By Philip Drown
For the Sun Tribune
Anyone who has lived more than a few years in this area understands the impact that students attending the University of Minnesota, Morris have on the community. Their presence and energy are felt each fall when they return to classes, and their absence is noted each summer when most leave for their break.
Beyond the "community energy" factor, however, exist other dimensions of impact and benefit that having a robust local student population brings to the area. They bring talents and skills that benefit area businesses and organizations; they occupy rental properties, patronize eating and retail establishments, and get involved in community activities.
To those involved with the Stevens FORWARD! initiative, the local student population is a community asset that merits community attention. Encouraging growth in on-campus student numbers by strengthening the partnering relationship between the county, region and the university is one of Stevens FORWARD!'s 14 Destiny Drivers.
The Driver says that "By 2012 we will build a stronger coalition between the University of Minnesota Morris and the region to increase enrollment to 2,100 of which 1,800 will be on-campus students."
Karen Arnold, Interim Director of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce, is well aware of the impact of having students live, work, and participate in the area.
"It's huge," Arnold said. It brings a great deal of business to town, they work in our community, they bring a great deal of volunteer effort. They truly are a part of the community."
Arnold noted the integrated nature of the community and the interdependence that exists between the campus and downtown.
"Our community is so intertwined," she said. "If you pull one thread, it affects the entire design. To have them here is just a huge blessing and a boon. If there's more people here they will, perhaps, move off campus and have apartments and housing, which affects utility companies, not to mention groceries, and everything else."
Arnold also noted the significant impact of students who have graduated from UMM and have subsequently settled in the area, started families, become part of the workforce, and even started businesses.
"I just received an email from Sal Monteagudo," Arnold said. "And at the bottom of his e-mail it says 'Proud Morris resident since 1999.' "
Monteagudo, a UMM graduate who settled in the area, currently serves on the Stevens FORWARD! Board of Stewards and has been an active community servant for the past decade.
"It would be really healthy for the community for us to add several hundred students at least to the residential student population," said UMM Chancellor Jacquie Johnson, one of the Stewards of the Stevens FORWARD! Initiative. "So that continues to be a goal."
Johnson also said that "understanding what the enrollment numbers mean" and how the target number was determined are keys to understanding the approach to achieving the driver.
"That number of 2,100 didn't just come from the Stewards' conversation," Johnson said. "It's actually a number that was appropriately lifted out of (UMM's) strategic plan."
Paul Watzke, Chair of the Stevens FORWARD! initiative. said that the Stewards looked at UMM's strategic goal to increase enrollment to 2,100 by 2013, and wanted to see how the community could serve as a partner in that process and help increase the local student population numbers.
"As we were working through these drivers", Watzke said, "with Chancellor Johnson being one of the Stewards, what we did was try and put a little more meat on that by saying that our goal, from the community perspective, is to try and make 1,800 of those students be full time students on campus."
The overall enrollment growth, according to Johnson, will be found not only in the residential students, but in other areas, as well. Johnson said that for the last four or five years, the total enrollment numbers have also been comprised of non-residential students, such as students who enroll in on-line courses offered through UMM but access the curriculum from remote locations.
Johnson said that in the 21st century higher education environment, determining "the appropriate mix of students" has been a regular conversation on the campus.
"There is a mix of students here today that is probably different than it was 10 or 20 years ago," Johnson said. "That is part of the nature of higher education and part of the challenges we face as an institution because of declining demographics for traditional high school age students in the region."
Johnson did note, however, that preliminary enrollment numbers for new high school students and transfer students are tracking ahead of last year, which is a good sign of progress toward the long term goals.
For Watzke, the key in the short term is to strengthen the already healthy relationships that exist between the UMM campus and county community, and work together to find mutually beneficial arrangements.
"It's a two-way partnership," Watzke said "My encouragement is that we as a community do everything we can to help make this community the right setting for students. That it is attractive and has opportunities."
Are you a 'Champion'?
Stevens FORWARD! stewards are seeking "Champions" -- people who want to get involved in the initiative and spearhead a Destiny Driver. For more information, visit the Stevens FORWARD! Web site at www.stevensforward.org, or contact Coordinator Roger McCannon via email at:
firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at (320) 287-0882