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Presidential Reports and Communications

President’s Report
Academic and Professional Faculty Meeting
January 25, 2013

Happy New Year, and welcome to the start of spring semester 2013!  I wish everyone a productive, engaging, and enjoyable second half of the academic year.  I am continuing the practice of a January report that I started last year – to avoid a two-month gap between the last report of 2012 and the first of the spring semester.  Much has transpired since early December, and I ask your patience with a long report.

Remembering a Colleague. We were saddened by the death of faculty member Norbert Hellmann on campus earlier this month. Authorities have determined that he died of natural causes. Norbert had been an adjunct faculty member/lecturer in the Haggerty English Language Program and in the former Language Immersion Institute, serving the New Paltz campus and our students since 1986.  As I shared in an earlier campus announcement, Norbert was deeply devoted to his work with international students, serving as an advisor, introducing them to cultural and natural features of the Hudson Valley, and developing and implementing programs to strengthen their public speaking skills.  He is sorely missed by his many colleagues across campus, especially in the Haggerty Program and the Center for International Programs, who are planning a memorial service after the semester begins.

Kiplinger’s Guide.   New Paltz joins nine other SUNY comprehensive colleges and university centers in the Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine’s ranking of the top 100 “best values” in public higher education.  New Paltz ranked #44 this year.  This is up from last year’s ranking of #55, although we should hesitate to put too much stock in the improved ranking, as it has see-sawed since we first were included in this ranking in 2009, when we ranked #78.  Irrespective of our specific ranking, we should be proud of the combination of high quality and low cost that led to this recognition from among more than 500 public colleges and universities considered.  Consistent with the analysis I shared with you in the fall, four other SUNY campuses included in the ranking have 4-year graduation rates higher than ours, and five campuses are close behind us.  We have room for improvement in this key measure of our effectiveness.

State and National Conversations about Higher Education.  We focus much of our attention on successful teaching, learning, scholarship, service, and managing our institution.  But it is also important for us to consider larger issues that affect our work and our future – and to which we must be responsive in our planning.  The American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), a 425-member organization of which New Paltz is a member, provides an annual brief on the top state policy issues for higher education in the coming year.  AASCU released its 2013 “Policy Matters” report on January 9.  Here is the Inside Higher Ed news report on the brief:

For the first time in six years, state support for higher education did not top the American Association of State Colleges and Universities' annual list of top 10 higher education state policy issues. This year the top spot went to "Boosting Institutional Performance," which includes efforts to increase graduation rates, performance-funding policies, and alignment with state goals.

The shift, while subjective, is a reflection of both the increased emphasis on tying funding to outcomes and the understanding among higher education officials that state funding is not likely to return to pre-recession levels. "The adjustment in rankings is based on the broadening acceptance that state reinvestment in public higher education will be slow in coming -- and institutions must readjust both their operations and revenue mix accordingly," the report states.

Other relevant passages from the report itself include:

  • The prevailing theme for state higher education policy in 2013 will be… aimed at boosting measures of college affordability, productivity, and student success.
  • …increasing college graduation rates and overall degree production.
  • …the longstanding absence of additional state investment and new economic realities that beckon the need for better performance on measures of institutional productivity and student success.
  • Public colleges and universities will continue to operate in a fiscally-challenged environment…state budgets will continue to face short- and long-term structural imbalances…

Last week, Moody’s Investors Services issued a report on near-future financing for all sectors of higher education.  As reported in Inside Higher Ed (IHE), the agency assessed that “every traditional revenue stream for colleges and universities is facing some sort of pressure” … “The pressure on all revenue streams is the result of macro-level economic, technological and public opinion shifts, the report states, noting that these changes are largely beyond the control of institutions. Moody's analysts caution that revenue streams will never flow as robustly as they did before 2008.”   Again from IHE, “The major revenue constraints the report details are attributed to larger changes in the economic landscape, including lower household incomes, an uncertain economic and federal government picture, a decline in the number of high school graduates, the emergence of new technologies and a growing interest in getting the most value out of a college education -- particularly as it pertains to employment after graduation (my emphasis added).

These messages are not new to us, as they reflect issues that we have been reporting and discussing for some time.  The challenges and expectations identified in the AASCU report must be central to our planning at the institutional and unit level.  I believe it is not stated often enough that our responses must ensure educational quality and outcomes that prepare students to be successful in a complex world (witness one of our “institutional promises:” A DEGREE…AND AN EDUCATION”).  Graduating is not enough.  I am pleased to see the Chancellor’s priorities reflect these same values, as noted below.

While our institutional finances are sound (see below), the financial concerns laid out in the Moody’s report provide a sober context for our thinking about the near future.

Governor’s Executive Budget.  Governor Cuomo released his Executive Budget earlier this week.  However, the state budget is not final until acted upon by the Legislature.  For our planning, we hope that the budget will be approved by the statutory April 1 deadline.  The Governor’s budget addresses a $1.3 billion revenue shortfall and limits spending increases.  The budget would provide flat funding for state-operated campuses like New Paltz, reflecting what some refer to as “maintenance of effort”  -- certainly good news compared with other years when we have been cut.  No funds are provided for contractual increases, meaning that inflationary costs and any increased salary costs tied to collective bargaining agreements will be paid out of campus reserves.  The budget includes spending authority for a $300 increase in undergraduate tuition, the third year of the five-year rational tuition plan.  This is more good news, tempered by the caution that the tuition increase is not set in stone, even though it has the Governor’s support.

The Governor is recommending an increase in minimum wage from $7.25 to $8.75, which has implications for our student employee budgets and financial aid that we will begin to plan for immediately.   

The recommended allocation of funding for capital construction and renovation is not clear at this time, and we are concerned that future new construction of state-funded buildings will be put on hold (funds for our new science building and renovations of Wooster and STL are secure). The budget includes language to remove residence hall bonding from general state bonding caps. This good news means we can move ahead with our planned new residence hall between Lenape Hall and the Athletic and Wellness Center. (see below).  

The possibility of severe reduction in capital investment is related to the reality that the state, one of the most heavily indebted in the nation, is approaching its statutory limits on total bonding, limiting the new bonds it can issue. It is important to reinforce a point that is often confusing to students and others:  the funds used for major construction and renovation are bonded monies, dedicated to those purposes and paid off over decades.  These funds are not available for supporting academic or student life programs and needs. 

State of the University Address. In her State of the University address last week, Chancellor Zimpher laid out a guiding philosophy for her 2013 priorities for SUNY as well as several specific actions; her message reflects the tone of the AASCU report noted above.  She introduced her comments by rejecting the notion some have pushed that a college degree may not be worth the cost. She cited the absurdity that this question has gotten such wings while so many smart people are pushing an agenda of increasing rates of college completion.  She quoted Vivek Wadha: “Students, you are probably not Mark Zuckerberg, so stay in school."

At the same time the Chancellor argues that a low-cost, high-quality college education is the best investment our nation can make; she believes that higher education has to do a better job of “keeping costs down and providing our students with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in college and career. And we need to remain focused on graduating competitive, employable students that meet state and national workforce demands.”

The Chancellor’s agenda highlighted  access and college completion, and the goals of providing a “high-caliber, student-centered model of education” that ensures students leave campus having had the experiences and opportunities to give them an edge in their lives and careers, bringing immediately to mind the New Paltz “institutional promise” noted above of “a degree…and an education.”

She outlined several priority initiatives for 2013 and her expectation that SUNY campuses and their leadership will work to fulfill them:

  • Open SUNY:  online programs, especially those meeting workforce needs
  • SUNY Smart Track:  to be adopted by all campuses by fall 2014, new financial aid information and guidance that will decrease student loan indebtedness and debt default
  • Three-year bachelor’s degree programs, relying heavily on online offerings
  • SUNY Plus Diploma Designation:  a co-curricular transcript, paralleling those already adopted by New Paltz and several other SUNY campuses
  • SUNY Innovation Hubs:  one in each economic development region, to focus on research, academic and workforce training, and economic development
  • Common Data Systems:  to increase efficiency, support sound decision-making, and enhance transfer student success

Strategic Plan Update.  Since the strategic planning Steering Committee last updated you in December, they have developed and revised several drafts of the plan. Their work was based on the outcomes of the day-long planning retreat in early November that involved nearly 70 members of the College community. Important directions of the planning retreat were derived from conversations that our consultant had with about 100 members of the community earlier in the fall.

The Cabinet and I received a draft of the plan in early January, and have provided feedback to the Committee.  The Committee is now developing another version to share with the campus community during spring semester.  The aim is to refine and revise the draft through several iterations based on campus feedback, and then to present a draft for my review and final acceptance before the spring semester ends. I encourage you to review the draft plan when it becomes available and provide input.  The plan will identify a small number of priorities for improving the College and our effectiveness during the next 3-5 years, along with key metrics and a “dashboard” so that we can track our progress on these goals.  Our plan must support the priorities of the Chancellor as outlined in her State of the University address, and at some point in our spring-semester process we must align our initiatives in the best ways that we can.

Vice President Searches.  The search for a Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations is advancing.  Witt Kieffer won the bid to be the search firm and the consultants met last week with various groups and individuals to learn more about priorities and needs for this position.  Chief of Staff/AVP for Communication Shelly Wright is chairing the search committee, which includes chair Patrick Doulin and Michael Keegan of the College’s Foundation Board, Dr. Hadi Salavitabar dean, School of Business, Tanhena Pacheco Dunn, Executive Director for Compliance and Campus Climate, Dr. Nancy Kassop, professor, political science, Denise Kennedy-Shane, alumna and the College’s director of annual gifts, and Mark Kalish, alumnus, former Foundation Board Chairman, and a fundraising consultant with 30 years of fund-raising and nonprofit experience.  We anticipate the position announcement will be posted by the end of January.  My aim is to fill this position by late spring.

Provost/VPAA Phil Mauceri is chairing the search committee for a new Vice President for Administration and Finance.  The search committee (which includes Dr. Gerald Benjamin, Director of CRREO and Distinguished Professor, Julie Chiarito, financial analyst, Institutional Research and Planning, Dr. Daniel Freedman, dean, School of Science and Engineering, Dr. Ken Goldstein, assistant professor, theatre arts, and chair, Budget, Goals and Plans Committee, Douglas Hanley, EAP coordinator and Utilities Shop, Facilities Operations,  Rosemarie LaTourette, director of Accounting Services, Harriet Lettis, director of Administrative Computing, Julie Majak, AVP for research administration and director of Facilities Finance and Administration, L. David Rooney, vice president for Student Affairs, and Nisi Udoh, MBA graduate student) has been charged, and is beginning the process of securing a search consultant and defining the position and its requirements. Our goal is to have a new VP on board during the summer.

Sustainability Report.   As I shared last month, I received the draft Campus Sustainability Plan from the Sustainability Committee in late November.  I approved this plan, and it is being reformatted for submission to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment.  We will soon undertake the study to inform our second “Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report.”  I will share my thoughts with the Sustainability Committee about other important directions and initiatives to support our long-term sustainability goals, including curriculum development to educate all of our students about sustainable living.  The Cabinet has approved a request from the Sustainability Committee to provide year-round indoor space for the farmer’s market, with details remaining to be specified.

Enrollment and Student Recruitment. To support our student-recruitment efforts, we have invested in additional advertising in rankings publications (both print and online) and on Long Island, and have supported recruitment efforts in Fine and Performing Arts and the Graduate School.  These included a print ad in the very last print edition of Newsweek!  We hear from friends and alumni that these ads – featuring an image of the Student Union Building Atrium – are attracting considerable attention. We have also hired a consultant to assess our admissions direct marketing activities and continue to make improvements to our website, including the addition of a new virtual tour of campus.

Our spring semester undergraduate enrollment is comparable to last year – heartening, given my earlier comments about how our funding will be even more reliant on enrollment success.  Although the number of new transfer students joining us this semester is down from last year, we have still exceeded our target numbers for new transfers.  In last January’s report, I shared the encouraging news that spring-semester graduate enrollments were even with the previous year.  Unfortunately, the number of enrolled graduate students has dropped substantially this spring.  As the Provost has reported to you, Graduate Dean Laurel M. Garrick Duhaney is evaluating graduate programs to inform decisions that we must make about the future of the Graduate School, with options ranging from program elimination/resource reallocation to more forceful efforts to spur instructional formats (i.e., online and hybrid) that will be attractive to prospective students. 

Our transfer application numbers for fall 2013 are lagging behind last year, although it is too early to call this a trend.  We have more applications for first-year admission than any other comprehensive-sector campus, and have accepted more students than at the same time last year.  As of January 23, we were one of only four comprehensive campuses that received more applications for first-year admission than last year.  The number of applications to the entire SUNY system is down by 1.3%, to the comprehensive sector by 1.9%, and to the technology sector by 1.3%; only the university centers have seen an overall increase in application numbers (+5.1%).  It must catch our attention that application numbers are down by 4% or more at five of 12 comprehensive campuses and at three of eight technology campuses.

I have been writing to you about declining numbers of high school graduates in New York and about possible impacts of declining college affordability, even with the low cost of SUNY tuition.  While our campus is doing well financially, the apparent stresses throughout the system should alert us that these broader concerns and constraints are very real.  Early signs are positive that New Paltz will reach our fall target of 1,150 first-year students, but lagging numbers of transfer applications and the overall declines in application numbers across SUNY reinforce the volatility and uncertainty of our recruitment environment, and the likely intense competition for students.  Because it is so easy for students to apply to multiple campuses, our strong application numbers are not a very compelling predictor of recruitment success.  Our primary challenge is to yield the number and quality of first-year and transfer students from the accepted applicants.  Along with expanding our marketing and advertising, we have invested additional resources in financial aid that we believe will help with our recruitment.

Personalized and direct contact from faculty and department chairs to accepted students is increasingly important.  Hearing from professors and departments about our offerings and our distinctiveness makes a real difference in where prospective students choose to attend college.  In the next few weeks, departments will receive lists of accepted students along with suggestions for reaching out to them. I ask that each department undertake these efforts, as well as participating in the two Accepted Students Open Houses that we are hosting this year (March 16 and April 13).  I thank you in advance for your partnership with the Admissions staff in recruiting the incoming class we seek.

Construction Updates.   The Wooster renovation is proceeding well, and we remain on schedule for an anticipated fall 2015 occupancy.  This month, several stairwells have been removed from the east and west ends – dramatically expanding the view from the Excelsior Concourse onto the Old Main Quad.  The new parking lot by Lenape Hall and the expanded parking lot on Route 32 are now available for use.  Bids will be let soon on the new science building, and we expect to break ground in April with a target move-in date of spring semester 2016.    

The library renovation is progressing, with work on the “Lower East Side” scheduled to be completed this spring, and that on the main floor of the library (the primary focus of the project) beginning just after the semester ends.  The project will incur additional costs from initial estimates (which probably were unrealistically conservative).  These costs will be covered by construction funds remaining in the current (2008-2013) capital allocation, without impinging on other projects scheduled for this time period (e.g., planning for the Elting renovation).  The increased costs of the library renovation are driven primarily by the need to address conditions such as aging and deteriorating materials and surfaces that could not be foreseen when the project was initially planned.  The configuration and layout of library spaces will be as specified in the original design. 

We continue our planning for a new residence hall between the AWC and Lenape Hall and for the renovation of LeFevre Hall, the next Hasbrouck complex residence hall scheduled for wholesale upgrade.  As noted above, the Governor’s budget opens the door for these residence hall projects to proceed, by isolating residence hall bonding from other state bond indebtedness. 

Park Point. The New Paltz Town Planning Board held the final meeting of its public hearing process on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Park Point housing project on January 14.  I submitted a written response about the College perspective on some of the questions of interest and assertions made during earlier hearings.  Our Facilities staff and the developer are refining details of the “connector” route between Park Point and the campus, which has been of interest in the project because of implications for minimizing traffic from Park Point onto Route 32.  While the connector route will allow vehicular traffic, we hope to encourage pedestrian and bicycle travel and limit vehicular use to emergencies. We will share further information about the status and progress of Park Point as it is known.  In the meantime, I read regularly about other SUNY campuses, including community colleges, planning or completing new student housing projects, typically with the stated rationale that such housing is critical for their ability to recruit students.  Park Point and our planned new residence hall are equally critical to our future.

Best wishes for a productive spring semester.

Donald P. Christian
President