BOV Committee on U.Va.’s College at Wise hears presentation on $15 million ‘Envisioning 2020’ plan

Discussion also revolved around joint branding efforts, admissions

The Board of Visitors Committee on the University of Virginia’s College at Wise met Thursday morning to discuss the College at Wise’s $14.8 million “Envisioning 2020” plan as well as recruitment and branding efforts. The plan released last month details the College at Wise’s proposals to bring on 110 more faculty and staff, increase student recruitment, add new undergraduate and graduate programs and earn accreditation for the school’s business program.

The committee heard a presentation on the plan, but did not take any votes on it Thursday. 

“I thought [the plan] was important because numbers were thrown out there, 15 million dollars, and we’d like to see U.Va. Wise do x, y and z, have graduate programs,” said Donna Henry, chancellor of the College at Wise. “We really put together what are the things that we’ve been thinking about and put that together as a plan to order a response.”

The plan is asking for $14.8 million from Virginia Governor-Elect Ralph Northam (D) after he proposed to expand the College at Wise during his campaign.

“Our current budget, even though we are about two times larger than we were ten years ago … is level to where we were 10 years ago,” Henry said.

Henry also said that the College at Wise is more similar in demographics to minority-serving schools. Sixty percent of Wise students are first generation college students, and half of the 82 percent of students with financial aid have zero family contributions, according to Henry.

“When you look at the minority serving institutions, they have stuff in the budgets to cover that,” she said. “We’re a different institution, we serve a population that's not being served by other institutions in a big way.”

This past fall, the College at Wise missed its 350-student freshmen enrollment goal and enrolled about 300 students instead. John G. Macfarlane III, a Board member and chair of the U.Va. College at Wise Committee, suggested collecting data on which competing schools, particularly in southwest Virginia, have specific programs that could draw students to those schools rather than the College at Wise.

“What programs are they offering that we’re not going to be able to compete with them? What are some of the programs where we’re highly competitive with them, so we can figure out where our niche might be?” Macfarlane said. “We’re competing with online [colleges] as well, but we've got to figure out strategically what’s the best way to address that.”

Although the College at Wise did not meet its enrollment target this fall, it is currently ahead of its enrollment and admissions numbers it had this time last year. To reach the enrollment goal of 350 freshmen, the College plans to admit 700 students. 

Henry also mentioned that she is working on getting the College at Wise on the Common Application — which the University uses in its admissions process — and the Board quickly entertained the idea of allowing Wise students to spend a year on Grounds in Charlottesville as a recruitment strategy. 

The admissions discussion led into talks on joint branding efforts between the University in Charlottesville and the College at Wise. Macfarlane suggested creating a task force between the Provost’s Office, University Communications, the Office of Admissions and the College at Wise to create strategic co-branding. 

“We co-brand and we can say that if you come to Wise, you’re going to have access to Charlottesville content as well as Wise content,” he said. 

The committee members also mentioned the different colors between the University and the College at Wise. The College at Wise currently has its colors as red and gray, while the University’s are orange and blue. Henry said this may be due to the desire in the past to differentiate the identities of the University and the College at Wise. 

“Now there seems to be a desire for us to be more alike and be more branded which goes along with my goal that making sure, you know, everyone says we’re the best kept secret in the Commonwealth, well I don’t think that’s a good thing,” Henry said.

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