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State of the College Address

Phase II: Invest and Innovate

August 22, 2007
President Pamela Fox

Printable Version (PDF)

Welcome to the opening of the 2007-08 academic year, the 166th in the distinguished history of our college. We embark upon this new academic year buoyant with anticipation.

On October 11 we will formally open the Ava and Samuel R. Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement with a celebration of community on Page Terrace. We will welcome community leaders, elected officials, the Board of Trustees, the Advisory Board of Visitors, our entire campus community and our honorees Dr. and Mrs. Spencer. The coming together of community will begin the evening before with a local and global cuisine meal in Hunt. Throughout this year, in the crucible of the classroom and in cross-college activities we unite in our college-wide theme, Voices, as we welcome 304 new students in the Residential College, with “Many Voices, One Song” as the 2011 orientation theme.

This is the fifth state-of-the-college address I have been privileged to share with you. You know I have a passion for planning. You have kindly indulged my musical metaphors. I reprise my own themes: We have focused. We have advanced. We have achieved demonstrable differences. We hold steadfastly to our vision and historic mission of personalized, transforming liberal education —our hedgehog. We have indeed performed from our 10-year strategic plan in the first three years of its implementation as an ensemble of symphonic proportions.

Composing Our Future: Mary Baldwin College 2014, represents a 10-year continuum. We will require the entire decade to complete a majority of our objectives. Today it seems appropriate to take this opportunity to offer a punctuation point as I open the next phase of my presidency and as we position the next critical phase of work in our strategic plan.

How do we characterize our accomplishments in Composing Our Future to date?

Celebrating Three Years of Composing Our Future

Let’s take a few minutes to celebrate.

Over the past three years, the successes of Phase I have reinforced and revitalized our college. Today we enjoy the stunning restored beauty of the campus, value the quality of our communications materials, and benefit from increasing opportunities for collaboration with colleagues. In the Residential College we have achieved the highest number of applications in our history for the past two years and, while final figures are not quite available yet for this fall, we know that retention improved 10 percentage points between 2004 and 2006. We planned and launched the Mary Baldwin College Advantage, our holistic progression of 10 curricular and co-curricular experiences incorporating the leading edge trends in higher education. Adult and graduate enrollment has grown, and as we begin the 31st year of the Adult Degree Program, we celebrate record headcount adult enrollment. In fact, this fall we have an overall record headcount enrollment of 2295, which includes 300 new students in the Residential College. The entire college community worked together to develop our Quality Enhancement Plan on civic engagement in a global context and we are successfully moving to the completion of our SACS reaffirmation. The annual fund and unrestricted giving are up, and we have enhanced connections to our alumnae. Mrs. Smith’s $6.5m challenge has made much of our progress possible and provided momentum for a comprehensive campaign. I want to thank all of you in this room who have made generous commitments to the annual fund.

Our vision is to achieve national recognition for providing personalized, transforming liberal education. Viewed from the perspective of the national context, how well do we achieve what we have stated is our top priority — personal transformation, which is rooted in academic excellence? For the first time, in 2007 we participated in the National Survey of Student Engagement, called “Nessie” for short. This relatively new survey is highly respected by educators because it focuses on empirically-validated college experiences that produce high quality learning. National results clearly show the superior learning and developmental environment offered by women’s colleges. We have just received our own results and will soon widely release the data to faculty and staff for analysis and action. While we have not yet thoroughly investigated the findings, the data clearly validate many areas of superiority at MBC. Mary Baldwin scored in the top 10 percent of the nation in one of the five areas addressed by the survey: enriching educational experiences. This scale indicates the level of participation in co-curricular activities, internships, community service, capstone experiences, and contact with those from different economic, social, and racial/ethnic backgrounds. Not only were we in the top 10 percent of all 610 institutions in the sample, but we also scored above our peers at women’s colleges, who were themselves well above the national average. This was true for our first-year students as well as our seniors. Also, when MBC is compared to that nationally superior group, there is a clear tendency for the experiences of our seniors to surpass the experiences of seniors at other women’s colleges. The relative advantage of MBC seniors is much greater than the advantage of MBC freshmen. In other words, the results of the MBC Advantage become more apparent as students progress. This is personal transformation.

National recognition of Mary Baldwin is gaining momentum. We advanced in the U. S. News & World Report rankings: in the past two years we have moved up in our category of master’s-level universities in the south from 31 to 23 in the pool of 119. One contributing factor was that the percentage of Mary Baldwin freshmen in the top 25 percent of their high school class rose from 29 percent to 43 percent between fall 2005 and fall 2006. We were named “A College of Distinction” and earned a place on President Bush’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Role. We celebrate our national media presence, including features in Newsweek and on ESPN. And let’s not forget the Mary Baldwin fighting squirrels, as Gladys garnered two television highlights, on Animal Planet and ESPN! Please come out and support our athletes in our first USA South conference game on September 12 at 7 pm as we host Christopher Newport University in volleyball.

We have united and enriched our inclusive community, welcoming international and national speakers and Fulbright Scholars, escalating our salary improvement efforts, and celebrating anniversaries of our signature programs. Our newest program, the MLitt/MFA in Shakespeare, has thrived within its first years of implementation.

Our environment is truly renewed. We remember where we started in the summer of 2004. The majesty of our historic campus now shines brightly. Perhaps the most dramatic among this summer’s extensive roster of projects was the renovation of the SAC columns. The campus is completely wireless. Our recent $125,000 grant from the Booth Ferris Foundation has transformed our classroom technology environment.

A visionary long-term campus master plan lays the foundation for continued transformation: the renovation of Pearce Science Center, the creation of a Village for the Arts, enhanced athletic and wellness facilities, a series of walking trails emanating from a vibrant green space in the middle of campus, and an enlarged and renovated Hunt Hall as the social heart of campus. As we build our key projects, we commit to planning for a sustainable environment. Indeed we have taken a significant step toward sustainability as we are building the Spencer Center, utilizing recycled materials and rapidly renewable wood as guided by LEEDS certification standards.

And as the fundament of our pyramid, we are funding our future. We have increased cash supporting operations, balanced our budgets, increased our overall composite financial index, and grown unrestricted revenue and net assets. In June we successfully completed the second year of Mrs. Smith’s annual fund $500,000 challenge to reunion classes.

We truly have much to celebrate. Congratulations. Thank you. I am so grateful for each of you.

Phase II: Invest and Innovate

What’s next? We have reinforced and revitalized. We have optimized and done a great deal with what we have. But we have not yet fully achieved our vision and must do more. Let us begin Phase II: a critical five-year period to invest and innovate and thereby achieve key goals of our strategic plan by 2012.

Here are the key questions:
How can we build upon the advantageous position that our successes of Phase I afford us?
How can we seize the urgency of the momentous opportunities before us?

How can we continue to advance our vision of national recognition for personalized transforming education? In three years when we again administer NSSE, can we be in the top 10% for all five major categories? How can we capitalize on the fact that Mary Baldwin College stands in a very favorable position related to the key issues being debated in 21st century higher education, including access and opportunity, high rates of success for students of color, serving the learning needs of a broad spectrum of adults, the growing recognition that the liberal arts are the gateway to opportunity, and the critical need to prepare teachers?

How can we seize our positive enrollment trends to increase yield? Our trend of increasing applications in the Residential College is likely to continue. Inquiries for 2008 are at this point up 20%. We know that by 2015 college enrollment in the US will increase by 22%. Admits have increased in the top ability levels and decreased in the lowest two ability levels … but we must yield and matriculate more of these students. Also, how can we ensure that ADP can continue growth within a highly competitive adult market?

How can we continue to improve retention? By seizing the current opportunities we will move to a sustainable financial position of creative comfort from which we can enhance academic and institutional support, improve compensation, invest adequately in our physical plant, and continue to improve key financial measures. The combined effects of improved yield and retention will enable us to reach the strategic plan goal of 1000 undergraduate residential students. And our improved financial position will enable us to steward the effects of growth, including faculty and staff workload and residence life.

A broad-based and transparent understanding of these complex factors is essential if we are to continue making progress as an institution. On September 4 Mr. Mowen and I will hold two state-of-the-budget sessions: an open forum at 9:30 and a combined faculty division meeting at 12:10, both here in Francis. David will share his sophisticated financial modeling and five-year analysis, illustrating the results of achieving our RCW 1000 and adult and graduate growth 25% goals. Mary Baldwin’s financial health is driven by many factors, but the most significant factor available to us to grow operating resources is net tuition. We can increase net tuition through a combination of growth in our student body and reducing our discount rate per student. Our ability to reduce the discount rate and select the students who will profit most from the MBC experience is dependent upon our attractiveness to prospective students. And MBC’s appeal to the students we want depends upon the distinctiveness of our programs. Our new RCW students this fall have slightly higher GPAs than last year, but the SATs remain fairly constant around 1020.

Building upon the strength of our academic excellence is the key to our continued progress.

Thus, we must institute a new cycle of innovation in order to seize the urgency of opportunities before us.

A key assumption of our strategic plan is that our collective intellectual energy, imagination, and entrepreneurial spirit can transform this college and the lives it touches. It is our creativity that drives our institutional achievement historically and in the future. Our creativity fosters distinctions. Distinctive programs attract and retain students, especially the most talented ones. Innovation attracts growth to the college. I am convinced that the new opportunities we seek can be found within ourselves.

We must invest to innovate.

New resources are required. It is my pleasure to announce today that Anna Kate Hipp, 1963 graduate and former chair of the Board of Trustees, and her husband Hayne Hipp have committed one million dollars to the next five years of the strategic plan and our new cycle of innovation. They have not restricted this, but eagerly look forward to working with us annually to fund our best and most creative ideas. Anna Kate sends these thoughts: “Giving to Mary Baldwin, an institution that means so much to us, is not only rewarding but also a privilege. To give to a focus that will enhance and strengthen Mary Baldwin in the near future adds to the pleasure and excitement of being able to share our resources.”

It is clear that we cannot improve our yield among the most promising applicants without enhancing our programs. The direction guiding this new cycle of programmatic innovation is clearly set forth in the strategic plan:

  • Support the enhancement of strong and distinctive academic majors and interdisciplinary programs.
  • Develop creative education enhancements to complement the undergraduate program.
  • Consider new graduate programs in synergistic partnership with the undergraduate curriculum.

This may involve a wide range of creative approaches, from heightened marketing of existing majors and clusters of programs, to enhancement of our excellent historic track record of preparing teachers, new specialized focuses within existing majors or interdisciplinary cohorts, new partnerships within Staunton and Augusta County, and many others.

We will commit $50,000 this year to the Phase II Innovation Fund. We will initiate our new cycle of innovation through a series of conversations at the President’s Home in September. A call for proposals will then be issued and reviewed by the Division Coordinators, who will recommend projects to me for funding. We will provide stipends and travel support to visit other colleges and universities to seek best practices. We anticipate this as the seed funding for the generation of creative enhancements. In subsequent years we will fund the innovations and launch our enhancements.

This new cycle of innovation must also be applied to retention. Let us embrace and support all of our students by significantly elevating our retention efforts. We know the factors that drive retention: academic success, health, social engagement, and ability to meet financial obligations. We have made many strides in accomplishing the current improved level of retention, but more is required. I would like to see retention exceed the strategic plan’s goal of 75%. Our highly selective peers retain at about 82%. The NSSE 2007 survey suggests many areas on which we can focus, especially to improve the freshman experience. We will form a task force to recommend an improved approach to student academic support. Retention is a 24/7 all-college commitment.

Innovative strategies are necessary for recruitment. In the RCW, we will target specific high potential markets. This includes building the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership to 200 (from 115 currently), the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted to 100 (from 68 currently) as well as athletes and international students. Growing VWIL and PEG is a logical direction. Both programs have fully developed support infrastructures, retention rates among the highest in the college, and distinctiveness in the national marketplace. The Hipp innovation money will support aggressive national recruiting strategies for PEG and VWIL beginning this year. As we improve the attractiveness of our programs, we will also increase honor students. We launch this fall the first phase of our new Global Honors Scholars Program, as developed by the Honors Committee last year.

Innovation will help us to achieve our ADP growth. Our newest center in South Boston is currently the fastest growing. Our Richmond center will open in a new location this fall. We will determine the best location for opening a sixth center this year, expand our course formatting and delivery options, and invest in marketing. And we will look to academic program enhancements that are relevant to adults.

When asked about innovation, Leonard Bernstein replied: “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan and not quite enough time.” Let’s build upon our advantageous position. Let’s seize the urgency of opportunity as we begin a new cycle of innovation supported by new resources. Let’s create, enroll, and support and align our work to achieve these goals by 2012.

Over the next five years of this cycle we will also complete our campaign to fund key projects within the campus master plan and provide enhanced scholarship support and endowment for academic programs.

With gratitude and honor, I conclude by announcing a second significant gift this morning. Louise R. McNamee, Chair of the Board of Trustees, and her husband Peter McHugh, have pledged $1.12 million toward Mrs. Smith’s challenge and as a lead gift to our campaign. Their generous gift will provide unrestricted support and scholarship endowment, two of our highest priorities. Ms. McNamee’s voice reaches us from across the Atlantic in these words: “ Peter and I believe in the future of Mary Baldwin. The kind of personalized, liberal education Mary Baldwin provides enables women to make a difference in the world. That our gift can help access this caliber of college experience for even a few of Mary Baldwin’s deserving and diverse women is enormously rewarding to us.”

Voices.
Our inaugural college-wide theme.
Your voice, every member of our community, makes a difference every day.
Thank you for everything you do and for the powers of your individual and collective creativity that will lead to the achievement of our aspirations.

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