Strategic Directions and Institutional Planning

Dear Saint Mary’s Community Members,

Welcome back to campus. As we begin a new year, I would like to share some important updates regarding progress on our Strategic Plan and key initiatives for the coming year.

First, I am pleased to report that year-to-date gifts are tracking more than $3 million ahead of last year. This is wonderful momentum which will need to continue for the remainder of this fiscal year. Our workforce planning efforts, part of Goal 6 of the strategic plan, are on target to meet this fiscal year’s goal of saving $2 million. This is a tremendous accomplishment, and I am thankful for the efforts of the Saint Mary’s community in meeting this goal. Our institutional branding campaign, designed to build greater awareness and enhance the academic reputation of the College, launched in December. This campaign should help us meet the College’s enrollment and fundraising goals.

We are currently on track to meet our budget goals for the current fiscal year. As I indicated in my address to the SMC community last fall, remaining confident and excited about our future, and further realizing our strategic plan, will require us to make sound decisions, consistent with our Lasallian, Catholic, and liberal arts mission and based on available evidence about the higher education context and the needs of our students. Careful market analysis, changing demographics, concerns about college affordability, competition for undergraduate and graduate students, trends in our retention and graduation rates, and low regional unemployment rates have all informed our enrollment, financial aid, and revenue projections for the coming years. Consistent with our concern for student needs, the Board of Trustees approved increased financial aid for new undergraduates and a tuition and fee increase of less than 3% for 2017-18. We are projecting a new, first-year undergraduate population of 615 students, and 160 transfer students. Graduate student enrollments are expected to remain constant, with lower enrollments in more traditional, higher tuition programs and higher enrollments in newer programs. At the same time that enrollments have stabilized, expenses have risen.

In order to remain competitive in this challenging environment of higher education in the years ahead, we need to rethink some of our longstanding practices; maximize our opportunities for innovations, modernization, and creative efficiencies; and realign our resources to support the initiatives in our strategic plan. In the coming weeks and months, we will be looking at all College cost centers. We know we need to find efficiencies throughout our operations; some of this has already begun. Because of the timing of undergraduate course scheduling for 2017-18, we have reduced course offerings to better align with our current and projected enrollments. We have also engaged in expense reductions and workforce planning to close the gaps between expected revenues and costs. However, more still needs to be done.

Toward that end, I am asking the entire College community to consider how we might maintain our distinctive mission and academic excellence with the challenges we face. Beginning next week, I have asked our new Vice President for Finance and Administration, Susan Wallace, to take the lead in working with Sibson Consulting to assist us with interviews of faculty, staff, students, and administrators regarding opportunities for innovation and efficiency. They will provide an objective report to assist in our analysis of the options presented to us.

I will continue to share information with the Saint Mary’s community about our efforts. In the meantime, know that I greatly appreciate the important contributions of all of our faculty and staff in providing a remarkable educational experience for our students.

James Donahue