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Updates

Faculty and Professional Staff Meeting President's Report 02/15/08

It’s been more than two months since my last report in December. With the intercession behind us and the new semester well under way, I have several significant items to share.

Faculty Hires:  The Provost tells me he is extremely pleased with the high quality of the candidates circling through as part of our fall 2008 hiring cycle.  Of the 33 searches launched last fall, five have successfully concluded; there are four pending offers to candidates; and in three other searches we have completed campus interviews and the dean and provost await faculty recommendations.  The next few weeks are packed with dozens more on-campus interviews—which is good news for local restaurants and hotels (and points out again the potential value of a campus guest house!)

Use of Part-time Faculty:  As you know, one of the reasons why hiring new faculty is so important is our need to reduce our over-reliance on part-time faculty.  We must have more full-time faculty teach our introductory major courses and key general education courses.  You’ll recall from my last State of the College speech that we’ve developed a standard metric to track the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts, and that in our base year of fall 2006, an unacceptably high 37% of our courses were taught by adjuncts.  We now have comparable fall 2007 data.  I am pleased to report that the percentage of courses taught by adjuncts dropped to 34%, meaning that two-thirds of our instruction is now offered by full-time faculty.   

Enrollment:  As we expected, given our positive national rankings, we’ve already received 13,157 freshman applications for fall '08—up 16.2% from this time last year and 24% higher than 2006.  Because the applicant pool is deep, offers of admission are up by over 100% compared to a year ago, and—most important—we have already received 257 deposits for the fall (compared to 46 in February 2007).  We would be delighted if this portends an increase in New Paltz’s yield rate (the percentage of admitted students who actually enroll).  Transfer applications are about even with last year at 1,284 (1,287 in '07). Applicant quality here is also robust, reflecting increased awareness that our transfer admission standards have become more rigorous.  It’s worth noting that our targets for fall '08 are 1,050 freshmen and 600 transfers.

Even as we work through the heart of the 2008 recruitment cycle, we’re making plans for 2009.  To this end, New Paltz has joined the Common Application, a nationwide standardized application service that allows students to apply to by mail or online to 300 member universities—ranging from Harvard to SUNY peers like Binghamton and Geneseo to places I’ve never heard of.  We believe that participating in the Common App is a forward-looking step that will make it easier for more good students to apply to New Paltz.  As an added bonus, we’ll also get to keep a slice of students’ application fees (SUNY System doesn’t allow campuses to share in the revenue from the SUNY-specific application).

One last point about enrollments.  We expect to have a head count of approximately 7,400 this semester, basically steady state from last spring.  We should make our revenue targets.

Commission Report:  The Governor’s Commission on Higher Education has released its draft report.  The document makes a powerful case for bold and sustained investment in SUNY and CUNY.  Of potential interest to New Paltz are the call to hire 1,000 new SUNY faculty and support for a rational and flexible multi-year tuition plan.  While the report is envisioned as a guiding document for SUNY’s next decade, as I’ll explain in just a minute, there is a rather large gap between the soaring rhetoric of this document (which can be found at http://www.hecommission.state.ny.us/) and New York’s current fiscal and political reality.

So let’s talk for a while today about money, starting with….

Federal Appropriations:  I have good news about our federal earmarks, both of which were languishing in “Appropriation Limbo” at the time of my last report.  The final omnibus budget bill signed by the President included $433,000 for our campus:

  • $143,000 for the Dorsky Museum to mount an exhibition of Hudson River School paintings during the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage.
  • $290,000 in start-up funds for our Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach.

These are only the second and third federal earmarks in the college’s history (our first came in 2005), and we were the only SUNY college to receive multiple earmarks.  Needless to say, we are grateful to Senators Schumer and Clinton and Congressman Hinchey for their support.

Fundraising: We ended our 2007 fundraising on a high note, especially for the Dorsky Museum.  President-emerita Alice Chandler and her husband Horace have pledged $100,000 to endow an acquisition fund for the Museum; further, we’ve almost met our $500,000 goal to endow the directorship of the Museum in honor of Neil Trager, who is retiring.

Economic Impact Statement:  In January, I held a press conference to share the results of our latest Economic Impact Statement.  Our data demonstrate that the college contributes almost one-quarter of a billion dollars each year to the Hudson Valley economy ($274 million) through employee salaries, purchases of goods and services, student spending on items like room and board, and spending by visitors to campus. At a future faculty meeting, I’d like to share some of the highlights from this study—but if you’re eager to learn more right now, please go to www.newpaltz.edu/makinganimpact.  I will also take this presentation “on the road” to regional chambers of commerce and other public venues to raise the local citizenry’s appreciation of our monetary, cultural and intellectual impact.  The better our neighbors understand what a stupendous asset we are to the Hudson Valley, the more enthusiastically they’ll support our push for academic quality and the more aggressively they’ll urge our elected leaders to support the State University and New Paltz.  Which leads neatly into an update on the….

State Budget:  The Governor has proposed his budget for FY09, and—no surprise, given the struggling state economy—it is not particularly good for SUNY.  It was encouraging to see the recently-negotiated salary increases covered in the budget (though not in SUNY’s base, which might create problems in out years).  But aside from this, SUNY did not get much of what it wanted.   For instance, while the SUNY Board proposed a modest 5% tuition hike, in a hotly-contested election year the political leadership of both parties apparently views tuition as an avoidable hot potato—thereby eliminating yet again our most obvious new revenue stream (tuition hasn’t risen since 2003).  And even with flat tuition, legislative and executive opposition to fee increases is unabated.  This is particularly disadvantageous to New Paltz, which in my view unwisely insisted upon keeping its fees lower than our SUNY peers for many years.  Because of our relatively lower base, SUNY’s across-the-board percentage limits on fee increases hobble us more than other comprehensive colleges. 

The worst news in the budget is a proposed 2.5% cut in SUNY operating funds (approximately $30 million across all state-run campuses).  But here’s where things get complicated.  This proposed cut is off a “base” budget that includes a 3% inflationary increase in some types of spending over FY08 levels.  Will our campus face a reduction from 07-08 budget levels?  Or is this essentially a wash that would leave us with a flat budget (except for salary increases)?  Frankly, we don’t know yet.  We eagerly await financial models with campus-specific numbers from System.  But in the interim, as always, we shall plan and spend conservatively to avoid falling off future fiscal cliffs.  We do not want to lose sight of our primary operating budget goal of growing our full-time, tenure-track faculty.

The capital budget forecast is considerably brighter.  Under a proposed new five-year SUNY capital plan, funding would for the first time be divided into separate pots of money for “critical maintenance” and “strategic initiatives.”  System’s distribution formula would channel $82 million in critical maintenance dollars to New Paltz over the next five years, or $16 million per annum.  This sum would let us continue to renovate older buildings, redress crumbling or outmoded infrastructure (e.g., our electrical distribution system) and cover the first phase of the operational, aesthetic and environmental improvements recommended by our Campus Facilities Planning Task Force.  The Governor is also proposing a $1.6 billion pot for strategic initiatives across all SUNY.  It is unclear what portion of that funding would come to New Paltz.  As I’ve said before, our top priorities are a new science building (est. cost $48 million) and the library renovation project (est. cost $12.8 million).  Whether both, one—or none—of these projects would be funded out of the “strategic initiative” pot is unclear.

Finally, the Governor is proposing legislation that would give campuses more flexibility in procurement, reducing the amount of time and hassle it takes to get contracts approved.

Given all of the above, in the coming weeks we shall urge our legislators to restore the 2.5% cut, to approve of the flexibility legislation, and especially to craft a capital plan that includes funding for our library and science building.

College Council:  Unfortunately, our long-time College Council Chair, Harry Scherr, passed away on December 21 after a long illness. Harry was a stalwart advocate for SUNY New Paltz from the time he joined the Council in 1996, and he worked assiduously to help us enhance the college’s reputation throughout the Hudson Valley.  We shall miss his devotion.

In light of this vacancy, SUNY System asked me to designate a current member of the Council to serve as Interim Chair until the Governor makes a permanent appointment.  Accordingly, it is with great pleasure that I can confirm that Bythema Bagley of New Paltz, a retired school administrator—and proud New Paltz alumna—has agreed to take on this responsibility.  Bythema, who joined the Council in 1992, is our longest-serving Council member and a person of enormous probity and intelligence.

Let me close for this month with some unequivocally good news about student retention and graduation.

Retention and Graduation Rates:  You’ve heard me say on many previous occasions that our retention and graduation rates are important measures of how well we prepare students for their lives and careers—and that our graduation rates in particular are too low.  But we have been making progress, and our latest figures show another meaningful jump in our performance. 

For fall 2007, our freshman retention rate (the percentage of first-year students who returned for their second year) reached an all-time high of 85.9%.  This figure was 80.7% seven years ago, and many of you will recall rates in the 70-percent range before we made a conscious push to improve retention in the late 1990s.

Even more exciting, following our December commencements we have attained what we believe are the best graduation rates in recent college memory, setting new high marks across the board:

  • Our latest four-year graduation rate (for the class entering in Fall 2003) is 45.3%, up from 42.4% the previous year and 35.2% the year before that;
  • Our latest five-year graduation rate (for the class entering in Fall 2002) is 65.6%, compared to 62% the previous year and 55.5% the year before that; and
  • Our latest six-year graduation rate (for the class entering in Fall 2001) is 65.5%, compared to 59.3% the previous year and 63.2% the year before that.

Our improving graduation rates reflect enhanced student quality, more rigorous expectations about progress-to-degree, and improvements in academic advising.  So let’s pat ourselves on the back even as we pledge to make further progress.

And if your schedule permits, try to come out and support our men’s and women’s basketball teams.  Our women’s squad is 10-3 in the league and tied for 1st place in the Eastern Division of SUNYAC.  The teams play at home against Oneonta on the 23rd!