August 29, 2016-
This is the fifth time that I have had the honor of appearing before you to begin the college academic year. I don’t know where those five years have gone, time has moved very fast from the day that we met in the old Carlson building before it was transformed into the Student Center, before this room became a place for conferences and ideas rather than pizza and food lines.
But the essence of these changes has not been primarily physical. The physical changes on this campus – and there will be many more in the next five years – are easy manifestations of a deeper change in the College, while at the same time staying true to our principles.
Those of you who have been here much longer than I know that the values that sustained the College during some pretty challenging times were focused upon the success of each student, and to nurture each student, in ways that were not accomplished at other Colleges. Through levels of attention and caring and a working environment that was less combative and, yes, more compassionate than other institutions, Mount lda created a community that encouraged the success in college of students who were not likely candidates for that outcome.
So, in fact, the most important institutional changes that have occurred over the past five years are not bricks and mortar, but the growth and maturation of our human capital: four distinct schools with expanding programs and curricula – each developing an independent identity through Deans, departments and dynamic faculties, a comprehensive student affairs organization which fosters student government, on-campus and off-campus student engagement, supportive residence life and counseling for a generation of young people that faces unique challenges and pressures which impact the path to their future success.
Matched to our programmatic growth, we have undertaken a fundamental change in the way the College operates as a business. Five years ago, with dedicated staff and administrators, the College was, nevertheless, held back from realizing its potential.
Its operations were not driven by the data and information systems that had benefitted the growth of our competitors and peers. Just to give you a few examples:
There was no strategic enrollment plan identifying the students who would benefit by attendance at Mount lda. As a corollary, there was no marketing or branding plan and certainly no digital mechanism for monitoring prospective applicants. Financial aid and student support was haphazard, such that retention of students failed in the first year for lack of family resources. There were no student success coaches or consistent outcomes assessment mechanisms. And, for all practical purposes, the alumni and development organizations – the bedrock of financial support for private institutions – did not exist. We had no list of College alumni and certainly no plan for engaging those few who we knew about.
So what has changed? First of all – and I really mean this in a way that is not intended to be patronizing to any of you – you are the most dedicated and selfless work force that I have encountered in my almost fifty years in higher education. And here are a few things that you have done: (a) Create new academic programs and curricula to energize our four new schools (b) Undertake service learning and grant funded research (c) brought speakers and conferences to the campus in increasing numbers (d) created a faculty governance model appropriate for the college and consistent with our peers (e) professionalized student life and resident life creating the foundation for true student engagement and learning, not only in our classrooms, but in our residence halls, on our athletic fields and among our student organizations (f) created industry leading models for student success and assessment of learning (g) improved the financial aid awarding and monitoring process leading to dramatically improved retention of our students (h) created data driven procedures for enrollment and marketing (h) dramatically improved our budgeting and financial forecasting process (i) improved public safety and the mechanisms for protecting or students under Title 9. (j) begun the proceeds of correcting years of neglect of our information technology systems (k) and for the first time in the College’s history established a data base of almost 30,000. Alumni – something that prior administrations had ignored.
There is a lot more stuff – and I apologize for leaving it things out that you have done which would add measurably to this list. The point is, however, that the accomplishments have been both incredible and transformative – and candidly have begun to put this college on a map of accomplishment in residential higher education that we did not think possible.
And, you have done this while remaining true to principles of diversity and first generation education not achieved by our peers: 33% diverse and 40% first generation students.
Our task now is both to continue on this path of improvement, but as important, to make sure that our gains are sustainable.
We need to strive for quality and excellence ín our educational program – not shy away from rigor and increasing the expectations we have for our students.
We must improve retention. That is everyone’s job.
Each of our schools should continue to develop the uniqueness of their faculty under the leadership of committee cha¡rs and the Deans. This is the customary governance model in colleges and universities and there is no reason why we should not jo¡n those ranks,
On the side of our administration and staff, we need to reinvigorate the involvement of our rising directors and assistant deans in a management council in order to increase involvement, share ideas and advance proposals for the college as a whole.
It is important, as we grow, that we not lose touch with our colleagues in other departments. Mount lda survived and has persevered because of the close connection among all of those who work here crossing department lines. We should not lose those connections and working relationships
Finally, I think I owe it to each of you to describe what my job in going to be in the next few years, lt is to create, with you, a unique and sustainable institution of higher education, one that has overcome the financial mismanagement of past years and creates realistic growth models for its day to day operations and its capital base.
Getting to that point is still a challenge, as it is for many small tuition dependent colleges, but we have moved very far in the past five years to the amazement of our competitors and peers, many of whom are struggling now to catch up with our success in career focused liberal education. There is no question in my mind that we add measurable value to the lives of our students. We need to continue to be in the programmatic forefront of that process and effort. For that I will depend on each of you.
My task will be to develop the financial resources to equal your programmatic success. I will continue to try my best to bring funds into this institution to match the success that you are having with our students. Between our joint efforts, I think we can continue to build a very special, very unique institution that will grow in prominence and stature.
Each of you has my thanks, each day, for the work you do to reach this goal.