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State of the College Address

August 24, 2011

President Pamela Fox

MBC WISDOM


Today we open our 170th academic year. We celebrate this year the 25th anniversary of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted as well as the 10th anniversary of the MLitt/MFA in Shakespeare and Performance and our partnership with the American Shakespeare Center and the Blackfriars Playhouse. This year, appropriately, we will host our first Doenges Scholar in the Performing Arts — Franchelle Dorn, a pioneering Emmy-winning African-American Shakespearean actress.

It is the fifth year of our Spencer Center, an effort of our entire community that has by far exceeded our expectations as a nexus for civic and global engagement, transforming the lives of our students and communities here and around the world. We have lived our annual themes: Voices, Maps, Heart, Power, and this year Wisdom. We are proud of our new Latino Culture Gateway and the Early College Academy. On Founders Day our speaker will be Dr. Giannina Garces-Ambrossi, 2002 PEG graduate and Johns Hopkins MD, to share her story during Hispanic Heritage Month.

Our Hymn to Mary Baldwin reminds us that we seek knowledge first, then wisdom after. “Pearls of wisdom,” the Weekend of Welcome theme for the Class of 2015, calls forth not just the preferred adornment of Baldwin women, but the forming of this organic gem in nature. Natural pearls are formed by the accumulation of thin layers of nacre, producing a lustrous radiance, a seeming glow from within. As a college, we continue to strengthen and grow through each initiative we undertake together.

In 2008, on opening day, we celebrated significant accomplishments with the inspiration of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Then, only three months later, I called you together for the first of numerous budget forums as we confronted our financial realities during the global economic recession. These past three years have been difficult. Everyone here has sacrificed. You have accepted the challenge to do new things with less, and to do this in the wake of no raises and cuts to benefits. I admire each of you so very much. Thank you.

We also thank our alumnae/i, friends, and leadership boards for your support and dedication. You have truly made a difference.

In the past year, we completed year one of our updated strategic plan, Composing Our Future 2.0: MBC 2015, with its clear focus on seven words: “ensure academic excellence; grow enrollment; attract resources.”

Together, our community accomplished much toward our ambitious goals for this college:

  • Last year we achieved record enrollment, largely through growth in the Adult Degree Program.
  • We received more than 5,500 applications for the Residential College for Women, up more than 100 percent in two years. We received applications from 49 states and citizens of over 50 countries. And, this year our completed applications rose by 37 percent.
  • At this point, indications are that we will improve first-year RCW retention by about three percentage points — a true testimony to everyone’s efforts in supporting our students during their first-year experience.
  • Faculty scholarship last year was very impressive: 42 scholarly presentations, 21 panels and poster sessions; 94 scholarly articles, chapters and reviews; four books; 12 exhibitions, recitals, and plays; three television shows; and prestigious guest lectureships and conference attendance.
  • Student/faculty undergraduate research garnered national honors and recognition.
  • Mary Baldwin is one of only three Virginia colleges to earn “with distinction” status on the 2011 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll, which has included Mary Baldwin every year since its inception in 2006. We also were ranked in the top 10 percent of the new Forbes rankings of the top 6,000 colleges in America, and we remained in Princeton Review’s list of top colleges in the southeast. The 2011 Washington Monthly, U.S. News & World Report, and Barron’s Best Buys rankings have not yet been released.
  • We exceeded our goals for technology enhanced instruction. Personally I very much enjoyed teaching Music 100 this summer to a mix of RCW and ADP students through Blackboard, an e-text with streaming musical examples, and iPads.
  • For two consecutive years our Fighting Squirrels athletes earned sportsmanship awards from the USA South.
  • We made strong advances in fundraising.
    • We exceeded our Annual Fund goal, raising $1.61 million, 14 percent more than in 2010.
    • Each of our three leadership boards achieved 100 percent giving.
    • Faculty and staff giving increased 2.6 percentage points.
    • The Phonathon surpassed the $200,000 threshold.
    • We raised the entire $2 million for the first phase renovation of the Pearce Science Center, already well underway.
    • We received $422,000 for endowment, including a $100,000 challenge for The Spencer Center, to be matched 2-1 in the next 80 days;
    • And we can convey some new gifts today that will be part of momentum as we begin this new year:
      • A one million dollar bequest from the estate of Robert Livy, $750,000 of which is for the scholarship endowment honoring his mother Marguerite Fulwiler Livy.
      • A $50,000 music scholarship honoring 1961 alumna May Wells Jones is established.
      • A six figure bequest to be received this year will enrich the Grafton Library Fund.
  • Our overall financial position is improved.
    • We ended the year with a budget surplus and improved cash reserves.
    • Our composite financial index reflects this strengthened position, and it has risen significantly in the past two years.
    • A key part of this improvement was the endowment return of 15.4 percent last year.
    • Since 2005, we will have reduced the long-term debt of the college by 30 percent by the end of this year.

Take pause and celebrate with pride. These significant accomplishments belong to everyone. You are the state of the college. Congratulations!

Here is my message today: What we are doing is working. We have made remarkable progress. But we were not able to meet all of our goals designed to lay the foundation for the thriving future we envision for this college, including the compensation improvement you so richly deserve. So we will not let up.

Looking inward will not serve. We must look outside and ride the tide of external pressures. Outstanding strategies well executed have enabled us to maintain position as shifting trends press against us. While we feel our self-sacrifice individually and collectively, we are not alone.

We need to move ahead together with creative urgency. We are all dedicated to this college and each other, even though at times our dialogues may be charged in counterpoint between faculty and administration, faculty and staff, alumnae/i or students.

Aligned with the strategic plan, here are the four things we will do:

  1. Grow existing programs.
  2. Ensure that all parts of the college are strong and financially sustainable.
  3. Aggressively proceed with fundraising.
  4. Identify and implement transformational graduate programs to secure our future.

Our success depends upon our analysis of external threats and opportunities.

I want you to feel confident that I represent Mary Baldwin and you regionally and nationally. I keep pulse on the external environment. Questions that drive to the heart of our endeavor are pervasive, including:

  • Who should go to college?
  • Who should pay for college — families, the government, the state, the institution?
  • How do we, in times of increasing accountability, evolve our traditional roles as faculty, staff, administration, Trustees? It isn’t a comfortable time for any constituency.

Let me provide two specific examples of how all this affects our immediate goals. The Virginia public institutions admitted more students this fall. As a result, our Virginia enrollment fell by 9 percent. Even so, our excellent work in admissions garnered a near record sized class. On the other hand, national enrollment in for-profit institutions fell this fall, strengthening our Learn Local initiative’s potential for ADP through our highly personalized outreach to underserved populations.

Let’s return to the four things we must do. First, continue to grow, watching all these trends. Second, ensure that all parts of the college are financially sustainable. A faculty-led committee will work to achieve the Board’s 12-1 student/faculty ratio in the RCW. Third, we are aggressively fundraising. We have a talented Institutional Advancement team and compelling priorities.

And fourth, identify new graduate programs with transformational potential. The institutional wisdom of 170 years guides us, hence the title of my remarks today: MBC Wisdom. Throughout our history we have demonstrated the courage and the will to innovate as the world changes around us, and the wisdom to stay true to our mission as a women-centered college with a core ethic of leadership and service.

Last fall a faculty working group identified some wonderful possibilities for new graduate programs that they shared with the Board in a round table discussion in February. We will continue to pursue them. We will also continue to pursue growth in Graduate Teacher Education, where there is still capacity for significant growth.

Our future must also envision transformational new graduate programs. As I wrote to you twice over the summer, the Board unanimously adopted in April a set of criteria to guide the consideration of such new graduate programs, setting forth what constitutes “transformation.” When met, the new programs would:

  • Complement and enhance our mission;
  • Bring a new market of graduate students;
  • Be entirely funded by donor gifts through the start-up period;
  • Generate a new pool of donors and assist in revitalizing support for our campaign priorities;
  • Synergize with the residential enrollment;
  • Yield cash flow in the range of $1 million to $2 million annually after a donor-backed start-up period.

Of all the opportunities identified last year in the external scan, graduate degrees in health sciences are the most promising for Mary Baldwin. An intensive feasibility process was set in motion by the Board of Trustees in April. The School Chairs, Dr. Mosher, and Andy Modlin serve as liaisons to the feasibility committee of trustees and former trustees. In July, with the faculty and staff representatives present, the feasibility committee recommended continued investigation on three potential programs: the master’s in physician assistant studies, and doctorates in physical and occupational therapy.

The committee proposed a long-term vision for a School of Health Sciences, one that provides mid-level health care professionals with the MBC ethic of compassionate changemakers and is dedicated to the health of our local community.

I believe very strongly in this opportunity.

We know that whatever direction health care reform takes in the future, mid-level providers will be a key component. Students in these professions who have received an excellent education in the liberal arts and sciences and are imbued with the Baldwin ethic of leadership and compassion that our mission promotes can be model caregivers. These professions are projected to grow in demand between 27 percent and 39 percent over the next decade, far exceeding the national average of 10 percent. All have highly competitive national application pools. All have the proven their potential at other institutions for strengthening the undergraduate programs through pre-admission programs and for creating a halo effect that is beneficial to the entire institution.

There is substantial interest and excitement throughout our regional community. Donors are very interested in making this possible.

I want you to be able to study all the materials and participate in the process, so Dr. Askegaard is finalizing an information paper with links to all the feasibility documents. It will be distributed to faculty and staff in early September.

We will then set meetings for all staff and for groups of faculty by School. We will also be traveling throughout the United States to engage in discussion with our alumnae/i and friends. The administration and feasibility committee will continue to work on programmatic issues, facilities and business partnerships, and securing the lead gift. You will have many excellent questions. I would expect no less. I look forward to our conversations.

Lessons learned through 170 years of MBC wisdom guide us. As Lew’s information paper on health sciences points out, in the 1870s on the cusp of the nation’s most severe depression, Mary Julia Baldwin launched a conservatory of music that ushered in the golden age of the seminary. In 1929 President Jarman moved from seminary to college. In the 1950s when the Trustees thought the college would need to close, merge, or move, President Spencer built the facilities and curriculum of our current college. And a series of innovations since the late 1970s, including all of our work together for the past six years, has brought us now to record enrollment and the threshold of another evolution.

MBC wisdom. As Socrates said, wisdom begins in wonder. Our wonder begins anew with the start of each academic year. Wonder at the power of possibilities and of the magic that you make possible with our students. For everything we do is for our students.

As we move through this year, please know that you are the highest priority. There is a great deal going on and you continue to give your very best. Even if I don’t see you every day, please never doubt that my belief in each of you is abiding and unshakeable.

Expect our momentum to continue. There will be much to announce and celebrate over the next few months.

Once again, you are the state of the college. And it is excellent indeed.

Thank you very much.