State of the College Address
Act One: Focus and Advance
August 24, 2005
President Pamela Fox
Welcome to the opening of the 2005-06 academic year, the 164th in the distinguished history of our college and the 20th year of the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted.
Today we embark upon a year that will be one of the most important within the next eight years as we Compose Our Future. Indeed it may be the most critical.
In my first year as President, we conducted a comprehensive conversation. In ten months we created a ten-year strategic plan backed by broad consensus. Our vision aspires to national recognition for our historic strength of personalized liberal education. Our five strategic initiatives are broad and fundamental, encompassing students, academic excellence, community, facilities, and funding.
Last year we moved from composition to performance, as we added depth to our strategic initiatives through further planning. We completed 95% of our 49 objectives. Thank you all for your dedication to Mary Baldwin and to the planning process. This is a remarkable achievement.
We have concluded the first phase in the decade of Composing Our Future. We have composed, orchestrated and rehearsed the introduction. We begin a new phase, a new act in our composition. Now we must accomplish. We seek demonstrable differences.
The conclusion of the first phase was decisive. Several factors contributed. We have much to celebrate.
We celebrate the academic excellence and the enrollment growth of our adult and graduate programs. The Adult Degree Program exceeded its enrollment goal last year, increasing 7.2%. In a single year the Master of Arts in Teaching program surpassed its entire 10-year goal by increasing enrollment 25% in 2004-05. This fall 39 new MAT students will enroll, with a 3.4 average GPA and undergraduate degrees from MBC, Duke, UVA, University of Pittsburgh, and Washington and Lee. We welcome 20 new MLitt students from 11 states with the highest verbal, quantitative, and writing GRE scores in the program’s five-year history. The proportion of institutional revenue generated by Adult and Graduate Studies, in net dollars, has risen to 22.4%, while that from the Residential College has dropped to 46.37%.
We are an institution dedicated to quality, liberal arts education. This is the resounding theme of the strategic plan. Our community’s commitment to high academic standards was prominently reinforced in the Campus Report Card that all faculty and staff were invited to respond to last spring. We must enroll students who can profit from our vision of quality and excellence. Scenario 1100 is the absolutely correct goal for us, though it is ambitious. We have reached an entering class average SAT of 1100 only five times in our history, most recently 36 years ago.
This summer Dr. Bryant and I, in consultation with the Admissions Office and the Board of Trustees, made the decision to maintain standards rather than accept marginally qualified students to fill our quota. This resulted in an increase in the average SAT of 43 points over last year’s class: 1065 versus 1022.
While we celebrate our commitment to maintain our standards of excellence, we expect to enroll 45 fewer students than we need to fully fund the budget, compounding the financial pressure from already declining Residential College for Women enrollment: RCW credit hours are down 3.5% from 2003-04, and headcount in the RCW is down 6.6%. However, it appears that our investment in student life is beginning to pay off, as we expect some improvement in first to second year retention this year.
We have much to celebrate regarding our fundraising efforts. Last year we raised more then $10 million in new gifts and pledges, more than twice as much as our previous high for the past five years. Bertie Deming Smith’s generous $6,500,000 gift bolstered a banner year that included an increase in annual fund participation by Residential College for Women graduates from 25% to 30%, an increase in participation by Adult Degree Program graduates from 5% to 12%, and an increase in overall donors from 2250 to 2900. This is the basis to fund our future.
Our alumnae, friends, the Board of Trustees, and our other leadership boards are stepping forward in this time of transition precisely because they support the importance of high standards. Our agenda for transformation has been validated.
Despite our successes, we also have concerns in fundraising. We did not receive as much unrestricted money last year as we needed. We must raise and receive, at a time when unrestricted gifts are the most difficult to raise, more unrestricted money this year than we have at any point in the last five years.
Taken together, the difficulty of realizing escalated levels of unrestricted gifts and our lower than expected Residential College for Women enrollment resulted in a significant operating budget shortfall.
This is the financial pressure that we predicted for these transition years. In response, we have adopted lower-risk budgeting. The Board has agreed to increase draw on the endowment. I have also cut $350,000 from administrative salaries and operating expenses by holding open vacant administrative positions.
We are on the right path. And the speed of our journey has been accelerated by a complex web of various fast-moving internal and external factors, both positive and concerning. So the first segment of our new phase has some rapids; the turbulence requires careful and nimble maneuvering.
Focus and Advance:
Recruit Selectively and Create Community
Therefore, our strategic planning theme this year is to Focus and Advance. To focus and advance, we concentrate on two overarching priorities. First, living by the defining measure of success in Composing Our Future, we will recruit selectively and thereby retain extensively. Second, we will create community and launch the campus master plan. An aggressive series of strategies will realize these priorities. The priorities will drive all of our more specific objectives for the year. We will correlate fundraising, seeking major gifts for scholarships and the campus master plan. We will communicate these priorities at a series of alumnae events across the United States.
Recruiting selectively is an all-college priority and involves every member of this community. Our long-term goal is to change the profile of the incoming Residential College for Women classes by surpassing Scenario 1100, achieving a 50-50 ratio of in-state to out-of-state students, continuing our commitment to a diverse student body, lowering our discount rate, and improving retention.
We will achieve this through a variety of new tactics.
- It is imperative that we unite our community through consistency of message and graphic identity. A new view book and shorter traveling brochure are being printed. We will have a full-page ad in the August 29 Best Colleges issue of U. S. News and World Report in Virginia, Delaware, Maryland, DC, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia, and Pennsylvania. We know what “personalized transforming liberal education” is within the lived reality of Mary Baldwin College. We do offer multiple avenues to achievement, whether a student already knows what she wants or she has yet to discover it. We have an extraordinary commitment to personalized education. Our extraordinary commitment produces extraordinary outcomes. This unites the Residential College for Women, the Adult Degree Program, the Master of Arts in Teaching, and the Master of Letters/Master of Fine Arts in Shakespeare as one college. And, when we say the Residential College for Women, we speak to the close-knit personalized community here in daily interaction. Our valued commuter students and ADP students are as much a part of this experience every day as those who live on our campus. I ask that we no longer intentionally segment the RCW students into “trad” (short for “traditional”), PEG, and VWIL.
- As we recruit selectively for the class of 2006, the Mary Baldwin College Advantage will unite all Residential College for Women students around the common four-year structure to develop the whole person through integrated learning, in class and out of class. At the heart, of course, are our dedicated teacher-scholars. The close interaction between faculty and student produces the outstanding scholarly and creative senior projects that will be featured this year in the inaugural Capstone Fair. We will bring greater visibility to the distinct nature of the college’s academic majors, minors, and interdisciplinary programs.
- Then, as we recruit, we offer the opportunity for electing a specialized program of additional focus, providing opportunities offered nowhere else, such as VWIL, PEG, Ida B. Wells, and our new Interfaith Village as Quest reaches into the first year. The theatre faculty volunteered to model the way for discipline-based recruiting this year and will host a theatre recruitment weekend in October.
- We must complete and embrace the components of the Mary Baldwin College Advantage for Summer 2006 launch. Likewise we need to complete the General Education Plan revision. I am enthusiastic about the strong blueprint that we will discuss this fall as recommended last spring by the general education task force. We need to develop a plan and timetable for potential enhancements to the Honors Program.
- Further, we need to implement the first year of planned enhancements to Intercollegiate Athletics and the first phase of the Information Technology strategic plan. This includes a long-term discussion about our administrative software system and the need to enhance e-learning technology.
- Finally, we are adjusting our levels of merit scholarship to support the students in the SAT ranges we seek. Through Noel Levitz, we have analyzed each merit and need-based award against enrollment and retention and adjusted the distribution of our financial resources accordingly.
As we implement new strategies, we navigate the fast-moving currents of higher education in Virginia and the nation. Elements of unpredictability dictate that we employ a broad array of strategies. This year, expected family contribution rose in our entering RCW students, as Pell-eligible families decreased. This decline, which Noel Levitz believes is national, may well indicate that first-generation and lower income families are beginning to opt out of private college education. There has been widespread media attention this year about the collision between demographic trends and the affordability gap.
Also the percentage of Virginia women enrolled in the RCW declined slightly again this year. A complex series of evolving trends is in play here. We know there are 47,000 college students within 50 miles of Mary Baldwin. James Madison University plans to increase enrollment and we noticed the effects already this year. Yet, we also know that Virginia is expecting high growth in the college-age population over the next six years. Proposed increases in the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) will play a prominent role in this year’s gubernatorial election and will affect all private colleges in the Commonwealth. If public higher education in Virginia expands its capacity or opens a new institution, this will also have a major effect. Along with other private college Presidents, I monitor the potential negative effects that the Reauthorization of Higher Education Act may impose through cost controls, integrity provisions, and decreases in federally based aid as it heads for a vote on the Senate floor September 7.
Our second priority, to create community, will focus upon:
- Fully embracing the statement of inclusivity we adopted last spring so that we may truly celebrate humanity in all its wondrous and complex variation and create an environment where all are safe to flourish.
- Initiating new strategies to fully engage our students from their first day on campus.
- Continuing the enhanced salary improvement plans for faculty and staff.
- Increasing connections across campus, throughout the community, and with alumnae through timely communication. In early September we will launch a new campus newspaper, The Cupola. It will begin as a monthly publication, replacing Up Hill and Down, offering timely and comprehensive news about the college.
- And, we will complete the campus master plan and begin its implementation.
Campus Master Plan
The firm of Geier Brown Renfrow worked steadily with us throughout the summer. They have delineated five imperatives to guide the new campus plan:
- Instill pride. Their conversations with a broad representation of our campus community have revealed that individuals care deeply about MBC’s physical condition and that our community deserves better tools and environments to do their excellent work.
- Defrag the campus. Detailed analysis reveals what we live on a daily basis: offices, functions, and services are separated geographically and often inefficiently.
- Accommodate growth. We need facilities to support the strategic plan goals, and it is clear that a beautified and well-functioning campus will assist in recruitment/retention.
- Preserve intimacy. Our small egalitarian culture is a treasured strength, so the campus master plan will sustain small indoor and outdoor gathering places on a personalized scale.
- Make connections. We seek through our boundaries and connections to engage the Staunton community and through Informational Technology to engage in global higher education.
The architectural team has identified buildings and outdoor sites in need of renovation on a three-tier scale of priority. Their analysis of our 54-acre site has revealed four zones, each with a different aesthetic and spatial character. They have quantified our space needs. They have begun to explore specialized needs for residence life, athletics and wellness, the arts, gathering spaces, academic classrooms and labs, and faculty and administrative offices. We will hold two public forums on the campus master plan this fall: October 4 and November 1. The President’s Advisory Team will also hold an open meeting with the architects on September 16.
Over the summer the entire staff of Physical Plant has worked above and beyond the call of duty to manage an accelerated slate of projects. Let me share a few “before, after, and in progress” pictures.
These are demonstrable differences. Will all the members of the physical plant please stand so we may thank you?
How we work together
We shall continue to work together to focus and advance, to achieve, and to make a demonstrable difference. Let us continue to live by the five principles of teamwork at Mary Baldwin College. We are committed to our plan, and we will, as Thoreau said, proceed confidently in the direction of our dreams. We face the reality of our new phase of work in full awareness of the complex and sometimes turbulent trends.
As we do so, I ask that we not mistake activity for achievement.
The composer Igor Stravinsky stated: “Harpists spend 90% of their lives tuning their harps and 10% playing out of tune.”
Let us not be harpists. I ask that we remain open-minded to the evolution of our responsibilities. When Elon University began its several decade transformation process to become a nationally-known university, they sought to avoid the “culture of busyness.” We must ensure that we are spending our extremely valuable time on mission-central activities that will advance the strategic plan and enhance the concept of quality everywhere that instills pride. This is our spirit of innovative tradition. Stravinsky also reminds us that “Tradition is entirely different from habit, even from an excellent habit, since habit is an unconscious acquisition and tends to become mechanical, whereas tradition results from a conscious and deliberate acceptance.” Innovative tradition also implies that we should not become preoccupied with “change.” We are about emphasizing quality, serving students, and enhancing teaching and learning as inherent in our historic mission.
To that end, I am announcing today a moratorium on the creation of any new task forces this year. Our faculty committees, all-college committees such as APIT, and the ongoing President’s Advisory Team and President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusive Community will go forward.
When we created a plan for our future two years ago, we built upon the visions and goals of our historic mission and of the strategic plans of the past 20 years. Composing Our Future is comprehensive and takes a long-term view. It acknowledges the “deferred maintenance” in our physical plant, in our attention to the Residential College for Women, in our compensation, and in the accrued debt from the strains of the past 15 years. We are working on the financial chemistry of the college, but it is not yet balanced.
In conclusion today, I want to emphasize that we have much to celebrate even as we acknowledge significant signposts of caution. Our approach is practical and aggressive in the short term: make demonstrable differences in the quality and engagement of our student body and in our physical plant. We acknowledge that no one strategy is sufficient. Higher education trends and demographics will continually be in flux. Each of us will be called upon during this critical year.
Whenever I have the privilege to speak about Mary Baldwin and our work together, I take the greatest pride in stating my humble gratitude for the work that each of you do. Extraordinary commitment to personalized education asks a great deal of everyone within a leanly staffed institution. This is especially true at a turning point.
I may be your conductor, but you are the harmonious voices of this institution. Thank you for the privilege of working with you.