing writing across disciplines, President Wilson said. She noted several colleges have their own writing center. This matters because regardless of the discipline students want to and need to be able to express themselves, she said.
Iowa performs comparatively well against peers on the basis of having smaller class sizes, which are desirable, but lags in retention. A focus is getting students to comeback for their second year. Students who return for their second year are far more likely to continue on to graduation. One effort to address this is the First-Generation Hawkeye program. The pilot was a success, and President Wilson hopes to scale that. The 61 students involved had a 92% first-year retention rate, which is 10% higher than peers.
Much has been reported about a decline in college age students in the coming years. While this will be a challenge, UI is positioned to deal with this and has ramped up recruiting in new areas including Denver and Texas, President Wilson said. UI has a goal to grow enrollment from around 31,200 students to 33,500 to 34,000 over five years. Positive indicators include numbers of prospective student visits and housing applications are up this year.
President Wilson fielded a question about the search for a new vice president for health care, noting that she wants strong campus engagement in the hire, so the process may extend into the fall to accommodate summer schedules.