Fort Lewis College President Tom Stritikus this week welcomed thousands of students back to a campus with a renewed vision for growth after years of declining enrollment.
Stritikus started last August in the wake of budget cuts and layoffs because of falling enrollment.
Since then, FLC has brought in a record $4.6 million through private donations and a record $6.9 million in grants and contracts.
Stritikus also worked with faculty and staff on a new strategic plan to set ambitious goals for retaining students and increasing enrollment.
“We can move and we can move quickly,” he said.
The strategic plan set a goal of increasing enrollment to 3,700 students in three years. As of the first day of school, 3,280 students were enrolled at FLC, which is almost flat compared with last year.
Declining enrollment is an issue at liberal arts colleges across the country, and drawing in more students is likely to take time, FLC Trustee Steve Short said.
But he is happy with the steps the college has taken under Stritikus’ direction.
“I have been very pleased with what I’ve seen develop on campus, the types of engagement I think is occurring,” he said.
This fall, the college opened the Skyhawk Station to allow students to buy parking passes, get student IDs, apply for financial aid, receive health services, turn in employment paperwork and drop or add classes in one place.
“I think it’s a lot more organized, and a lot more accessible to people,” said Serena Poowegup, a senior in business administration.
Skyhawk Station, in the building previously called Miller Student Services, puts many services once scattered across campus under one roof.
This fall, freshmen will participate in First Year Launch, a class to help them develop ties to faculty members, introduce them to campus services and encourage retention.
About 80 faculty and staff applied to teach the new classes, showing their buy-in to the program, Stritikus said.
In the next year, the school hopes to have more engagement programs, such as internships, in place for sophomores, he said.
“This really is something that faculty are going to drive, and they are going to come up with the ideas,” he said.
Raising money for the new Health Sciences Center will also be a priority for the college in the next year. The new building will serve health sciences studies, such as exercise science majors, an area that has seen strong enrollment growth.
The school refined its plans for the center to focus on academics after the Colorado Legislature did not fund the project during its previous session.
The center is expected to be an addition to Whalen Gym and provide offices, classrooms and lab space, Stritikus said. The school is requesting $28 million from the state for the building.
As a purely academic project, the building is expected to compete better for state dollars, which could make the Health Sciences Center a “world-class” facility, he said.
The new center could help prepare a workforce needed to address rural health issues, such as diabetes and obesity, he said.
“These are very, very high demand careers in our region,” he said.