Andrew J. Leavitt began his tenure as the 11th chancellor of the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh on Nov. 1, taking over for the retiring Richard Wells. He inherits a university that has expanded its footprint both in terms of the campus and its involvement within the larger region. Insight’s Senior Associate Editor Sean Johnson sat down with Leavitt to discuss the university’s role in creating economic leadership for Northeast Wisconsin.
The university of Wisconsin-Oshkosh has a long history of in-depth and engaging relationships with the business community, and is a major player in economic development. Where my gaze is going to be focused is continuing all of that. I think it’s important we continue to be a driver of economic development in the region, but also make sure we increase access to higher education and reaffirm our commitment to academic success.
It’s important our students do well in the shortest amount of time possible. We want to reinvigorate the idea that you graduate in four years. We need to look at our programs and see which ones are falling outside the traditional 120 semester hours and ask “Why are they?” The vast majority of our degree programs can be completed in 120 hours. We need to educate students early on that it’s important for them to carry 15 hours each semester. We need to keep it at 48 months. It’s an economic disadvantage for a student to be in school longer than four years because not only are you paying tuition, fees, room and board, but you are also losing income because you are not working — it’s a double-tap on student and family finances.
At the same time, we need to support the students so they make the right decisions in order to graduate. Some of the things I would love to see employed would be
rigorous career counseling very early in a student’s career. We also need to make students aware of the consequences of the financial decisions they make so they understand that when they take out a student loan, they need to, first and foremost, graduate in the shortest amount of time possible, pay that back and be able to manage a responsible amount.
Moving forward, where we need to go is to be sure this institution is producing the innovative leaders necessary for the region to continue growing. Our engineering technology program is a perfect example of that. A collaborative program with our partners in NEWERA, the UW and technical colleges are producing engineering technologists at the two-year level — many go directly into the workforce — while others transfer directly to us and get a four-year degree.
I know that four years is an eternity in a business cycle, but what we will find in the next couple of years is that we are producing a steady stream of highly qualified technical students and technical graduates that will clearly benefit manufacturing in this region.
We also have a fine college of business here at UW-Oshkosh, and all of our graduates are required to have an internship or a co-op experience, so we have a very high placement rate.
We are providing a highly skilled workforce for the region, but it is also the expertise we possess on campus. That is one of the real powers of an institution of higher education within your community and region is that it brings together people who study those particular disciplines and can bring great expertise to bear for highly localized issues and opportunities.
That’s really an area I want to focus on. At this point, we need to reflect on what we are offering and make sure all of our offerings are the right size and the right fit for the institution. We want to make sure they are, in fact, helpful to the region.