Brother Ronald Tells Civic Leaders Saint Mary's Is Deeply Engaged in the Community

He Outlines Plans for Future at Special State of the College Address in Lafayette

Saint Mary's College is deeply engaged in the community and the world, Brother Ronald told civic and community leaders in a special State of the College address at the Veteran's Memorial Building in Lafayette on Thursday.

"It's a small college, but it's got a global reach," he said.

The president addressed a crowd that brought together members of the SMC cabinet, trustees, regents, alumni board of director and deans with representatives from East Bay political and civic groups. Among those in attendance were local government officials, including the mayor and town manager of Moraga, members of local chambers of commerce and the Contra Costa Council, and representatives of the offices of state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, Representative Joan Buchanan and Congressman John Garamendi.

"Saint Mary's is a major driver in the economic, educational and social fabric of the East Bay and beyond," Brother Ronald told the gathering. He noted that there are more than 17,000 SMC alumni living in the East Bay, including about 2,700 alumni of the Kalmanovitz School of Education and more than 2,000 alumni of SMC's graduate business and leadership programs.

Presidential Debate Bid

As evidence of the college's public involvement, Brother Ronald mentioned that Saint Mary's submitted an application to host a presidential debate in 2012. The very next day he learned that the college is one of 12 finalists being considered by the Commission on Presidential Debates as a debate site.

Among the other examples of community and global engagement he listed were:

- The school's Center for International Programs hosted a contingent of Fulbright scholars last week from Asia who are in their final year of master's and doctoral programs in the United States.

- Saint Mary's has one of the highest percentage of students who study abroad among U.S. master's level institutions. Aside from undergraduate year-abroad programs, many students participate in MBA programs in places like India and Africa, working on projects that meld social justice and business.

- The college is the only Bay Area school to be listed on the President's Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction.

Brother Ronald also emphasized that what happens in the world affects Saint Mary's.

"These are challenging times to run a college or university," he said, noting that the college was forced to make budget cuts during the depth of the recession. And he warned that there could be deep cuts ahead for California colleges now that the governor has been forced to abandon a plan to ask voters to approve tax extensions in a special June election. The budget for state universities, colleges and community colleges has already been cut by $1.4 billion, forcing faculty and staff layoffs, cuts in enrollment, and tuition increases.

However, he said, Saint Mary's has weathered the storm remarkably well. "We're stable because we're countertrend," he said. Last year, the college admitted its largest class ever and the largest number of transfer students, he said, and next year's numbers are projected to be even better -- a sign that budget cuts at state-financed institutions are already taking a toll on their enrollments.

As a result, the college has actually been able to increase financial aid despite the recession. Last year it handed out more than $5 million in Cal Grants to about 800 students, he said. The average Cal Grants award at Saint Mary's is $9,000, compared to $3,000 for CSU, he noted, so any cut in Cal Grants as a result of the state budget deadlock would be a serious concern. "It would take away 10 to 15 percent of our financial aid," he said.

Efforts to Increase Financial Aid

Asked what Saint Mary's is doing to make sure it can provide adequate financial support for students, he said, "We're aware that we may be hitting the ceiling on costs" and added that the college is seeking more federal aid and foundation support, as well as funding for internships and work-study programs.

In addition, he mentioned that the college is planning for its sesquicentennial in 2013 and is hoping that celebration will lead to greater recognition of Saint Mary's value to the community and increased funding for academics.

Although Saint Mary's plans to hold undergraduate enrollment fairly steady, growing mainly through its graduate business and professional programs, Brother Ronald said the college wants to increase its "technological reach" to further connect the college with the world. Among plans for the near future, he said, are a new library commons with expanded digital study space.

When the subject turned to athletics, Brother Ronald said the goal is not just to have Division 1 teams but to be competitive, which will require investments in facilities, coaches and student athletes.

"We're tiny, but we're playing against giants," he said.

Asked by an audience member whether Saint Mary's will be able to hang onto head coach Randy Bennett, he glanced at Athletic Director Mark Orr, who laughed but didn't say anything.

"The answer is we're working on this one very hard," Brother Ronald said. "He's a great asset to the campus."

Teresa Castle
College Communications

Photos by Shomari Carter '13