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State of the College Address 2015

Ethnically diverse students walking and sitting outside of Good Counsel Hall on a spring afternoon with the trees in bloom


It has been a full year since I tried to give our last State of the College address in January 2014 (if you remember, we rescheduled three times because of snowstorms, and then gave up and just posted it on the web – do you think there is a pattern here?). Last year, I wrote about our progress on our new Strategic plan with its dual – and highly related – emphases of academics and enrollment. I am pleased to report that we have made good progress on both of these areas over the past year.

But I would like to begin this review of our past year with an announcement about the immediate future: This spring semester will be The Semester of the Woman! Many of our undergraduate students are already enrolled in three courses this spring that will focus on the work and lives of women:  Professor Ullrich’s Women in Science (which will include Marion Donovan, our own alumna who invented disposable diapers).  Also, in this Semester of the Woman, several events will be held to further learn about and celebrate the role of women in our society. You will hear more about these events as we go through the semester, but I do want to congratulate the students in Professor Morovec and Professor Hobson-Baker’s Digital Humanities course who last Sunday presented their research (all two weeks of it so far!) on the iconography of the stained glass windows of our Immaculate Conception Chapel. Over 80 people, mostly alumnae, attended the open house, and learned from students about the images of women that can be found in the Chapel’s windows. Archival evidence establishes that our chapel is extremely rare in that all the window images are of women. (the only other one in the United States is the chapel at  Emmanuel College in Boston) Of course there is an exception: the Christ child does appear in one window (remember, we are the only college founded by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus!) – but I have to note that he is posed with his father and his mother!

And please, for all the men at Rosemont: we are not ignoring you and your amazing roles, as faculty, staff, and students! You enliven and bring talents each and every day to our campus, our culture, and our community. But it is fitting that the college,  seven years after the Board of Trustees had the bold and now proven to be absolutely the right vote to bring co-education to Rosemont College, should now reaffirm our historic commitment to women.

It is also very fitting that this affirmation is being accomplished primarily in academic ways, through courses, research, along with panel discussions by alumnae and our annual Forum for Women’s Leadership. And that is because we are not only an academic institution, but we are now in year two of our current Strategic Plan, the heart of which is academic revitalization. In only the past year, we have made significant progress on that plan. The specific goal #2 of that plan states:

  • Enhance teaching and learning within classrooms and online. Expand the curriculum across all schools by means of a thorough review of current programs and strategic analysis of our market needs.

In the past year, faculty in the Undergraduate College performed an overview of the sum of majors, and voted to discontinue four: Foreign Languages other than Spanish, Humanities, Economics, and Women and Gender Studies. Note that this means we are discontinuing these subjects as majors; we will continue to offer courses in these areas.  At the same time, faculty in the Undergraduate College voted to establish two new majors in the area of business: Finance and Marketing. Program review at the Divisional level is now ongoing in the Undergraduate College; I would like to applaud and also thank the entire faculty for this labor-intensive but very important undertaking.

I would also like to share the same gratitude to the Program Directors in the Schools of Graduate and Professional Studies, who have been engaged in individual Program Review for the past two years; their work has yielded important curricular change that reflects up to date content and pedagogy which is so important to the best possible learning on the part of all Rosemont adult students.

I want to emphasize that this enterprise of full and deep Program Review of all the academics at Rosemont College is in itself a real sign of our health as an institution. It comes as a surprise to some that in lists of metrics to determine an institution of higher education’s “health”, the expected ratios measuring financial stability (debt to endowment, for example), are often partnered with metrics to measure academic health. If an institution has not performed program review, or has not introduced any new programs during a two to three year period, then that is considered a sign of poor health, or even decline. So Rosemont College is engaged in an ongoing, healthy review of the very heart of the college: all academics, all of the time.

The consequences of this intentional and intense focus on academics are huge: for our faculty, who remain committed to a liberal arts model of general education even as we also offer more so-called professional majors (Rosemont majors like business and education), content and pedagogy review and improvement remains at the core of their work. And for our students, that mixture of liberal arts education with professional majors seems to be a very good one. A report released in November by researchers at the University of Iowa, about “Liberal-Arts Learning Outcomes of Professional Majors,” outlined that for the students at 28 liberal arts 4-year institutions they studied, the desirable outcomes from liberal arts (critical thinking, moral reasoning, inclination to inquire, lifelong learning, intercultural effectiveness, psychological well-being and leadership) were just as strong from one major to another. So those two new majors in the Undergraduate College that I earlier announced -- Finance and Marketing -- will join other career-focused majors at Rosemont without having to compromise our ongoing commitment to the life-changing learning that is a liberal arts education.

We also continue to learn more and more about how our students learn. As you may know, we have established a routine of surveying our students every year about their level of learning engagement, in the classroom and out. In odd years, we use the NSSE (National Survey of Student Engagement) to survey undergraduate first years and seniors, and in even years, we administer the AICUP survey for first year students.  Together, data resulting from these surveys tells us a lot about how our students are learning and the data is very positive: on those “best practices” of engagement that are considered by NSSE to be top indicators of deep meaningful learning, Rosemont student responses indicate that we are at least at the national average for all best practices and that we are significantly higher than the national averages for most practices, especially for  “Collaborative Learning”, “Student-Faculty Interaction” and “Supportive Environment”.  It is especially interesting that our students report that while they do enjoy a supportive environment, and do appreciate a very high amount of student-faculty interaction, they learn most from each other.  So even as we all talk and seem to know about Rosemont’s culture of collaboration we have ample data to know that this is true.

And certainly, even without this welcome confirmation of our excellent collaborative learning model, we would already know that constantly working to keep up to date content in our courses while honing in on skills, and learning in the most efficient and effective way possible, is exactly what our students will need not only to graduate but to graduate WELL, prepared not simply for a first job but a stellar career and life.  Our new position established this year for a Director of Post-Graduate Success, now held by Mr. Brig Bowe, is at the Assistant Dean’s level. Under his direction, we are bringing together all the various advising, mentoring, career services and experiential learning – all those areas of significant guidance and growth that Rosemont offers to all of our students as a coordinated effort.

We need to be proud of all of our work on academics over the past year, even as we know that it is work that will never be done, and, as I said, that is a real sign of institutional health.

Institutional health is also – always – tied to enrollment. After a particularly intense yield season for the Undergraduate College – with great gratitude extended to Dr. Chris Dougherty, Provost, who served for four months as Interim Vice President for Enrollment Management -- we ended up with an incoming class of first year students that matched exactly our budgeted goals, and with higher than budgeted goals for transfers. With thanks also to Mr. Dennis Murphy, our new Vice President for Enrollment Management, for arriving in June and keeping up with that momentum right into our current cycle for next year. Mr. Murphy has set very high goals for himself and his team for next fall, and I have confidence that we will achieve those goals, as we are currently 7% ahead in accepts, compared to last year at this time.

Another sign of health is our ongoing efforts to reinvigorate this beautiful campus with new and remodeled facilities. The past year included the complete renovation of the space in which we are meeting today: the Rotwitt Theater of the McShain Performing Arts Center. New wood-lined walls, new rug, new seats, expanded stage and new proscenium arch, along with state-of-the-art sound and light systems all came together to make the amazing theater that we are enjoying right now.  In fact, I would like to explain the timing of this project as an example of how we are able to do things more strategically at the college. We were in a position that we could do the renovations sooner rather than later and thus are already reaping the benefits of the new spaces which we use constantly for Admissions and Alumni events, classes and rentals. Because almost all of the funds raised for this project were in the form of pledges over 5 years of payment, one option for us could have been to wait until all the funds came in and then do the $1.15 million remodeling. But another option was much better: to finance the project by taking out a loan based on the pledges, and be able to do the capital project right away. Thanks go to Dr. Randy Eldridge working out all of the arrangements, because that is what we did.

There are many winning factors here: first of all, if we had waited five years, it would have cost a lot more than $1.15 million dollars. Other factors are less tangible, but still desirable: we have already used this beautiful space for Admissions and other events that bring people to campus for the first time, and the Rotwitt Theater gives a very good introduction to the quality of the Rosemont experience. But some factors were very tangible:  we were able to raise the rental charge for the theater, and one lease alone over the next several years will provide revenue in the amount of $171,000, well beyond the interest that we are paying on the loan. So the new theater is just one example of how we are able to manage more strategically, and as such it reflects a similar shift in the abilities and thinking of the Board of Trustees. We ALL are in a better position now to be able to take advantage of opportunities to leverage our financial and facilities position for the better.

In last year’s State of the College, I had written that our net assets had grown from $31 million in 2009, the year of our first co-ed class, to $40.5 million in 2014.  I am pleased to announce that our growth in net assets over the past year was another $1.4 million.

One note on that financial position: we are making headway on a new business model that will make us more sustainable in the long run by making us less tuition-dependent for our operating budget.  Many institutions our size are right now facing very difficult circumstances because they are highly tuition-dependent for revenue to cover expenses. At times, this can be as high as 93-95% of revenue coming in from tuition and fees. This is not an enviable position, given the volatile state of enrollment across the country with declining high-school age students and higher costs. For the 2013-14 fiscal year, Rosemont College received 65.9% of its full revenue against expenses from tuition and fees. We cover expenses otherwise with endowment interest drawdown, auxiliary revenue, and direct fundraising through our Rosemont Experience annual fund. Does this mean that we are fine? Of course not, we can always do better!  But we are nonetheless working towards that goal of heightened sustainability, and we need to keep up our strength-training in all areas if we want to get there.

And of course one important area of revenue for the college is fundraising. I am most pleased to announce that Reflect/Renew/Rejoice: the Campaign for Rosemont College has to date raised over $28 million! With the hard work of Ms. Christyn Moran and her Development staff, and through the enthusiasm of countless volunteers, we are well on our way to reaching our $40 million goal.  Just think of what the infusion of another $28 million has done for this institution; now think about what another $12 million can do. Rosemont College needs to have everyone hearing or reading this address to recognize our renewal, our momentum, and to help out by participating in this historic campaign!

So I will conclude by reminding everyone that our current Strategic Plan is no longer about changing things: we have done that, to be sure.  But it is all about strengthening what we have. Many in this theater today should have taken the  “Strengths Quest” survey to identify your individual strengths. The whole premise, of course, is that while you can identify your weakness and try to work on them, it’s going to be a lot more beneficial and timely to recognize and take advantage of your strengths. That’s exactly what we are doing – whether it is strengthening our academics through program review, strengthening our finances with steady and constant cost containment while building revenue, building our endowment, strengthening our campus with better facilities, or strengthening our mission  -- with thanks to Sister Jeanne and her incredible staff -- through continuous, intentional goal setting and attention.

So let us all agree right here and now to dedicate ourselves over the next year to fulfilling the promise that is the Strategic and Operational plan.  At an alumni luncheon last week someone asked me what it is about Rosemont right now that gives me the most pleasure and I answered without hesitation: it is our momentum.  There is a momentum that I can observe, hear about from alumni, see on campus with our faculty, staff, and students, and just FEEL building on a daily basis. For next year, let’s continue to build enrollment, academics, revenues and mission.  We should be very proud of what Middle States has called our “epic journey” – let’s continue that journey, but be sure to enjoy the ride.