Over 1,000 of you participated this semester in the process to create our 10-year vision.
As I review our recent accomplishments and write this end-of-semester message, I have been reflecting on my first month here last fall. I was getting to know the campus community, walking through construction of the nearly finished Campus Commons, attending my first sporting events, and getting lost in buildings like Ross Hall, wondering if I would ever emerge from such labyrinths.
A year later, it feels like we have progressed at warp speed. I am impressed by how incredibly productive we have been on several fronts. Notably, we reversed the negative trend in our structural deficit and finished FY19 with $2 million more in cash and a $900,000 increase to reserves for the first time in many years. Even though we are projected to be cash-flow positive again this year, as many of you who attended last Thursday’s open forum know, we must continue to be diligent given the ongoing fiscal realities of higher education in this country and particularly in Colorado. In the midst of addressing our deficit, we implemented a Strategic Enrollment and Student Success (SESS) plan, completed an organizational design assessment that will inform our staffing models, and developed a vision that clarifies what we aspire to be as a university.
This semester we kept the foot on the accelerator and our results have me excited for what lies ahead. As the calendar year winds down, we have much to celebrate. It is worth pausing to take a moment to reflect (and congratulate ourselves) on our accomplishments made possible by the collective hard work and dedication of this exceptional campus community.
Cementing Our Vision
We are in the midst of a planning process and took the first step this fall with the creation of our vision. Numerous discussions unfolded during the semester at meetings and town halls with over 1,000 of us participating in the process to create “Rowing, Not Drifting 2030,” which was approved by our Board of Trustees. This spring, we will operationalize our plan by creating goals, strategies and actions. I appreciate everyone who contributed to this effort. Special thanks to co-chair and Provost Mark Anderson and the President’s Leadership Council for their hard work to help get this right.
Promising Growth in Student Success
We set our SESS plan in motion as action teams began implementation. As you know, a central component of the initiative is academic achievement. I am pleased to see positive early signs that we are headed in the right direction. Our calculations, which will become official at the end of the year, show that we are at all-time highs for both retention and graduation rates. The future is bright as more SESS initiatives will be implemented. I am confident that we will see significant improvements in student success for years to come. Thank you to co-chairs Joan Clinefelter and Sean Broghammer and the SESS action teams for their work. It shows just how much we genuinely care about students and their success.
Reaffirming Our Commitment to Diversity
Many of our students spoke out courageously in response to racial tensions here and at other institutions in the state. They held peaceful campus protests and addressed our Board of Trustees, pointing out the lack of racial diversity among faculty and staff. The stories they shared affected me deeply, and I have spoken with our Human Resources Director Marshall Parks and Chief Diversity Officer Dr. Tobias Guzmán to change the way we recruit and hire for these positions. Beginning this spring, those offices will collaborate to ensure diverse applicant pools are cultivated for faculty and staff searches. They have the authority to intervene and delay searches until they are satisfied with the representation of diverse candidates in the pools. They are also working on training for search committees and hiring authorities, and will review data annually to help determine effective practices. In addition, they will work with other campus partners, including the Campus Climate Steering Committee co-chaired by Drs. Guzmán and Aldo Romero. There is much work to be done to better serve the needs of our growing diverse student population. I am fully committed to the effort. This spring, the President’s Leadership Council will engage in a customized professional development opportunity presented by the Latino Leadership Institute to provide research-based practices around equity, diversity and inclusion.
Progressing on the Budget
Hard work, ingenuity and collaboration result in getting things done. When I arrived, we had a $10 million structural deficit and were depleting our cash reserves. We made several difficult decisions last spring enabling us to begin rebuilding our reserves. While we project being cash-flow positive again by the end of this fiscal year, next year is much more uncertain at this early stage. We are working to ensure that we do not have a shortfall in FY21 although we project undergraduate enrollment to slightly decrease and are planning for a 2% pool for employee raises. From here on out, the new reality of higher education will require us to be in a constant state of improvement. The good news is that the work we are doing, particularly around student success, will continue to keep us on the right track.
Student-Athletes Succeed in Competition and Classroom
One of the things I love about being here is our Division I athletic programs. It was an incredible fall season. Two teams were crowned Big Sky Conference champions. Our soccer team won the postseason tournament at Jackson Field. The volleyball team won both the regular season and postseason tournament. Both advanced to NCAA tournaments.
Football had a tough season, but I am confident in the direction we are headed as new coach Ed McCaffrey steps in. I am very proud of how our student-athletes fare in the classroom, too. For the third-straight year, they had the highest Graduation Success Rate of all Big Sky member schools. And winter sports are also off to strong starts. Go Bears!
On a personal note, I continue to learn from you. After focusing my attention on meeting with faculty last year (see report here), I am spending time this year meeting with staff throughout campus. It is an opportunity for me to learn more about the vital roles staff play in the success of our students. When it comes to engagement, I heard positive feedback about the campus holiday party held last week. I am committed to finding more opportunities for us to engage with each other outside of work. I will be exploring ideas with new chief of staff, Dr. Dan Maxey, who will join the Bear family Jan. 6.
In closing, congratulations to the 900-plus students who are scheduled to graduate this semester. My two favorite times of the year are helping students move into our residence halls at the beginning of the year and shaking their hands at commencement to mark their academic achievement.
I hope you have a restful holiday season. If you want to get a preview of what I will be doing over break:
Rowing, Not Drifting,
Follow me on Twitter