Elmhurst College: College Advances on Strategic Plan Goals

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College Advances on Strategic Plan Goals

As many of you know by now, I am a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, and Cherokees welcome people by saying osiyo nigadah—welcome everyone—to Elmhurst College. I would like to extend a warm greeting to all of our friends joining us from throughout the city and its many religious and community organizations, as well as our distinguished public servants from municipal and state governments. I would like especially to recognize the following individuals, and ask if you would stand when I call your name and remain standing. We have with us the mayor of Elmhurst who is an Elmhurst College alumnus, Pete Dicianni; Representative Bob Biggins, Senator Carole Pankau; and former state representative and speaker of the house, Lee Daniels, who is also a member of our Political Science Department. It’s so good to see all of you.

A special welcome is also due to the members of Elmhurst: College & Community, for their long years of steady support. Would chairperson Charlotte Mushow and all members of E:C&C rise? We also have a number of the College’s trustees with us today. Please stand when I call your name. Would you welcome trustees Wes Becton, Larry Braskamp, Jack Cashman, Joel Herter, Bud Lenahan, Hugh McLean, Ed Momkus, Hal Pendexter, and Eva Tameling, and trustee emeritus Charles Mayer? We could not have enjoyed this morning together without the work of our logistics wizard, Peggy Stanko, and the wonderful crew from Chartwells, our food service company. Please give them your thanks. And to all our faculty, staff and administrators, especially the talented and dedicated members of my Cabinet, thank you for all you have done and will do this year, to continue to make our beloved institution the premiere liberal education college in Chicagoland.

The Economic Environment

In preparing for this event, I went back to my remarks of a year ago. Happily, I found that the initiatives of the College I described to you then, emerging from our about-to-be-approved Strategic Plan, are all on track today and moving forward. I will talk about those in a moment. Less happily, however, some other things have not changed. Specifically, the economic environment that I euphemistically described last year as “challenging” remains so. In January 2010 national payroll employment was essentially unchanged. Employment fell in construction and in transportation and warehousing. Things were worse in Illinois. In our state, some 16,300 jobs were lost in December. Against a national unemployment rate of 10% in December, Illinois posted 11%. Ominously, this represents a growth in unemployment for Illinois of just over 3% in one year. Nationally, new housing starts in January were at their lowest in years. In Illinois, one out of 291 households is now in foreclosure, making us 8th in the nation in home foreclosures.

One effect of unemployment and foreclosures, not surprisingly, is an increase in poverty, but here the picture may be surprising. Beginning in 2005, for the first time in the United States, there were more people living in poverty in the suburbs than in our major cities. This shift of the location of poverty, from city to suburb, is reflected in DuPage County, where today more than 15% of our population lives either below the federal poverty level or just above it, in the stratum of the working poor. Unlike poverty in the inner city, poverty in our midst hides among the signs of affluence, but it’s there, and you can find it in the increased number of families seeking food and clothing from our local churches and other religious and social service organizations, and sadly, in the rise of women who with their families turn to shelters when domestic violence, born of many factors but often triggered by the breadwinner’s job-loss, shatters the family and drives its members into poverty.

The middle class today is indeed fragile, as bankruptcy scholar Elizabeth Warren has said, and more and more we are seeing the fragile middle class find its stress points and fracture under the weight of an economy that has no wings, no upward motion, no lift. Statistics and images could be multiplied, but the point is made. Though economists tell us a recovery that will alleviate unemployment is just around the bend, today’s macroeconomic environment remains simply hostile to the American dream of meaningful, reliable labor; a home of one’s own; adequate and affordable health care; and higher education for one’s children.
 

The Need for MAP Funding

The impact of the economic environment on higher education in Illinois, and for Illinois, near-term and long-term, is literally incalculable. State funding for higher education after spring 2010 through the so-called Monetary Award Program, or “MAP,” a longstanding, need-based, state resident grant program aimed at assisting some of Illinois’s poorest college students, remains uncertain. At stake is nothing less that the future of our children and the quality of our society—especially our Illinois communities. For if state funds are not forthcoming next year, an estimated 10% of students in our college alone could drop out.

For the College to provide funding equivalent to the MAP grants our students receive would cost us $4 million a year—an amount we simply cannot afford without eliminating core faculty, staff and services, or dramatically escalating our tuition rates; in short, without putting ourselves out of business. The example of Elmhurst College can be multiplied by every institution of higher education, public and private, in the state. And make no mistake: private colleges and universities also serve the public good, by relieving strain on publicly-funded community colleges and four-year institutions and by producing year in and year out many of the most highly skilled nurses, educators, and business-people who serve our state, to take but three examples of professional fields that are central to Elmhurst College. I know that politics proceeds by its own logic at its own pace, and I am very aware that we have great and good friends in the Illinois House and Senate, to whom I am most grateful, and several of them are here today. However, we are once again approaching the breach, when MAP funding must be secured. I therefore appeal to our friends in the Springfield legislature to make MAP funding for 2010-11, and after, a priority now. Let’s keep our children in college and let’s keep Illinois moving into an educated and productive future.

The College's Strategic Future

Let me turn to the situation at Elmhurst College. Despite our hazardous economic climate, Elmhurst is not standing still. Far from it. This year we enrolled 584 new first-year students, compared with 586 the year before—a record high for us. As we look out at 2010-11, we see applications running slightly below 2009-10, but completed applications—a sign of real seriousness in a campus—running higher. We also see transfer student applications significantly up—no doubt a reflection of the appeal of our Nursing program and other professional programs. Our challenges will be to bring in an entering class that is on a par with the previous two years; to do so without breaking the bank in financial aid; to preserve and advance our strategic goals of increasing the number of students from underrepresented groups, especially ethnic minorities, and incrementally making the Elmhurst Experience available to more students from outside Illinois.

 We will also be challenged to secure pay increases for faculty and staff, while continuing to keep the brakes on new administrative expenses and cutting costs wherever we can without damaging our mission. And, we must advance the many other goals of our new Strategic Plan. How are we realizing those goals this year? You may recall that the Plan calls for us to accomplish or initiate certain things each year for the next five years. This year we are starting to implement our new program of General Education. We are developing new
opportunities for students’ early professional preparation through academic departments and our three centers. We are expanding the College’s summer program to offer more robust, market-driven courses and create a new, reliable stream of College revenue. We are studying how to improve our programs aimed at nontraditional students and graduate students, to make the best programs stronger, and open a path for new programs that are nimble and market-driven.

Inspired to offer quality academic programming and driven to be able to know what works and what does not, we are creating a procedure for the systematic review of all of our academic programs. And we are doing the same for our non-academic programs in student affairs. All programs will be reviewed on a five-year basis. If something isn’t working, we’ll change it. If it is working, we’ll strengthen it. There will be close accountability all around, starting with me and my performance. If this sounds like I’m running a business, it’s because I am. Higher education in this country has always been a business. Bricks and mortar, salaries, revenue, marketing: strip away the ivy and you’ll find it all there. We love our students, we are committed to a distinctively non-profit model that is rooted in community, learning, and service. But we’re also a business. Our current recession has only made all of us more aware of it.


In the same vein of assessment, we are finding new ways of determining whether our students are growing in their knowledge. It’s easy to give a final exam in a course, but harder to know whether course upon course, our students are building intellectual skills, growing in judgment, or becoming more conscientious citizens throughout their college careers and as a result of them.
Creating ways to assess student outcomes, therefore, is high on our list this year. We have created a working group to explore online learning possibilities as part of a larger technology planning process, and we await their report this spring. Online learning is not a panacea for revenue-raising, and is in fact expensive, but it may well have a greater role to play at Elmhurst College.

We are also extremely attentive to the needs of our current students. I am pleased to inform you that as of this week, the College has a new enrollment management plan that links goals for enrollment with admission priorities. And, we have a new student retention team made up of seasoned administrators from across campus. It will bring fresh ideas and energy to bear on how we can help all of our students become successful learners and thus retain them in our College community from year 1 to graduation.


The Strategic Plan also requires us to look beyond our campus borders. Our new Alumni Relations Plan is under implementation, to advance communications, programming, volunteers, information and resources with our very valued alumni and alumnae. We are also concluding work with our friends in the United Church of Christ, with whom the College bears a lively historical and mission-centered relationship, to clarify that relationship for today, and to generate programming appropriate to it. I believe the College this year has seen a virtual renaissance of spiritual life programming in the Christian tradition, Catholic and Protestant, led by our Chaplain, Co-Chaplains, and especially by our students, while providing and welcoming many opportunities for religious expression by our non-Christian community
members. We are an interfaith campus and a campus of the UCC and we are proud of it.

Every college worth its salt has big dreams. Ours is no different. The College’s Strategic Plan calls for the renovation and expansion of the Schaible Science Center, located on our southeast corner. Because of the preeminence science and the health professions play on any campus, including our own, and because of the state of the now forty-plus year old facility that serves as our science home, Elmhurst College over the next several years will undertake this ambitious but necessary task. Despite America’s Great Recession, we have begun making plans by creating a science initiative leadership group consisting of science-minded faculty and trustees; we have had architects draw up schematics; and we are composing a financial plan that will allow us to begin this project within three years at most. We will not seek to expand outside our current campus boundaries, but the final facility will more than double the useable square footage of the current plant, and provide a beautiful, state-of-the-art facility, creatively integrating the sciences, Department of Nursing, and the Center for Health Professions.


Not to neglect the arts, we have put to work a task force of faculty to imagine how we can serve our fine and performing arts better, without subscribing to a grandiose vision of an arts center that is neither appropriate to the scope of the College’s real academic and programmatic ambitions, nor feasible within the scope of our budget. We’re keeping it real. What can we achieve with what we have? We will attempt to use our existing structures and footprints creatively, to expand the educational reach of our fine and performing arts, and will do so within financial reason and on a time-table that sees results.


These changes, anticipated and underway, imply some significant shifts in our current thinking about the future physical form of our College. Therefore, we will be returning to the campus master plan in 2010-11, to re-imagine what Elmhurst College should look like in light of our Strategic Plan and its goals.
I emphasize that all of the above projects are, to one degree or another, underway now. Together, these projects plus a number of others that time does not permit me to enumerate and describe will occupy the campus for years. Such is the nature of strategic planning if it is more than a plan on a shelf, gathering dust, if it is “owned and operated” we might say by the planners themselves. I am fortunate to have responsibility for bringing to life the vision of this wonderful institution conceived by literally hundreds of our College friends, alumni, students, faculty, staff, and community members during last year’s strategic planning. Above all, it is the trustees of the College, our fiduciaries, whom I wish to thank for the confidence you have placed in me to steward this great effort, to lead, and, I hope, to achieve our shared vision.

Conclusion: The College and its Community

These are exciting times for Elmhurst College. But beyond mere excitement, they are opportunities for re-creation. Some may ask, what of Elmhurst the city, Elmhurst the civic organizations, Elmhurst the neighbors? These are reasonable questions. But I assure anyone asking them, that we will not add by subtraction. We are not starting from scratch or from principles and ideals alien to you.

In concluding these remarks, therefore, I recall that the animating principles of the College remain what they always were—the core values stated plainly in our Strategic Plan and announced with pride: the values of intellectual excellence, of community, of social responsibility, of stewardship, and of faith, meaning, and values. These are five core values that, I believe, are held by all those who care for our College—by our neighbors, governments, businesses, religious and community organizations; in short, by all of you. We will work in the Cherokee spirit of ga-du-gi, a phrase many of you have heard and which appears on the banners beside me. It means “all working together,” combining our efforts in fidelity to a community which claims our allegiance, devotion, skills, and labor. Together, we are recreating Elmhurst College, working toward a more vibrant life of the mind, to deeper engagement with our fellow human beings, responsive to the needs of others, and inspired by our traditions of faith and their humane values. I encourage you to be enthusiastic partners with me in this, our great work, creating the future of Elmhurst College in and for the twenty-first century. Thank you for your attention and thank you for joining our College community this morning.

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