State of the College – Fall Semester 2017
September 7, 2017
“Now Is the Time”
Good afternoon! Welcome to the Fall 2017 semester. I trust that you had a relaxing and rejuvenating summer. I am pleased that you have joined us for this important conversation to celebrate our successes and look forward to our future.
Before I go any further, I would like to reflect on the memory of several members of our community who are no longer with us.
Kate Chandler, professor of English, joined St. Mary’s College as a faculty member in 1996. During her tenure, she mentored more than 25 St. Mary’s Projects and helped to establish the Environmental Studies Program. Many of us knew Kate for her generous spirit and her work as the faculty advisor to the Campus Farm, which has since been named in her honor.
Henry Rosemont Jr., professor emeritus of philosophy, joined St. Mary’s College in 1977 and retired in 2001. He was formative in the creation of one of the only philosophy programs in the country to offer an undergraduate curriculum that included courses in both East Asian and South Asian philosophies. After retiring, Henry remained active at Fudan University in Shanghai, Johns Hopkins University, and Brown University. We are forever indebted to Henry‘s work with Fudan University and are working to re-establish our connections with China.
Holly Blankenship, who was one of our students, will be remembered for touching the lives of others. While pursuing her degree in psychology, she worked as a CNA at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital. She often volunteered her time to help others, including Hospice, where she participated in various support groups, including bereavement.
Sandy Robbins, who served as an office associate for her the entirety of her tenure at the College starting in 1995, will be remembered for her willingness to help others. Many of us knew Sandy as an avid photographer and a member of the St. Mary’s County Camera Club. Some of Sandy’s artwork is on display in Kent Hall.
Curt Raney, a longtime faculty member who served the department of sociology for 43 years, was the College’s representative to the Faculty Advisory Council to MHEC. He was proficient in social survey research and used these skills to assist community organizations and members of the campus community with various research and assessment projects.
Let us take a moment to remember these cherished members of our community. [PAUSE]
Seasons. Change. In our world, we realize that like nature, we all go through seasons and changes in life. Good times. Bad times. Times of uncertainty. Times of clarity. Some of you know that my grandfather was a minister. While growing up, I remember sitting in church – sometimes wondering why the service lasted so long and other times listening intently to the choir and my grandfather’s sermons. One of the recurrent messages that resonated with me had to do with the concept of seasons and change.
A time to live, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to harvest
A time to tear down, a time to build up
Some of you may know the passage in its entirety. What does it really speak to? It speaks to the inevitability of change as a part of growth – for individuals, communities, and the nation. While preparing for today’s address, I thought of this concept in terms of our college, and a certain theme came to mind – “Now Is the Time.” Many of us remember the “now is the time” refrain from Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “I Have a Dream.” Others, who may not be familiar, will simply ask, now is the time for what? And, I will say to you, now is the time for renewed purpose. Now is the time for focused intent. Now is the time for our college community – faculty, staff, and students – to deliver on our promise and live up to everything we know we can be.
A review of our accomplishments since the last State of the College shows we have already begun to build the solid foundation that will springboard our future success and viability.
As you should all be aware, over the summer, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaffirmed the St. Mary’s College of Maryland accreditation. The College is now in full compliance with all standards for accreditation and, therefore, no longer on warning. This feat, led by Provost Mike Wick and Academic Affairs, was truly a team effort that required each member of our community to do their part. A special thank you to all who helped address the findings over the past year and a half – from the strategic planning implementation team, to the Assessment Implementation Team, to individuals who met with representatives from Middle States. The results of our efforts will enable the College to continue to improve student learning inside and outside of the classroom.
Whenever we talk about improved processes, we realize that we need to have the infrastructure and resources in place to support our efforts. Earlier this year, several key stakeholders and I went back and forth to Annapolis to meet with elected officials and advocate for enhanced State funding. During that period, we joked we should have relocated to Annapolis since it became our second home. Nevertheless, our efforts were well worth it and resulted in a historical monument in the history of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. New legislation that goes into effect July 1, 2018, leaves the original annual inflator intact, covers all expenses associated with the health benefits of the College’s State employees, covers a portion of State-sanctioned wage increases, and ensures that the College is included in any future State-supported tuition buy-downs. The legislation also includes a performance incentive that will provide additional funding when we meet our self-defined four-year graduation rate.
In short, the new legislation will help St. Mary’s College remain viable and strong in its commitment to attract, recruit, retain, and graduate students who are prepared to be productive 21st-century global citizens. It has two main outcomes: (1) enhanced State support and (2) enhanced autonomy. Kudos to Chip Jackson, VP of Business and Finance, Trustee Larry Leak, Board Chair, Sven Holmes, and others for helping to get this done.
Crucial to enhancing our infrastructural resources is also Institutional Advancement. Among a number of other achievements in Institutional Advancement, the College received two top national marketing awards for its 30-second video and one top national award for the campaign celebration video shown at last year’s State of the College. These accolades provide affirmation and external validation that our marketing efforts are headed in the right direction. We realize that in order to reach our target audience – currently Generation Z – our outreach must have the right look, feel, and authenticity. A special thank you to Carolyn Curry, VP for Institutional Advancement, and her team for their contributions to fostering our financial stability and continued success.
In addition to the units I have already acknowledged, there are individuals in our midst who continue to help St. Mary’s College reach higher heights. At this time, I would like to recognize the following faculty:
Katharina von Kellenbach, professor of religious studies, and her colleague, Matthias Buschmeier, were awarded a prestigious grant by the Center for Interdisciplinary Research at the University of Bielefeld [BEE-LAH-FED] for the 2018 – 2019 academic year. They will lead 15 scholars from different continents representing a number of disciplines to examine the idea of guilt as an enduring and generative force in the aftermath of violent conflicts.
Julia King, professor of anthropology, was awarded a grant by the National Endowment for the Humanities to trace the history and development of the Rappahannock Indians in early American history. She will collaborate with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources, Chesapeake Conservancy, and the state-recognized Rappahannock Tribe of Virginia.
Our students and alumni are also making their mark.
Now in its second year, student participation in the micro-internship program doubled. The program, coordinated by the Career Development Center, is an interactive career exploration experience that connects students with alumni for a 1-2 day job shadow. This winter, 60 students participated in the program compared to 29 last year. Approximately, a quarter of the 37 host sites use our micro-internship program as a hiring tool.
Elizabeth Brown ’17 and Max Flerlage ’15, two St. Mary’s College aspiring teachers, received Recognition of Excellence awards from Praxis, the State certification program for individuals who seek to enter the teaching profession. Elizabeth earned a Recognition of Excellence for her performance on the biology content exam, and Max earned the same distinction on both the biology and chemistry exams.
Arvind Srinivasan ’17, is one of only six students nationally to reach the finalist stage for the LeRoy Apker Award. This award, presented by the American Physical Society, recognizes outstanding achievements in physics by undergraduate students and supports young physicists who demonstrate great potential for future scientific accomplishment.
In June, the St. Mary’s Men’s Rugby team secured a spot in the 2017 National Small College Rugby Organization championship held near Philadelphia. This was the club’s second run for the championship, having had a strong first appearance last year.
I would also like to acknowledge SPIT Fire, the Strategic Planning Implementation Team, and the Commemoration Committee. SPIT Fire has been hard at work overseeing the actual implementation of the goals and initiatives set forth in our three-year strategic plan, “A Time for Rebirth.” The newly-formed Commemoration Committee will assist the College’s short- and long-term efforts to commemorate various artifacts already found on campus sites and, most likely, those that we will discover in the future. The Committee, comprised of faculty, staff, and students, has been busy working with members of the internal and external community to ensure that our commemoration efforts are sensitive and worthy of This Place, impacting people in the present and future, locally and internationally.
Now that we have celebrated our successes, let’s talk about the state of the college and our future.
As always, the beginning of an academic year is a time that we look forward to with great anticipation. At St. Mary’s College of Maryland, we realize that students are the reason we are here. We have a tremendous responsibility to prepare our students for a life of engaged citizenship. As an honors college, we realize that preparation must be done to the highest standards with rigor, compassion, and empathy.
On the national scale, we are at a critical point in higher education. Data released in 2017 by the National Student Clearinghouse reveals that the number of students enrolled in colleges and universities is at a fifth-year low. The enrollment decline is even more pronounced for small, liberal arts institutions. How significant is the decline? The National Student Clearinghouse reports that during the spring 2017 semester, there were approximately 18 million students enrolled nationally, which is 2.4 million fewer than in 2011, the most recent spike. What are some of the reasons, you are probably wondering? Well, they include:
- Recent public discourse regarding the value of higher education
- Cost associated with obtaining a college degree
- Drop in the birth rate
- Student cohort, namely GenZ, characteristics
St. Mary’s College also faces specific challenges based on its status as a public, liberal arts, honors college. A unique public, private hybrid. Let’s briefly take a trip down memory lane. In the early 1990s, St. Mary’s College embarked on an educational endeavor that no other institution was seeking, culminating in our honors college distinction, awarded in 1992. We were unique. We were distinctive. We were relevant. We had entered new, uncontested market space. Our enrollment growth for both majority and minority students during this time was positive. In addition to increased enrollment, we saw significant growth in faculty, programming, and infrastructure.
I share this not to bemoan the good ol’ glory days, but to make a point. The strategies used during the 1990s were progressive and forward-thinking for the specific time and place. They spearheaded the growth of our College and enabled us – as a public institution – to compete with both privates and publics based on our value and relevance.
Now, however, in the 21st century, we find ourselves at a different time and place in history. A time of burgeoning technology and advancements. A time of challenging the status quo, not only in education, but also with regards to social and political issues. A time of consumer-driven practices in which college is viewed as an investment with an expected return. With such a new landscape, change is inevitable in order to remain viable. The fact that enrollment has been trending in a negative direction at St. Mary’s College for ten years is a wake-up call for our entire campus. We are at a critical point in the College’s history, and business as usual is no longer adequate.
Specifically, what does this mean for St. Mary’s College? What is the silver lining? The good news is that the need for higher education is at an all-time high. Americans are looking for new ways forward and still believe higher education is the pathway to success. Thus, that is not the challenge. The challenge, or a challenge, is that education needs to deliver on its expected value. It must prepare students for living lives of substance and relevance. It must prepare students to be engaged, global citizens. Importantly, it must prepare students, immediately upon graduation from college or graduate school, to land a job and be prepared for multiple careers throughout their lifetime.
This new college + career pairing is what I have termed practical liberal education. At St. Mary’s College, I call it practical liberal education with honor. Now is the time. This concept has been gaining momentum around the country since 2015 and is supported by the AAC&U with LEAP. It is relevant to GenZ and represents a natural evolution of the liberal arts tradition. What will bring distinctiveness to St. Mary‘s College is the vision that every student, not just a select few, will experience it as part of the required programming. That is the vision. How we get there will take the entire community working together. When will we get there? It should have started yesterday. All I can say is, now is the time.
Starting this semester, we will work to integrate aspects of student affairs and academic affairs programming in order to enhance practical learning inside and outside of the classroom. As a community, we will work to examine our curriculum and our offerings to ensure they are designed to take the hallmarks of a traditional liberal education – namely, critical thinking, introspection, and curiosity – and intercalate them into a spirit of action, innovation, and impact.
I often say that our entire campus is a learning space. With each and every interaction among members of our community, with each and every visit to one of our beautiful campus spaces, and with each and every academic and extracurricular offering, we create a profound experience for our students. Practical liberal education is the new liberal arts tradition. It involves the creation of an entrepreneurial spirit that enhances the student’s ability to practically translate and apply the scholarly and creative principles of the arts, humanities, social and natural sciences, and mathematics into real-world living and problem-solving. Practical liberal education with honor means that that which we do, develop, and implement will be done to the highest standards of rigor, integrity, and empathy. This notion of practical liberal education with honor facilitates the student’s ability to become a strong advocate for society, for the environment, for humanity.
This concept of a practical liberal education via an entrepreneurial spirit is distinctive. It is relevant. And it is timely – just like the honors college designation was in the 1990s. Now is the time. Now is the time to turn our focus away from simply outpricing and “outpackaging” our competitors. Those strategies can work for a while, but they are not sustainable since there will always be someone who can tweak the model to surpass your mark. Now is the time to differentiate our institution from others. Now is the time to challenge the boundaries for what a liberal education means in the 21st century. What it means in terms of academics. Campus climate. Lifelong skills. What it means in terms of you, of me, and of us. Now is the time to reclaim our distinction and relevance.
As I said a few minutes ago, the College’s enrollment has been declining for ten years. There are those who will argue that the beginning of the decline was a conscious decision to slow enrollment growth. Perhaps it was, but the timing was not good because the College has not recovered. I know that some believe if we can only fine-tune our model – add a few more visits to high schools, hold a few more open houses – our enrollment will turn around. I hear this all the time “in the old days, we…” All I will say is that those “good old days” are gone.
What we are witnessing at this period of time, with the constant decline in enrollment, is a symptom of a multitude of events and activities that have occurred during the last decade. The decline in enrollment is thus a symptom, not the reason for our inability to “get students in the seats.” The new thinking around holistic programming, our enhanced focus on marketing and branding, will pique student interest in the College and help families believe once again in the value of a St. Mary‘s College education. Once we enhance our programming and marketing, it will be paramount that we do what is necessary to ensure that our efforts yield students who can thrive here. It is here that we need an enrollment management team operating at the highest level, fully cognizant of current trends, and engaged in best practices.
Over the summer, we hired two key staff members in Enrollment Management. We are pleased to have David Hautanen as our new VP for Enrollment Management. With more than 25 years of experience in enrollment, he brings the experience and skills necessary to help us address the enrollment challenges that St. Mary’s College faces in this new era. Although he has only been with us for a few months, David has provided focused leadership to the enrollment management team to increase our first-year and transfer student enrollment numbers. This year, we missed on both, with first-year student enrollment down approximately 29 from what was in the budget passed by the Board and transfer students down by 29 as well. We are also fortunate to have Dr. Kristina Anderson as our interim director of admissions. With nearly 25 years of experience in higher education admissions, Dr. Anderson understands what it takes to stabilize and grow enrollment.
At the beginning of my address, I talked about the inevitability of seasons and change. I would like to add that change is never easy because it forces you to exist outside of your comfort zone. It forces you to question what was and set your hope and dreams on the possibilities of what is to come. In closing, I would like to leave you with an excerpt from Margaret Thatcher’s “Now Is the Time to Choose” speech. As many of you know, Thatcher – often referred to as “The Iron Lady” – was the first prime minister of Britain. She is celebrated for her setting her country on a positive economic trajectory during difficult times. Her words encourage us to embrace change for the better:
“Now is the time to choose,” she says. “That is the challenge we face and the choice we have to make. Change is often difficult and sometimes frightening … The changes which we all know in our hearts we have to make are not great leaps into the unknown. They are merely changes to bring back what we all regret having lost.”
So, I challenge each and every member of our campus community to begin the semester with a renewed sense of purpose. A willingness to engage with us and help bring our vision to life. Know that we will be reaching out to you for support. We cannot do it alone, but together, I know that we have what it takes.
Now is the time. Now is the time for St. Mary’s College to become everything that it was created to be. To become its best self. A front-runner. Distinct. Relevant. Unique.