Skip to body

Central Washington University

CWU President Calls for Innovation, Proposes to Seed New Ideas

ELLENSBURG, Wash. (October 4, 2012) — Central Washington University is stronger than ever and innovation will be the key to flourishing in a new economic era, according to CWU President James L. Gaudino, who delivered the annual State of the University address today. Gaudino said CWU has achieved ambitious enrollment goals while improving students’ experience, evidenced by across-the-board performance improvements on the National Survey of Student Engagement.

“CWU has improved performance on every measure since 2008, during one of the most challenging periods in our history,” said Gaudino, noting that performance improved despite the loss of half of state funding over the same period. “These indicators are difficult to move in the best of times; that we have managed it against formidable odds is nothing short of remarkable.”

Gaudino attributed the success to the refusal to accept a no-win scenario of budget cuts that would prompt layoffs, program cuts, and neglect of facilities. Instead, CWU reframed the situation as a revenue challenge and reset workflow, organization, and goals. The university enrolled 1,000 students beyond state assumptions, and placed a new emphasis on pursuing business partnerships, engaging alumni, and reaching out—in person and online—to students from all walks of life.

Gaudino challenged his audience to apply creativity, normally centered on teaching and research, to creating opportunity where obstacles now exist.

“I am suggesting that we seize the opportunities before us and that we celebrate being responsible for our own success,” Gaudino explained. “I am asking that we step back from intractable problems and redefine them into measures we can address. I am asking that we take some calculated risks.” 

Gaudino said he would back his call for innovation with seed money to implement new ideas. The fund would target new ways to enrich students’ educational experience, reach, or extend degree programs to people whose commitments to jobs or families prevent them from enrolling in a traditional degree program on a residential campus. Gaudino touted “entrepreneurialism” in face-to-face meetings across campus last spring said people had not fully understood him or had asserted that new ideas could not be launched without start-up funding.

“I heard you and am bringing you an idea based on mutual trust; it’s both innovative and a force for innovation,” said Gaudino, promising to meet with each department to discuss the idea in more detail. “It’s an innovation fund for your idea—a pool of money to seed your idea, to get it off the ground.”

Gaudino said new faculty and staff will have to demonstrate how the proposal will eventually support itself and contribute to the vitality of the university. If the program is successful, the sponsoring department would be allowed to keep much of the revenue it generates.

The university’s new online campus, “Finish Line,” is one example of innovative outreach to students, according to Gaudino. He said CWU was compelled to open degree programs to more students because the state of Washington “needs it so desperately.” Washington ranks 47th in the nation for the percent of 18-to-24-year olds who enroll in college to seek bachelor’s degrees. 

“Nearly a million people in our state have earned some credits beyond high school that could apply toward a baccalaureate degree, but many are not in a position to start an academic career at a residential campus,” said Gaudino. “We are obliged to reach out to them—obliged as educators, as compassionate individuals, and as public servants.”

By all measures, Finish Line is off to a remarkable start. The number of students in online majors jumped from 160 last fall to about 475 today. Another 75 are enrolled in master’s degree programs.

“Online education will never replace the face-to-face connection we have with each other and with students,” Gaudino remarked, adding that online education provides a new level of flexibility for students and shows a willingness to meet students where they live and flourish. “It simply enriches what we do and brings our classrooms to people who otherwise would be left out.”

CWU now offers more online degree programs, and has more students enrolled in them, than any other state comprehensive institution. The number of students taking a course online from CWU jumped from 1,765 last fall to more than 2,000 today.  In other words, this fall one in five students is taking a class online.

Media contact: Linda Schactler, director, CWU Public Affairs, 509-963-1384, schactler@cwu.edu

For a transcript of the speech please visit the president's web page.