Boldly Baldwin word mark

Bookmark and Share

State of the College Address

Converge on Academic Excellence

August 23, 2006

President Pamela Fox

Printable Version (PDF – 96 KB)
Slideshow (MS PowerPoint – 5.8 MB)

Welcome to the opening of the 165th distinguished academic year of Mary Baldwin College.

Dan and I hope that you had a productive summer. We have been watching recent snapshots as we gathered, demonstrating research and scholarly pursuit by faculty and students, precious time with our families and friends, the diligent work of our physical plant staff, the productivity of our institutional advancement and communications, marketing, and public affairs staffs, the successful efforts of our admissions, financial aid and student life teams, and the lives and careers of some of our alumnae — including Sherri Sharpe (VWIL class of 1999) as she assumes command of the Clydesdales, a Chinook helicopter company in Iraq.

Last August I asked that we focus and advance. Through the dedication of every member of this community, we have indeed accomplished demonstrable differences. I am deeply grateful to every one of you. Thank you.

At this point last year we were dealing with a significant budget deficit. As a result of comprehensive analysis and planning, the financial chemistry of the college is now in better balance. I am very pleased to report that we closed our fiscal year with a modest budget surplus.

Enrollment in the Residential College was also declining. We are turning this around. We experienced a 7.5 percent improvement in freshmen-to-sophomore retention last fall and anticipate this will hold and increase yet another 3 percent. We are making important strides toward improved retention, though we must continue to work diligently, particularly on PEG and VWIL where retention declined slightly this year while all other RCW retention improved significantly.

We revised our message, materials, recruiting strategies, and distribution of financial aid. As a result, we received the largest number of applications in the history of the college. New enrollment is up 10 percent: this week we welcome 300 talented new students. This is the class of 2010 — the first class to benefit from the Mary Baldwin College Advantage as we launch these 10 signature experiences through their orientation theme: Perfect 10. Included are 52 transfer students, up 34 percent over last year. Forty percent are from out of state as we work toward our desired goal of 50/50 in-state/out-of-state.

We believe this is a strong academic class, although SATs did not rise. As I am sure you are aware, the SAT is an entirely new test and a writing component has been added so that the total possible score is 2400 rather than 1600. The equivalent of Scenario 1100 is 1650. Our freshmen average is 1546. The College Board has not yet re-centered the scoring for comparability with the previous test.

However, our GPA is up from 3.25 to 3.30. By tracking persistence to graduation, Dr. Askegaard’s research demonstrates that GPA is the strongest indicator of success at Mary Baldwin. Indeed, his Educational Index, the basis upon which we admit students, weights GPA at 65 percent and SAT at 35 percent.

We also track our students and award financial aid based on the Calculated Index. The CI weights GPA and SAT equally and has five bands; we have elected to give added weight to SATs in awarding aid in support of scenario 1100. The top two bands, where we find our honors and Bailey students with SATS above 1100, increased this year over last year; these 85 new freshmen constitute about 34 percent of the entering class. In the next two bands where SATs fall generally between 1000 and 1100, we have 124 new students, or 50 percent of the freshmen class. The remaining 18 percent are below. So as a percent of total, we are decreasing the number of students in the lowest band and we are increasing the number of students in the middle. We have great opportunity to increase yield in the top two bands as we maintain our commitment to increasing academic quality.

The Adult Degree Program experienced a 6.7 percent increase in enrolled hours last year, including a 108 percent increase in the South Boston office in only its second year. MAT maintains its enrollment, having surpassed its 10-year, 25 percent growth goal last year in a single year, and is experiencing growth in the new program for experienced teachers. MAT received a $100,000 grant from NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to support our summer program for teachers, and another $57,000 from SCHEV (the State Council for Higher Education in Virginia) to support Writing as a Second Language next summer. MLitt will have 14 new students from 12 states with an average GPA of 3.7, up again from last year. The MLitt/MFA program received a new grant of $450,000 from the Carpenter Foundation for the next two years and is the recipient of the 257 volumes of mainly Shakespeare and Renaissance literature (some quite rare) from Dr. Reginald Foakes, professor emeritus of English at UCLA and visiting MLitt/MFA scholar.

Our campus continues its transformation:

  • as colorful banners make our strengths and values visible;
  • as we work to complete the painting of all the buildings on our historic quad and many others across our 54 acres;
  • as the majesty of Rose Terrace and Little House are restored;
  • as we improve our residential houses, including the dramatic transformation of Coalter Street House;
  • as we strengthen our infrastructure through projects such as the “big dig” of the steam-line from Hill Top to Carpenter;
  • as we colorfully renovate lounges in Woodson and Spencer;
  • as we complete the wireless transformation of about 85 percent of the campus;
  • as we improve classroom technology and install the library security system;
  • as we work on our athletic fields; and
  • extend our blooming landscape.

This begins the third year of implementation toward realizing the vision of Composing Our Future: Mary Baldwin College 2014. The plan lives in our vocabularies, guides our unified work, assesses our progress, inspires generous support, and is proving to be on the leading edge of higher education through its emphasis on transforming education for positive change in the world. Our vision of national recognition is advancing. Last week in U.S. News & World Report, Mary Baldwin was listed in the top tier of master’s-level universities in the South for the fifth year in a row, moving up from a ranking of 31 in 2005 to 25 within a pool of 127 ranked schools.

We will once again establish an ambitious slate of priorities and objectives, as we move through our SACS reaffirmation year and the completion of the Quality Enhancement Plan and as we search for and appoint new Vice Presidents for Academic Affairs and Institutional Advancement.

Today as we consider the work before us, I urge our continued focus on who we are and what we do. I admit a longstanding fascination with the proverb of the fox and the hedgehog, and not just because of the obvious name coincidence. The 7th century BC Greek poet Archilochus posited that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” In an extensive exegesis, Erasmus of Rotterdam restated this: “The fox devises many strategies; the hedgehog knows one great and effective strategy.” In 1551 Konrad Gesner drew the embodiment of cunning versus persistence: the fox seems ready for everything with ears cocked and hindquarters set to spring. The hedgehog is long and low, and quietly confident under his spines. The spines, of course, are his one great defense from being captured even by the repeated clever maneuvers of the fox.

This proverb has regained currency through the writings of Isaiah Berlin, Steven Jay Gould, and Jim Collins’ Good to Great. While any such dichotomy can become artificial and useless, I believe Mary Baldwin must never lose sight of our one big idea, the historic and future mission and vision of the college, our hedgehog: personal transformation. Our catalog states: Mary Baldwin College is a learning community that provides personalized, transforming liberal education as a foundation for lifelong learning, global citizenship, and the holistic integration of mind, body, and character.

Our goal of personal transformation is placed in our unique context. We are committed to leadership, service, and empowering women. Indeed a significant new study by the Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research demonstrates that the predominance of women in undergraduate higher education should not lead people to believe there is no longer any need for women’s colleges. The study documents that students at women’s colleges are more engaged and empowered for academic excellence than their peers at coeducational institutions. We are a college within the unique community of Staunton in the heart of the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. Our programmatic ties with Staunton’s cultural organizations cannot be duplicated by any other college.

The gateway to personal transformation is academic excellence.

I urge us to converge on academic excellence.

What does this mean?

I believe that at Mary Baldwin College, academic excellence is collective. It is not an attribute of a certain group of programs or restricted to a select group of students. It is a characteristic that emerges as we seek to bring about the best in all members of our community. It is modeled by the outstanding teacher/scholars who are deeply committed to the potential of their disciplines. Last year faculty members delivered 30 papers at national and international conferences, published 30 books and articles, and guided the senior projects showcased in our inaugural Capstone Fair. Academic excellence is supported by the student life staff who will lead orientation and MBC 101 as we launch the MBCA. It is nurtured by those whose primary job it is to recruit our students, raise funds, disseminate our messages to the public, and maintain our environment.

Academic excellence at Mary Baldwin is also inclusive. We are one of the most diverse colleges in America, and we have pledged our commitment to inclusive community. Diversity is a key component of a comprehensive strategy for achieving institutional excellence, ensuring that all students succeed in a diverse society. The President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusive Community endorses this concept of inclusive excellence. As the late Edgar Beckham expressed it to me in musical terms, diversity is not decorative musical ornaments or grace notes. Diversity, and therefore inclusive excellence, is the fundament in a great composition like a passacaglia; it is ever-present as a recurring founding structure.

We will converge on academic excellence for our priorities this year

  • the Quality Enhancement Plan,
  • the enhanced recruiting of high ability students,
  • the completion of Phase III of the campus master plan,
  • our preparations for a comprehensive fundraising campaign, and
  • outreach to our alumnae/i.

Converge on Academic Excellence: The QEP

As recommended by our collaborative, campus-wide discussion last year, our Quality Enhancement Plan required by the SACS reaffirmation process will focus on civic engagement. The QEP committee met in retreat in June and again in July to shape the focus, learning outcomes, educational strategies, and assessment tools. All relevant work of previous committees, task forces, and advisory boards was carefully incorporated. We conducted extensive research of current approaches to civic engagement in higher education. The document is under review by the committee and readers now, and shortly after the academic year begins, we expect the QEP drafting committee will send a proposal to the college community for evaluation and approval.

In late June I represented the American Association of Colleges and Universities at the Council of Europe’s forum on global democracy. This inspiring opportunity reinforced that civic engagement is a multi-layered experience: it is rooted in understanding of self, realized in purposeful participation within one’s local communities, and connected with contemporary global issues.

The QEP argues, as does AAC&U, that civic engagement must involve global learning. We believe that, to empower and inspire students to become more engaged, they need to become interculturally competent and socially responsible. The QEP outlines learning outcomes in these two areas that involve changing student attitudes, behavior, and knowledge.

Strategies to achieve these outcomes include integrative learning, experiential learning, and reflective learning. To foster integrative learning, for example, the committee recommends that we consider utilizing big questions to connect the curriculum to contemporary global issues. Coalescing into annual college-wide themes, the goals could be incorporated into the threshold experience through MBC 101, a summer reading program, within each major, and through our key speakers. Claudia Bernardi, this year’s Doenges Artist/Scholar-in-Residence, and Bennazir Bhutto, this year’s Smyth Leadership Lecturer, already exemplify our commitment to global human rights and women’s leadership.

Among other things, our assessment will track the number of courses available in the curriculum devoted to international studies, diverse cultures of the US, and community service learning; the number of students enrolled in these courses and in foreign language courses; the number of students involved in co-curricular community service; the number of students studying abroad or in diverse US communities; the number of students voting in campus elections; and the number of international students enrolled at MBC.

The QEP suggests other potential strategies that will require the careful deliberation and consensus of our community. Among the most important is the consideration of the structure of the academic year and faculty workload. We have pursued discussion of the structure of the spring semester several times, most recently in 1999–2000. If we undertake this deliberation again, I suggest that we do so first as a pedagogical consideration to determine if a revision of our current 13-week semester and May Term is the best structure for fostering the learning outcomes of the QEP. This and another potential strategy, that of a “plus one” option to allow for the addition of a one credit add-on to any course that offers an experiential component such as service learning, a practicum, or study abroad, suggests that we consider if a more flexible faculty contract load could increase time and attention to promote integrative, experiential, and reflective teaching.

I am grateful for the work of the committee and I look forward to our discussion and resultant consensus about moving forward. This is an opportunity embedded in our history and current programs. It is aligned with the strategic plan. It is an opportunity to bring into sharper focus how we realize personal transformation. It has the power to integrate our programs across disciplines, to excite and engage students who want to come to this college. It is embedded in the lives of our alumnae. It gives substance to the 10 experiences of the MBCA. It is an educational imperative. As Caryn M. Musil, Vice President of AAC&U, states: “Educating students for a global future is no longer an elective. It is a cornerstone of academic excellence.”

Converge on Academic Excellence:

Enrolling High Ability Students

We have strong potential for improving the yield of our high ability applicants. We enroll about 20 percent of our accepted students in the top levels of the index and this is where our focus on academic excellence will make the biggest difference. We have demonstrated that we can attain a higher yield here among certain disciplines. History, theater, English, political science, languages, communication, and art have yield rates at 25 percent or better. However, in 2005, 215 of applicants expressed an interest in pre-med, psych, math, education, biology and business; only 15 percent of these applicants actually chose to attend Mary Baldwin.

We will work to articulate the strengths of each major and to provide better recruiting materials through web, print, and personalized communication to prospective students. Increased involvement of faculty through early communication will be key to our success. And the QEP offers tremendous potential to showcase academic distinction. It suggests a potential focus on maternal and child health for our many students interested in pre-med. Perhaps we could consider social entrepreneurship as a feature of our business program. The QEP represents much that is at the core of who we are and provides an opportunity to ensure that our commitments are reflected in our curriculum.

As we move aggressively in this direction, I ask that we be open to making signature enhancements to disciplines and majors. This is not contrary to collective excellence. Nor does it imply that we do not have strong majors. But we require a dynamic and evolving curriculum, and one that sets us apart in attracting high ability students and from other women’s and liberal arts colleges. This includes, for example, further consideration of an interdisciplinary major for teacher preparation. One-third of our 2006 graduates were intending to teach. Last week we received a $100,000 endowment commitment from the Titmus Foundation to support minority teacher candidates.

Specifically, I ask that we consider increasing the number of PEG students and Honors Students. A targeted national awareness campaign should be able to tap successfully into this unique pool for gifted young women. We will consider female PEG day students. We will consider a PEG academy, to serve gifted non-resident students. The PEG staff and faculty advisors will consider these options early in the fall. A revised Honors Program will enable us to recruit high achievers more selectively. I will ask the Honors Committee to consider initiatives such as guaranteed study abroad and summer research stipends, unique internships with our regional partners, and interdisciplinary team-taught seminars.

Naturally, facilities and financial support are important in attracting better students. But we need to dedicate ourselves to working creatively with the excellent academic base we already have to find ways to attract more students from the top academic tiers.

Converge on Academic Excellence:

Transforming Our Environment, Phase III of the Campus Master Plan

Funded by $150,000 grant from Jessie Ball duPont, we will complete Phase III of the campus master plan by March 2007. This phase will provide us with more detailed concept studies, vignettes, implementation plans, and budget scope. We will focus this fall on the renovation of academic facilities: Pearce Science Center, arts facilities (including the potential synergy with MLitt/MFA), Grafton Library, and the conversion of SAC into a significant academic center. Special disciplinary facilities consultants will join Geier Brown and Renfrow for work on Pearce and the arts facilities.

We will continue to address deferred maintenance, other improvements such as technology upgrades and much-needed equipment, and some further work on the campus green and the athletic and wellness center. We will continue to make our strengths visible. Plans need to proceed to relocate student life in Wenger in conjunction with the organization and establishment of a Center for Global Learning and Service. The QEP suggests that we consider the potential of the Pearce greenhouse becoming a Global Greenhouse Café with global images, music, newspapers, and an emphasis on environmental sustainability.

Converge on Academic Excellence:

Toward a Comprehensive Campaign

Our priorities are clear as we move toward a comprehensive campaign — addressing the Annual Fund, capital projects, and endowment. Over the next few months we will be developing our approach through discussions with the Board of Trustees and our National Leadership Gifts Council.

This past year, we successfully completed the first year of Mrs. Smith’s annual fund challenge to leadership donors, raising $500,000 in cash and pledges. Overall last year we received nearly $6 million. Our participation rate in the Annual Fund rose again, and the Phonathon exceeded its goal. We increased unrestricted gifts by $400,000 within two years. However, we still did not meet our aggressive target for unrestricted funds, even though through very careful planning we balanced the budget. Herein rests a significant ongoing challenge: meet our unrestricted goals and fund our strategic enhancements.

Converge on Academic Excellence:

Outreach to our Alumnae/i

As we converge on academic excellence and plan our comprehensive campaign, we will continue to work with our dedicated and talented alumnae/i and friends. Through the valued support of our Alumnae/i Association, we are implementing a Class Leadership Program to facilitate connections.

And, as we focus on enrolling high ability students, we realize that academic excellence as the gateway to personal transformation is manifest in the successful and meaningful lives our graduates. As our alumnae/i demonstrate, we should focus equally on our results, on our outcomes, on the fact that it is very rigorous indeed to graduate with a Mary Baldwin education.

There are other objectives related to our convergence on academic excellence, including:

  • promote the academic excellence of our adult and graduate programs; and
  • pursue a single contract system for all faculty to ensure that we are indeed uniting and enriching our community.

We cannot ask more of our dedicated community, and our compensation goals remain paramount. We must reinstate the salary improvement pool for staff this year and involve our benefits committee in the decisions about how to allocate our funds between cost-of-living, salary improvement, and benefits.

Let us return to the hedgehog and the fox. Remaining steadfast to our singular unifying purpose of personal transformation and pursuing it without compromise does not preclude us from adopting the fox’s flexibility through a wide range of strategies as long as they support the central purpose. Indeed our entrepreneurial nature in programmatic diversification, all building upon the core of personal transformation, is a hallmark of our character.

The hedgehog concept also reminds us that we should attempt to simplify and clarify wherever possible. As we consider enhancing our academic excellence, let’s remember that we offer more than 630 courses to approximately 800 undergraduates, and many of these courses are offered in multiple formats. Our budgets are intricately interwoven and hard to unravel, just to name two examples. Such clarification will afford us more time to look outward. We do not want to embody Thomas Hood’s hedgehog that lies rolled up the wrong way, tormenting himself with his prickles. We want to converge on academic excellence with clarity and focus:

  • Enroll strong students,
  • Offer excellent, distinctive programs,
  • Build internal capacity,
  • Innovate with purpose,
  • Attract investment in our future, and
  • Celebrate and engage our alumnae/i.

Simplicity is the Crowning Reward

In the words of Frederic Chopin:

“Simplicity is the final achievement. After one has played a vast quantity of notes and more notes, it is simplicity that emerges as the crowning reward of art.”

I wish you a wonderful year. And now, in my fourth year as your President, I thank you again for the privilege of working alongside you in noble and humble pursuit of our goal of transformative liberal education. Thank you very much.

Questions? Please contact: Office of Communication,
Marketing, and Public Affairs