President Tuajuanda C. Jordan
State of the College Address
January 25, 2019
Today’s presentation will follow a slightly different format from what it has in the past. This change is borne out of several meetings and discussions over the course of the last eight months or so, where I have come to realize that the College has been absent from several important conversations that have been occurring over the course of the past ten years because of the College’s attitude towards entities within the local region. The content is also the result of several internal conversations in which the rationale for the new brand has been questioned, as well as the College’s commitment to diversity. Since I’ve been here, we have been working hard to stabilize the College’s enrollment. Each of the items I’ve mentioned, in their own way, affects just that. I don’t know of any better way to dispel myths or to try to get people on the same page than to meet and discuss the issues. Today is another attempt to do that.
Institutions in higher ed, especially many of the elite institutions, have throughout history in the United States been referred to as Ivory towers – secluded places that afford the means of treating practical issues with an impractical, often escapist attitude.
Does that sound like St. Mary’s College of Maryland? Does that sound like the College we all know and love today?
Our mission is to provide an excellent liberal arts education, comparable to that found at small, elite private institutions, and to do so in a way that is affordable and accessible to a diverse population of students. Have we lived up to our mission? I want to spend a few minutes looking at the words I’ve highlighted in the mission statement – excellence, affordable, accessible, and diverse. We are an institution that strives to teach our students to formulate ideas and express their opinions, and to draw conclusions based on facts. So, let’s look at some data.
Liberal Arts Excellence
- Academic rigor that includes every student’s engagement in at least two high-impact practices (e.g., research, internships, study abroad, etc.) prior to graduation (comparable to private elites)
- Outstanding faculty as demonstrated by having ten Fulbright Scholars named in the last six years
- Low student:faculty ratio – 10:1 (elites range 9:1 to 12:1)
- Excellent facilities comparable to, and/or better than, many elite colleges, and we are consistently ranked as one of the most beautiful campuses in the country
Striving for Liberal Arts Excellence in some sense requires that the programming you offer as an institution is relevant to your target group in general and to society as a whole. Furthermore, it must be dynamic because times change – although you must remain true to your mission and core foundation. Our history has shown us to be education innovators.
- When we were designated the state’s honors college, we were developing a core curriculum that was ahead of the curve with respect to
- developing first-year seminars, and
- requiring of all students a St. Mary’s Project or other senior capstone experience
- The LEAD curriculum will position us at the forefront of 21st-century liberal education with the integration of intellectual and practical educational experiences across the curriculum for all students. The foundation for LEAD was unveiled to the campus in August 2017. It was definitely leading edge. I will say that now the concept is cutting edge as others are recognizing the need and forging ahead. We will continue to move it forward because it is a national imperative, and we will do it in a way befitting an honors college of the highest caliber.
I want to discuss “affordability.” That term is a bit hard to define because of the socioeconomic strata: what is affordable for some may not be so for others. Nonetheless, it is always important to be mindful of this concept and to provide means by which those who want to be here, can. Let’s start with a fact: Liberal education is the most expensive form of undergraduate education in the nation. You have to pay for excellent employees who can engage students at a level that will push their intellectual boundaries and help them become engaged and productive citizens. Programming, both within and beyond the formal classroom, requires financial resources. And, it costs to have and maintain excellent facilities and grounds. Nevertheless, we are a public institution, and we cannot charge our students $50K – $60K per year for tuition. Thus, our challenge is to contain costs without negatively impacting the quality of the experience. Over the last few years, thanks to the State and prudent cost-cutting and budgeting on our part, AY2018 tuition and fees are virtually the same they were in AY2012.
Nationally, our tuition rank continues to decline, and it is among the lowest of all public institutions, in general, and among the nationally-ranked liberal arts colleges.
Keeping tuition down is one way we work towards accessibility. Another is to provide financial assistance for our students. On this slide, you can see that over the course of the last five years, aid has grown from $5.6M to $7.9M per year, which represents a 41% increase in a relatively short period of time and without a concomitant increase in enrolled students. This translates to our providing more aid on average to every student.
Here we are looking at the diversity of our student population. Over the past 10 or 11 years, the percentage of our female students has remained relatively constant. The College has, however, become more diverse when we examine metrics beyond gender identity. As you can see here, our percentage of racial and ethnic minority students and students from lower socioeconomic groups has been steadily increasing, and the percentage of students who are the first in their families to attend college is rebounding.
Equally important, we find that although the College’s total enrollment has declined steadily over the course of the last decade, this decline has not come at the expense of diversity. We know that a diverse campus community enhances our intellectual, social, and cultural growth and creativity, and we will continue to work to ensure that our diverse students do well at the College.
One metric we use to assess how well our students are doing is the six-year graduation rate. On this slide, we see that when we compare the six-year graduation rates of all of our students to our peers, who are both private and public national liberal arts colleges, we are doing significantly better than both our peers and the COPLAC institutions. Equally important, when we focus specifically on minority students, our rates are even better.
An internal look at our four-year graduation rates indicates that we have done a tremendous job closing the achievement gap between students generally considered at-risk and the majority population. And, although there remains a gap at the four-year time point between minority students and other student populations, our percentages are higher than any other public institution in the state of Maryland and significantly higher than the national average, which hovers around 30%. We are happy to be among the best in this endeavor in the country, but we are not satisfied with where we are.
Thus, we have developed programs like the DeSousa-Brent Scholars program to help us increase the persistence, retention, and four-year graduation rates of students who have been traditionally underserved in higher education. This program is making a significant difference in the success of our students. In addition to enhancing their persistence and graduation rates, the programs help foster and develop the students’ leadership skills.
In our continuing efforts to try to create a campus environment where all who are here can thrive, we are constantly working to develop programming to address the needs of individuals and groups within our community. An example of this effort is the recent All-Campus Community Conversation that was held earlier this week on Monday. The purpose was to actively engage the campus in talking about inclusion, diversity, and equity issues and then to inspire all to work together to come up with workable solutions. I want to thank the 80 or so members of the campus community for making the time to participate in those conversations. Your efforts and engagement are appreciated and noteworthy. Know that conversations will continue, and I hope you all will find a way to participate.
Diversity, inclusion, and equity – all of these are important for our campus culture and sustained viability. As you know, this past semester, we searched for a new CDO, and three finalists were brought to campus in November. I want to publicly acknowledge the tremendous work of the search committee, led by VP Brown, to identify the absolute best candidates in the pool. After much reflection and some consternation, however, I failed the search because, as I pondered this community and our needs, none of the individuals had the skill set to do what we need done. I have now contacted a search firm who will work to recruit a stronger pool of candidates from which to choose. We remain hopeful that we will have a new CDO in place by the end of this summer.
On the next two slides, I am showing some accomplishments we achieved in support of our mission as a public honors college.
High Return on Investment:
- 8th highest four-year graduation rate
- Extremely low student loan default rate
- Productive graduates
- Well-prepared graduates who are able to continue their education at higher levels
A high proportion of the College’s accolades at the national level compares our outcomes and attributes to those of both private and public institutions. We are a national gem.
Here is a summary of what we have/are/do:
- Continuously evolving and rigorous curriculum
- Notable faculty, staff, and facilities
- Outstanding student outcomes
- High ROI
- National rankings
There is no other public liberal arts college as highly lauded as we; none other with the student outcomes that we have. It is for these and many other reasons that we are The National Public Honors College. We have achieved that honor, yet we know that we cannot rest on our laurels. As our enrollment numbers indicate, in spite of the accolades, we, like almost every other small higher education institution in the nation, are having enrollment challenges. And now, we have some potentially new challenges right here in our own backyard.
First, I want to touch on what is going on in the realm of higher education, and this will present a segue into things that are going on that will have a major impact on the economic development in the region.
Last year, the legislators approved the merger of the Southern Maryland Higher Education Center (SMHEC) with the University System of Maryland (USM). In the past, the SMHEC has focused on graduate education as well as providing upper-level undergraduate programs primarily in a limited number of areas (e.g., education and nursing) offered by a variety of institutions – some within the USM and others, such as Florida Institute of Technology and The Johns Hopkins University, that are not. We met with the Chancellor of the System as well as his leadership team here at the College over the summer. It is clear that a goal of the System is making undergraduate education more accessible to the citizens of SoMD in areas that are of most interest to the citizens and that will drive economic development. One’s initial gut reaction to this news is to see it as a threat, and it is. We will compete for students, and USM can offer programs at a cost significantly lower than we can.
However, it also represents an opportunity for the College to form stronger partnerships with CSM, the SMHEC, and the local school district. Equally important, it will force us to be more cognizant of the needs of the region and to be creative in remaining true to our liberal arts foundation while thinking of some different, not additional, programming we can offer students to help educate the citizens and to contribute to the growing and changing economy of the region. Historically, it has been the economy that has been a major factor in driving the direction of higher education. We are acutely at that place right now.
Speaking of the economy, I am not certain how many of you go to the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport or how many of you travel north of the Giant on Rt. 235. On this slide, I am showing you where the SMHEC is in relation to the airport.
On the next slide, I show the amount of growth that has occurred at the airport in the last ten years. The next time you are that way, pay close attention to what’s going on out there. Lots of construction, new businesses, activity. The airport has been expanded, and the runway is being extended to a mile in length. There are efforts underway to provide daily flights between this and other airports to entice businesses. There is incubator space for entrepreneurs, and activity around UAS is expanding. The County has designated the area within a certain radius of the airport as the region’s Innovation District. These plans have been in the making for over ten years and we, SMCM during my tenure, have just become aware of them in the last year! We didn’t have a seat at the table, and now we are trying to carve out some space in an arena in which CSM, SMHEC, Pax River, the local contractors, and a variety of others have been engaged with for a long time. Why were we not at the table? It is because we were so self-absorbed with our way of thinking and doing things that we were not paying attention to what was going on in our own backyard! We are now at the table to contribute to the vision for the area. We are now aware and are now doing what we can to have a voice in how that vision is manifested.
All of this economic development, and mind you, the University of Maryland has been engaged in much of this for a long time, will impact the College, our faculty and staff, and importantly, our students. The question is, how can we move away from being perceived as an ivory tower and build something stronger, better, and more engaged in the world in which we live – globally and locally? How can we make certain we keep our eyes wide open going forward and are able to help the region see that we are a significant and important contributor to the region, not just for entertainment purposes, but also as contributors to the intellectual, cultural, and economic growth and development of the region? How can we ensure that going forward, while always remaining true to our mission and contextualized for the 21st-century, that we are able to provide the best educational experience for our students?
Well, I am about to highlight just some of the ways we are working with the regional community to benefit the growth of the region and our students.
Dismantling the Ivory Tower:
- Kathy Koch, Janna Thompson, and Kim Page provide (free) professional development on St. Mary’s County Public Schools professional development days.
- Joanna Bartow supervises SMCM students who serve as bilingual tutors for Spanish-speaking children who are learning English, in coordination with St. Mary’s County Public Schools; she teaches a community-based learning course in Spanish that incorporates the tutoring with academic content that contextualizes immigration to St. Mary’s County and that fosters habits of civic engagement.
- José Ballesteros’ students translate important countywide official documents that facilitate access to healthcare for Spanish-speaking residents.
- Daniel Davis, Amy Steiger, and Beth Charlebois teach a course at the local minimum-security jail in Leonardtown.
- Susan Grogan has her students work as Election Judges in St. Mary’s County precincts.
- This spring, Dionisios Kavadias is working with Father John Ball and the Trinity Church congregation on an ethnohistory of this historic church community with students.
- Carrie Patterson conducts numerous community art projects around St. Mary’s County in a manner in which students learn about pedagogical issues encompassed in community art outreach and how practitioners seek to provide meaningful art programs to diverse audiences.
Our staff, too, are engaging with community members and providing real opportunities for our students that build off the great educational experience that the students have on-campus. They do their part in helping to build something greater. Here I highlight just a few, as these directly relate to the new LEAD initiative.
- Kate Shirey – working hard to improve the Career Development Center and to bring experiential opportunities to our students.
- Dave Sushinsky and his entire staff – working to get alumni to serve as mentors and provide internships.
- Lauren Sampson and Karen Raley
- Patuxent River Science & Technology (PRS&T) Consortium Scholarship Fund
- Collaboration with six local contracting companies to provide financial need scholarships and internship experiences to six meritorious STEM-focused students in the tri-county area. Begins fall 2019.
At this time, I want to acknowledge Lauren and Karen. The PRS&T is a level of engagement with the local community that is new for us. And the excitement surrounding it is noticeable in the local contractor and entrepreneurial community. Thank you, Lauren and Karen, for your creativity and persistence in making this happen.
All of these things we are doing. They all align with our mission and fully support our brand as The National Public Honors College. Additionally, they help us fulfill our role as a public servant working with the local community to enhance the quality of life for all.
So now, let’s return to the initial reflection. Is SMCM an ivory tower?
We aren’t now.
We are an excellent institution working hard to prepare our students for global citizenry at the highest level. And that aspiration requires the College’s engagement at both the local and global levels.
 Ivory Tower [Def. 2]. Merriam-Webster Online. In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary.