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Updates

Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 04/18/08

As we enter the final weeks of the semester, when we typically celebrate academic accomplishments of the current year, let me share with you some news about budget and enrollment that will shape the year(s) to come. In other words, this monthly report is particularly concerned with the future.

State Budget: On the whole, New Paltz came out pretty well in a very strange budget cycle. Overshadowing all deliberations was the struggling state economy. But discussions about budget cuts in response to the economic downturn were dramatically complicated by a gubernatorial transition. As a result, we moved from promises that SUNY might benefit from investments in higher education to staving off more draconian budget cuts.

The State University’s base operating budget was ultimately cut by 2.9 percent. We have not yet seen precise numbers from SUNY Central about the impact on New Paltz, but our current estimate is that we may face a cut of approximately $500,000-600,000 (this off base state support of $22 million). We will be able to absorb this, and we intend to do so without stopping the forward momentum that has characterized this college over the last several years. But obviously, this operating budget cut will slow the rate of our progress. For instance, it will not be possible to hire as many new colleagues as we’d like (we hope to gain some faculty lines through attrition created by retirements of senior faculty). We’ll consider other belt-tightening measures, and we’ll explore new revenue sources—or even dipping a bit into our reserves to help fill the gap. The looming concern, of course, is that the state might impose a mid-year budget cut and next year’s budget could be very problematic. Recall that unlike 2008, 2009 is not an election year!

On the capital side, though, New Paltz did extraordinarily well—garnering a disproportionate share (well, I don’t think it’s disproportionate!) of the money distributed to SUNY campuses for new construction. I am delighted to report that we received:

  • $12.8 million needed to fully fund all phases of a comprehensive renovation of the Sojourner Truth Library, and
  • $48 million for the construction of a new science building.

We also received $16.45 million for critical maintenance projects—the first installment of a new five-year capital plan that is slated to bring $82 million to New Paltz through 2013. This latter funding will enable us to implement Phase I of the recommendations that emerge from our Campus Facilities Planning Task Force (e.g., the proposed Mohonk Walk, the greening of the main academic concourse), to replace our obsolete swimming pool, construct a new police station, and to renovate Wooster.

Our success in securing this money would not have been possible without the leadership and commitment of our Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and our State Senator John Bonacic. You need to know that both of them pushed hard within their respective caucuses for New Paltz—and they delivered. If you see them or their staff, please join me in expressing our gratitude.

You may remember that SUNY’s last multi-year capital plan allocated only $33 million for New Paltz (fortunately, we were able to double that through effective lobbying). But with $143 million coming to us under the new plan, the college may need to augment staff in Purchasing and Facilities to complete these projects in the best way as soon as possible.

Construction: Since we are discussing capital, let me turn now to current construction activity. This week, we advertised for bids on the Old Main project; the Student Union Building addition is next in line. As you’ve heard me say before, between these two projects, the installation of air-conditioning in Humanities and JFT, and the high-temperature hot-water line replacements, this summer will see an exceptionally robust level of construction. Accordingly, your colleagues from facilities, student affairs, public affairs, academic affairs, information technology and admissions are already making smart plans about how to manage how the campus looks, feels and operates during this construction boom. Ensuring that all members of our community know what’s going on, know how to navigate around work sites and are able to get their work done despite the inconveniences will be at the center of these efforts.

Searches: The four finalists for Vice President for Finance and Administration will visit campus between April 24 and May 7. The search for a Dean of Liberal Arts & Sciences is also moving forward: all campus interviews have been completed and the Search Committee has made its recommendations to Provost Lavallee.

Accepted Students Day: I’d like to thank everyone involved in Accepted Students Day. Your presence made a real difference: we received a record 79 deposits. Participants saw firsthand what a talented class of incoming students we shall have this fall. Which leads neatly into a discussion about fall enrollment.

Fall Enrollment:  No one could have predicted the extent to which our “hotness” would translate into actual yield of incoming students (the percentage of students who accept our offer of admission), but this fall’s class is beginning to crystallize and I want to share our sense of how things look.  To date, we have 974 deposits for this fall’s freshman class—several hundred more than we typically have at this time of year.  The quality of the entering class is exceptional.  Perhaps most notably, it appears that our yield rate—the hardest admissions number to raise and a clear sign of market strength—may jump significantly. Last year yield was 19.2 percent, and with two weeks to go in the admissions cycle (the national enrollment deadline is May 1), we already stand at 18.5 percent. Each new deposit drives that number up further.

What happens if yield jumps 4-5 percent? Obviously, we’ll have a larger than anticipated freshman class. If we stay this popular, we may see 200-300 more freshmen this fall, even though we are not trying to grow our enrollment! Several factors have come together to put us in this position. For years now, we’ve had a strong market draw, evidenced by huge numbers of applications (recall that we stopped accepting students back in February). Second, our faculty, staff and students have done a terrific job of showcasing our strengths at recruitment events and by making individual contacts with prospective students.  Third, it does appear that our reputation was enhanced by the national rankings. Fourth, because we are targeting the best students—the ones with the most choices and thus the hardest to yield—our admissions office made a conscious decision to accept a modestly larger cohort than in previous years. Finally, the slowing national economy and the financial aid wars raging among wealthy institutions have left the admissions landscape especially murky and fluid this spring. But when you roll all of this together, so far the numbers demonstrate that more of the students we wanted are choosing us.

Undoubtedly you’re now thinking: “How would we manage a large influx of first-year students?” To begin with, we’re expecting a somewhat smaller transfer cohort. We’ll allow freshmen to defer their enrollment to the spring. We’ve looked at our classroom space and calculated that it will be sufficient. And we’ll triple more students in the residence halls—but because we will not be able to offer on-campus housing to transfer students, the tripling should not be excessive.

Most important, because any increase in enrollment translates into more tuition revenue, we’ll devote those extra dollars to providing for the extra students. If academic departments, residence life, dining services and other units need more resources, we will get you the help you need.

Even though the final enrollments are uncertain, the Vice Presidents and staff from student affairs and academic advising are developing contingency plans that equip us to meet the needs of this especially gifted class. The Provost will be speaking with the Dean’s Council about this Monday morning, and we’re seeking faculty guidance. We will need to ensure that we have enough sections of courses that typically enroll freshmen and we may need fewer upper division courses, at least initially, in this large cohort’s first two years on campus. Where we need to, we’ll add shadow sections and even full-time lecturers in high-demand subjects.

What we must avoid above all is bringing these students here but not delivering on the promise of educational quality we’ve made to them. I’m confident we won’t breach that commitment.

Commencement: The Graduate Ceremony begins will be on Friday, May 16, at 6 p.m. The Undergraduate Ceremony is on Sunday, May 18, at 10 a.m. when our speaker will be SUNY’s Interim Chancellor, Dr. John B. Clark. I hope as many of you as possible will participate in these events that are so meaningful to our students and their families.

Chancellor’s Awards and Other Recognition:  As is our custom, we’ll make a big deal out of this at Commencement, but you should know that three of your colleagues have won the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence:

  • Gerlinde Barley of the STL for Excellence in Librarianship;
  • Kit French of History for Excellence in Scholarship; and
  • Maureen Morrow of Biology for Excellence in Faculty Service.
I know you join me in saluting them. And speaking of well-deserved plaudits, let me close this month by congratulating our colleagues in the newly anointed #1 Metals/Jewelry program in the United States! We always knew that our Metals MFA program was superb; now the rest of the nation knows that it is a true jewel, too.