State of the College Address 2010

Good afternoon and welcome to you all.

As we always do in our Lasallian tradition, Let us Remember that we are in the Holy Presence of God.

Let us pause to remember our colleagues, students and friends who have passed away during this year, especially Professor Gerry Capriulo. May God be merciful to them all.

We remember too our Lasallian heritage, expressed in the words of Saint John Baptist de La Salle: "Teach by example. Put into practice what you want your students to believe, and example makes a much greater impression on the mind and heart than words." These words are cogent reminders of the way we can put our mission into practice. "Living Lasallian" is a term and an invitation used by a group of our faculty who participated in the Lasallian Leadership in Higher Education workshops in Rome. This is a call to all of us in the Saint Mary's community to embody the values of our mission.

In the years that De La Salle spent in founding the early schools and in forming the men who joined with him to be Brothers, he came upon daily challenges and took roads he had not foreseen. I think of him often, and of the faith in God which supported him as he moved forward with the work of the Brothers. He lived in a time of war, economic turmoil and joblessness, in situations of uncertainty not unlike those of today.

I am in my fifth year as president, and can certainly say that each year has given us new challenges and presented new opportunities for making Saint Mary's an even better institution, and for improving the quality of the educational experience for all of our students. No one year has been like another.

Many of my communications during the past year have been about the impact of the current economy on Saint Mary's College and the extent and nature of our response to this crisis. I will provide further updates today.

Our response has been and will continue to be guided by the core values of our mission. You have heard me say that we need to keep our priorities in mind as we make plans and take actions:

Enhancing academic excellence;
Identifying more efficient and effective practices;
Ensuring that the student experience is not compromised;
Keeping the College affordable for students;
And maintaining momentum on strategic initiatives.

These priorities continue to guide us today.

I have had many conversations lately with our students and heard them speak about their experience. And I continue to be impressed with their descriptions of the quality of their time at Saint Mary's. At recent receptions for admitted honors students, we moved our own students to the top of the agenda, because they are quite articulate about their educational, social, cultural and spiritual experiences. One told of her January Term class in the "Chemistry of Bread Baking;" another told of a Christian service class at San Miguel High School in Tucson. These students are great spokespersons about the good work you, the faculty and staff, are accomplishing in maintaining academic excellence and a quality experience.

I have also had conversations with students who feel less included, and especially with students who are finding great difficulty in affording Saint Mary's. Affordability remains perhaps our greatest challenge at this moment in our history. This topic encompasses both what our students can afford to cover the cost of their education, and conversely, what we can afford to provide by way of service to the students with limited resources.

This afternoon I would like to cover two areas with you: first, an update on where we stand with our budget and economic realities, and where we stand with strategic initiatives.

Our budget assumptions for the 2010-11 academic year include steady enrollment, but reduced income due to several factors. The most significant of these is the ability of our students and their families to fund higher education at levels they have in the past. And second is our level of financial aid we are committed to offer to continuing and new students, resulting in a lower net tuition per student.

As an institution, we will have to make difficult and painful choices in allocating our resources and expenses. Next year's reductions will be particularly challenging because they follow this year in which more than $2 million in permanent cuts have already been made. As I mentioned last month, the budget assumptions include a 3.7 percent reduction in the staff and faculty salary pools, and a modest increase from 2 to 3 percent in pension contribution and a 1 percent increase in health insurance. We anticipate a 2 percent decrease in non-salary expenses and modest expenses for strategic initiatives in such areas as the library, faculty development (including granting all approved sabbatical requests), alumni and advancement, and specific strategic projects.

As a community, we will also feel the pain of seeing areas and colleagues across campus being affected. People who have provided valuable service will be affected by reduction or termination. The decisions we have made and continue to make are primarily based on the needs of students and the directors, deans and other administrators realize the reductions are necessary. We expect to have all notifications of positions being reduced, changed or eliminated completed by March 19.

And now I want to turn to some of the current key strategic indicators about finance, enrollment, and other issues.

WASC: A small group from the College, including myself, Provost Beth Dobkin, Dean Tom Carter, and Associate Dean and Chair of the Graduate Council Chris Sindt met with the WASC Commission on Thursday, February 18, for an official review of our most recent report and the visit of last October. The meeting was informative for the WASC Commission and no issues of "concern" were raised, other than updates on our progress on previously identified issues. We expect to receive the official letter from WASC in the next two weeks. If there was an early indicator of how our report is being received, it was this: WASC asked if they could put our report on their website as a model report for others to consult. Thanks are due to the many faculty and staff who worked on the report and coordinated the visit.

Undergraduate Enrollment and Retention: Ninety-five new students enrolled at midyear, more than double last year's total of 41 and 22 percent higher than any previous year in College history. Clearly, our aggressive efforts to meet the needs of students struggling to gain access to higher education were successful. Total undergraduate midyear enrollment of 2,345 matches our budget target. Student retention remained at historical averages. The percent of first-time, full-time freshmen who were on academic probation this fall (2009) decreased from 14.81 percent in fall 2008 to 13.11 percent last fall (2009).

Undergraduate Admissions and Aid: The number and quality of undergraduate applicants for next fall enrollment are 20 percent higher than a year ago, with a 23 percent increase in students admitted with honors. These are positive signs. We expect a large group of honor's overnight students to visit campus in two weeks. This will be a great opportunity to make our case that Saint Mary's is the right place for them.

Our fall 2010 pricing and financial aid strategy calls for lower levels of aid for all needy students and a resulting reduction in yield on admitted candidates. Similar to our experience with mid-year enrollment, transfer applicants as of February 15 are up more than 61 percent (from 211 a year ago to 340 this year.) We are taking steps, such as targeted admission and yield activities, to take full advantage of this "boom" in transfer activity.

New Freshman Advising Cohort: Preliminary feedback from incoming freshmen indicates that students find it very valuable, appreciate the immediate connection with faculty and other students and have gathered information about the multiple campus resources available to them to help them succeed at SMC. While there are some recommendations (no homework for this class), the feedback is overwhelmingly positive.

High Potential Program Students: The cumulative GPA for our High Potential students after January Term 2010 are the highest averages in the past four years. The following are the percentage breakdowns: 42 percent above a 3.0; 32 percent between 2.51-2.999; 12 percent between 2.45-2.5; and 14 percent between 1.5-1.983.

Graduate and Professional Programs: Currently show a slight gap between targeted goals and actual enrollments due to a delayed start of one cohort in the MBA program, which should stabilize before the end of the fiscal year. Applications for programs in the School of Education are higher than anticipated, and graduate and professional programs overall are expected to have met annual enrollment targets before the end of the fiscal year.

SEBA Advisory Board: The new SEBA Advisory Board held its first meeting on February 19. This group of more than twenty has a rich and international composition and is eager to find ways to use its resources and expertise to assist SEBA in its curriculum, connectivity and impact in the local and global community.

Residence Hall Occupancy: Our spring term housing occupancy is at 95.33 percent as of February 16 (1,490 occupied bed spaces out of 1,563 bed spaces). This compares to a five-year average of 93.05 percent residence hall occupancy for the spring semester.

Operating Budget Update: Preliminary spring 2010 undergraduate enrollment numbers are relatively close to budgetary targets. Increased numbers of midyear undergraduate transfer students have helped offset lower than expected fall 2009 undergraduate enrollment. Spring 2010 enrollment in graduate and professional programs is also relatively close to budgetary targets. Therefore, no significant adjustments to the current year operating budget are anticipated based on these preliminary enrollment numbers.

Endowment Update: The market value of the endowment was $116.3 million as of January 31, 2010. This total represents a slight decrease from the December 31, 2009 market value of $117.5 million and reflects the decline in equity markets that occurred in January. This decline is in the process of reversing based on equity markets during the week of February 15, 2010. The Board of Trustees' Investment Committee met on February 16, 2010 to review endowment performance and the interim asset allocation adopted in November. They also agreed to leave the interim asset allocation in place and plan to further review asset allocation strategies that are linked to credit covenant compliance.

Advancement: As of January 31, 2010 annual giving (current use funds) is up 12 percent over the same period last year and 50 percent of the way to year-end goal. Gifts to date for scholarships almost equal the total for all of last year! Overall cash contributions to the College are also ahead of last year by 25 percent. While dollar amounts are doing well, the number of gifts from individual donors lags by 4 percent overall with alumni giving down 18 percent. We received a gift of $100,000 last week from a donor who said specifically, "Please use this for financial aid for students. I know they need it."

Strategic Directions

A variety of key efforts are under way, and have been for several years. I commend the work of the Core Curriculum Committee during the past three years, and encourage the Implementation Committee to move steadily to meet the timelines set out by the Academic Senate.

The CSPRA Committee for assessing the progress on the Strategic Plan has been helpful in keeping the existing committees on task. The Academic Blueprint Committee is one of these, and I urge your participation in the discussions of the academic strategic plans for the next five years.

The First Year Experience program is also a strategic effort that is showing promise. We look to improve our retention, student satisfaction and success rates as this program enters its second year and in successive years. Student success and retention are key factors in maintaining a sustainable and viable economic structure for the College.

Students are also seeking an experience which connects them to career opportunities, and providing these connections is also an opportunity and a challenge. We have a history of providing opportunities for service and work in the Lasallian world through our own community service programs, through CILSA, the Lasallian Volunteers, and the Lasallian Fellows Program. Students who come to us today are keenly interested in the values of these programs, and we need to make sure the opportunities continue to be available.

Another key strategic effort in maintaining a quality experience for faculty and staff will be the BOS task force for faculty salary review. The time to do that review, in a comprehensive and attentive manner is now. The current economic situation has required us to take financial steps which are painful in the present, but we have the opportunity and responsibility to look at our philosophy and principles of compensation in the light of our mission and values such as fairness, fiscal prudence and market competitiveness.

Our Comprehensive Campaign priorities and goals remain aggressive. These include enhancing scholarship and engagement through funding facilities such as the library and Information Commons, funding undergraduate and graduate student scholarship, endowed chairs, academic institutes and centers, and gathering support for Mission and Ministry, the arts, athletic facilities and scholarship. These are not all of the goals, but you can see that they are comprehensive.

I can report, too, that the series of faculty presentation to alumni and friends, "Inspiring Wonder," have been quite successful to this point and will be continued throughout the spring. So far, events have been held in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Denver and have been received enthusiastically.

As we continue our efforts at building a vibrant community arising from our Catholic, Lasallian and Liberal Arts traditions, I am thankful for all of your efforts, your commitment and your willingness to share your talents for the benefit of our students.

Your passion and commitment will continue to inspire our students. I can't imagine a better vision for Saint Mary's than being known as a College which discovers the spiritual depth and greatness in our students, which enables them to be articulate, critical thinkers, and which inspires a passion in them to work for the common good and change the world. We should be known as a place where we can apply the Catholic intellectual tradition to the needs of today as a "leaven in a society that seeks insight, example and inspiration even as it claims to be post-religion, post-church and post-Christianity." (Bishop Kevin Farrell, Origins, Vol 39, No. 11) We should also be known as a place where we can bring our tradition to bear on new questions, the cultures of today, and be willing to learn from them.

To conclude, I want to again make reference to Saint La Salle's exhortation to all of us: "Teach by example and put into practice what you want your students to believe."

I would like to thank you all for coming today. I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the College and your responses to this talk. You may post a comment on the website.

Brother President Ronald Gallagher