Last September, I wrote that the College was breaking away: “…at 150 years, Saint Mary’s has become a place of discovery, shared by a diverse community of partners, where the Church can do its most inclusive and broad thinking, intersecting faith and reason, and centered on students with the understanding that their discovery of a life worth living is our most important mission.”
We are now at the midpoint of this sesquicentennial year, and two years into implementation of the Academic Blueprint. We have improved undergraduate first-to- second-year retention to an all-time high, above 88 percent. We have reached our goal of increasing study abroad destinations by 50 percent, and we have continued to increase the number of international students on campus. We are providing more financial support and opportunities for students to engage globally and at home; since 2010, Jan Term travel scholarship funding has increased by 124 percent, and the number of students served has increased by 154 percent. Research grants for students have also increased. During the past two and a half years, the School of Economics and Business Administration has received more than $1.5 million in scholarship donations and now provides a total of $150,000 in institutional aid per year to SEBA students. We continue to invest in the performing arts, with student concerts and recitals increasing from 7 in 2008-09 to 24 in 2012-13.
While substantial work remains, there is strong evidence that we are becoming an increasingly inclusive community, which is contributing to greater satisfaction and retention among staff and faculty. Last fall, we had the opportunity to compare our students' levels of academic engagement with peer institutions through the National Survey of Student Engagement. The results highlighted the depth of challenge and quality of academic experience that we provide students, and demonstrated several points of excellence relative to those peers. We also had the opportunity to compare our most recent Climate Survey data with items asked on the Higher Education Research Institute's (HERI) national survey of faculty.(i) On each of the eight items that were nearly identical in the HERI survey to those that we ask our own faculty, Saint Mary's College faculty ratings showed higher levels of job satisfaction with factors such as quality of students and faculty, teaching load, and opportunities for scholarship than faculty at other private and Catholic institutions.
One source of dissatisfaction revealed in our own survey was, not surprisingly, our office and instructional facilities. The good news here is progress on campus renovations, such as the Psychology Annex, and Board of Trustees endorsement for our library planning and renovation for new faculty office space. Finally, while many faculty members express satisfaction with their students, their scholarship, and each other, there remain increasing challenges presented by the pace of change, sometimes prompted by external demands for increased accountability, and other times caused by our own pursuits of excellence.
This spring, we continue the intense energy of ongoing initiatives, such as: expanding summer session courses and enrollment, implementing the new core curriculum, launching new graduate programs, supporting student and faculty research, establishing administrative structures to support community engagement and common good learning outcomes, and implementing a new Technology Strategic Plan. This month, we will celebrate our faculty accomplishments at our annual Scholar’s Reception on February 22. Our speakers this month include Maria Elena Durazo ’75, executive secretary–treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (February 19), Daniel Solorzano, UCLA Distinguished Teacher and Director of the UC All Campus Consortium on Research for Diversity (February 20-21), and Michael Sandel, Anne T. and Robert M. Bass Professor of Government at Harvard University (February 25). Our WASC comprehensive self-study is due this summer, and we will host an AACSB accreditation review team this fall, six months ahead of schedule. Finally, of course, we anticipate the arrival of our next president on campus later this year.
Our pace is dizzying and challenging. In the midst of it all, when I’m asked about the high point of January, my first recollections have been the two occasions when I was a guest participant in Jan Term classes. Nothing is more inspiring or important than the success of them. In this time of great transitions and aspirations, let us remain focused on our greatest strength of all, our passion for and commitment to our students.
(i) Hurtado, S., Eagan, M.K., Pryor, J.H., Whang, H., & Tran, S. (2012). Undergraduate teaching faculty: The 2010-2011 HERI Faculty Survey. Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA. Results are based on responses from 23,824 full-time faculty members at 417 four-year colleges and universities who spend at least part of their time teaching undergraduates.