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State of the College Address

Students in Spring

STATE OF THE COLLEGE  ADDRESS  JANUARY 2016

 

In last year’s State of the college address I spoke about our progress on the new Strategic Plan and our focus in that Plan on strengthening what we already do well. I am pleased to report that in almost every area of our plan we made significant progress in 2015. Our Director of Strategic Planning, Dr. Rich Leiby, just completed his mid-way report (believe it or not, we are now exactly two and a half years through our five-year plan). Of the 257 specific tasks outlined in the Operational Plan – tasks that we felt we needed to complete in order to reach our goals – 206, or 80%, have been completed.

 

Program review continues in both the Undergraduate College and in the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies (SGPS). Important decisions for curriculum improvement have been made based on these reviews. In the Undergraduate College, the Divisions of Natural Science and Education have already embarked on doing a review of all of their majors in depth, including individual courses. In the meantime, and with Pennsylvania Department of Education approval, we did launch two new masters degrees in Education: the Masters of Educational Leadership, with a Principal Certification, and the Masters of Education in Literacy, with Certification for Reading Specialist.

 

We did have one major challenge in 2015, and that was our audit results for 2014-2015, which were finalized last October. For the first time in many years, we posted a significant deficit. Although this deficit resulted primarily from accounting deficits (and not cash), it was nonetheless a deficit that affected our agreed-upon covenants with our banking partners. Our bankers have indicated that those covenants will be waived, but the College cannot afford to have another year with a deficit resulting in our not meeting our banking covenants. In an abundance of caution, we did exercise last fall several areas of efficiencies, as well as an expanded budgeted goal for our annual fund (the Rosemont Experience Fund) which helps to fund College operations. The adjustments did not include any layoffs or salary reductions.

 

The transformative change of 2015 was, of course, the “reset” of tuition in the Undergraduate College. On September 16, we launched Our Tuition Promise by announcing that for the fall of 2016 we are going to reduce tuition by 43%, from $32,000 to $18,500. We will also reduce the cost of room and board by 11%, from $13,400 to $11,500. There were already some reporters in attendance at the announcement made in the Rotwitt Theater, and by that evening our news had gone national: CNN, Forbes Magazine, USA Today, CNBC, and many more media outlets, nearly 80 in total, covered Rosemont’s “bold” and “courageous” move to clarify what was a muddled, and for most a very confusing tuition pricing model. I want to point out that none of our incredibly positive media response was due to luck. Our College Relations staff worked with a public relations and a media buying firms for months to prepare messaging, as well as marketing materials, that could not only announce but explain Our Tuition Promise. When The Philadelphia Inquirer published it’s editorial praising Rosemont College for it’s courage and leadership, we knew that all that work and planning had been worth it.

 

Basically, we moved from a high sticker price, high discount model to a low sticker price with a low discount model. By reducing the discounts, awarded in the form of financial aid grants and scholarships, we were able to tell prospective students and their families our “true tuition”.

 

As many articles pointed out, the College accomplished the launch of Our Tuition Promise from a position of strength in the Undergraduate College: our enrollment in the Undergraduate Collge had increased for the last three years prior to the announcement, so we were not responding to an enrollment drop. Rather we were responding to a real need for clarity in college pricing. In September 2014, one fact that launched our year-long study to establish Our Tuition Promise was one answer to a survey by Sallie Mae, the federal loan giant, addressing whether or not people were willing to either look further into or apply to a college “beyond knowing the published price”. In 2013, 53% of respondents answered “no”. We could only interpret those results – which went up year over year –as meaning that over half of our prospective applicant pool were not willing to consider Rosemont based on our sticker price. We needed to tell those families what the true tuition was, and get on their lists of very high quality but affordable colleges.

 

We did more than simply reduce discounts; we actually worked on packages so that for every returning student in the Undergraduate College next year, it will cost less than what they paid this year. This did cut into actual costs in the form of lost revenue next year. For that first year’s lost revenue, however, a donor offered to help minimize our risk by giving a gift to cover it. That anonymous donor was responding to two aspects of the reset: they were excited that students would all save, but they also wanted to recognize the leadership role that Rosemont was prepared to take.

 

Finally, we were asked by our graduate students if we were going to reduce their tuition as well; we were able to point out that their payments, were priced by credit hour, and if they took their courses according to the undergraduate college semesters, their programs taken that way would be less than $18,500. In addition, for those students who are enrolled from partner corporations like Independence Blue Cross and Main Line Health, we now offer more clarity in the form of whole degree pricing.

 

To date, our strategy with both Our Tuition Promise and the additional marketing seems to be working. In addition, new partnerships, as well as increased brand awareness, may share some credit for enrollment in SGPS going up for this semester. Both congratulations and gratitude go to Dean Dennis Dougherty and the program directors and recruiters who have been working so hard for so long to make this happen. As of January 6th the Professional Studies headcount increased 24% and credit hours increased 56%. In Graduate Studies headcount and credit hours increased 2%

 

 

And in the Undergraduate College we are seeing applications from those high achieving high schools that we identified two years ago, and from geographic areas that we identified as well. To date, our applications to the Undergraduate College have increased over last year: our completed applications have increased by 119 %, and our acceptances have increased by 95%. Our acceptances to the Honors Program have increased by 159%.

 

That is my report on the business side of the College: we are all striving this fiscal year to exercise cost containment, even as we are hopeful that our next fiscal year will be much better.

 

But I also want to report on the real business of the College, which is, of course, teaching and learning. As I said at the outset, we are progressing well in our Strategic Plan’s emphasis on academics and our progress to date – on program review and on assessment – will be important components of our Periodic Review Report, due to Middle States June 1. I want to thank here the almost 50 people – staff, faculty and students – who are serving on seven task forces to do the important work of preparing the PRR. I also thank and commend our Provost Dr. Chris Dougherty, who has been ably leading this collaborative effort.

 

I would like to suggest here, however, that even as we are reviewing content as well as skill-learning, we must broaden our goals for educating the whole person. Critics of Higher Education, the media, and even the federal government with its new White House College Scorecard have placed an emphasis on college students’ success as measured by material things, including how much money each graduate will make. In 2015, the University of Chicago Press published a book by Tim Clydesdale entitled The Purposeful Graduate: Why Colleges must talk to students about Vocation. In this book, Clydesdale used data collected by the Lilly Foundation’s Program to encourage vocation, a program that has been discontinued. But the success of the program is undeniable: just a simple willingness to have a conversation with students about what they want to do with their life has had a real results in changing students’ own understanding of their purpose beyond getting a degree and a job.

 

Clydesdale’s use of the word “vocation” has caused some confusion because many consider that word a calling to enter ministry, especially to become a Catholic nun or priest. So I am suggesting here to think of the word “purpose” or even just the word “calling” as a better term. In the book, Clydesdale urges all institutions of higher education to address purpose, while noting that faith-based colleges have an advantage. Certainly, we have that advantage at Rosemont, especially with our well-honed mission-aware culture. And we don’t have to look for a model who answered a calling with absolute devotion to God and to her purpose beyond Cornelia Connelly.

 

So I’m not suggesting that we do more on mission, although we can always do more. What I’m hoping to suggest is that we end this year with an agreed-upon intentional effort to work with each student – and with each other – to think about what we need to do with our lives for the relatively short time that we are on this earth. And this is not just faculty that I am encouraging – it is well documented that staff can and do play an excellent role as mentors, again to students but also with each other.

 

Let me be clear: these are not conversations about religion, or even spirituality, although that may come into the discussion. The Lilly Foundation used the term “broad conversations” and as one review of Clydesdale’s book stated the obvious, “Broad conversations are exactly what liberal arts colleges should be about.” So please, for this semester, consider adding this extra element to your already packed agenda: we gain a sense of purpose or meaning for ourselves, and help others to find theirs.

 

In addition I want to re-commit in this space the College’s ongoing commitment to sustainability of our earth and its peoples. Thanks to the College Climate Committee for working on this and next year’s agenda, which includes our usual competition Recyclemania in February. Rosemont – we have done very well in the past in this competition, especially in the area of waste containment. Let’s work very hard to recycle everything that can be recycled rather than add it to our trash and therefore landfills – let’s get the College to return to our recycling glory days!

 

In conclusion, there have been two topics that have dominated conversations – and more – on college campuses in the past year: sexual assault and racism. I want to thank the Rosemont Title IX team that has so enthusiastically confirmed their commitment to having the College do everything fairly and correctly at any time we need to respond to a report of sexual assault. The team has undergone extensive training and two of the team, Jane Federowicz, Assistant Vice President of Human Resources, and Matt Baker, Sergeant of Public Safety, are fully certified. I want to remind everyone on faculty and staff that they have the responsibility to report anything that they have heard about a possible sexual assault – even if they are asked to keep the information confidential or if it is hearsay – you are officially “on notice” and must take that responsibility very seriously.

 

And I want to thank Dr. Alan Preti and the Institute for Ethical Leadership and Social Responsibility for organizing this semester’s program on the topic of racism. The first was just last week: the College and the Society of the Holy Child Jesus served as hosts for the annual conference held by Trinity Church’s Institute's "Listen for a Change: Sacred Conversations for Racial Justice" which explored the most pressing issues of our time, including structural racism, mass incarceration, and policy change. The annual conference took place in New York City, but was webcast live in this theater. I know that many of you attended various sessions and I hope that your participation was helpful.

 

On March 17 the Institute of Ethical Leadership and Social Responsibility will host a Panel on Racial Justice with panelists including Anita Allen, Vice Provost for Faculty and Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania, and Sr. Elizabeth Linehan of St. Joseph's University.

 

These conversations about racial justice, and paying serious attention to the issue of sexual assault – both are issues that students on other college campuses are clamoring to have. Please take advantage of the multiple opportunities at Rosemont to join these conversations that we are having and will continue to have.

 

My final announcement is a joyful one: I am very pleased to report that Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest and author of “Tattoos on the Heart”, has agreed to serve as our commencement speaker in May. We will be conferring an honorary degree from Rosemont College on Father Boyle at that time. “Tattoos on the Heart”, which was our selected book to be shared by all First Year Connections seminars this past fall, is about the work that Father Boyle has done to turn around gang members in Los Angeles, through his job-placement and employer –based Homeboy Industries, from a life of violence to a life of purpose.

 

So we’re back to talking about purpose. Let’s all focus on providing a highest quality purposeful education for our students here today, while working with enthusiasm to be prepared to send our graduates to do good in the world and to welcome what seems to be a large number of new students – in both the Undergraduate College and in the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies – next fall.