President’s Report to Academic and Professional Faculty

Read President Donald P. Christian’s April Report to Academic and Professional Faculty.

I am writing from the West Coast this week where I am meeting with alumni and prospective donors as part of our strategic plan initiative to increase our philanthropic success and alumni engagement.  Therefore, I will not be attending Friday’s Faculty meeting to take your comments and questions, but am happy to respond via e-mail or when I return.

Enrollment Update.  Thank you to everyone who contributed to this spring’s two successful Accepted Students Day events. We received enthusiastic and positive feedback from parents and prospective students about our educational offerings and how well the Accepted Students Day events reflect on the College. Even more than in previous years, prospective students and their parents seemed to recognize the privilege of being accepted at New Paltz and having the opportunity to learn here. Interestingly, about a third of those attending the latest event had paid deposits beforehand, but came out of eagerness to learn more about the College!

Here are a few quotes from my conversations with students and parents:

Dad: “The mock classroom in [name of major] sealed the deal for my daughter. She decided 10 minutes ago that she’s coming here.”

Mom, with son echoing her comments:  “The presentation by [chair of department XX] showed us how special the New Paltz program is. We’ve looked at lots of schools and you have opportunities no other school does.”

Mom (beaming), with daughter:  “Everyone here made us feel so welcome – students, faculty, and staff.  We are very grateful.” Daughter: “I can really see myself as a student here.”

Assessments like these are a tribute to the great work of our Admissions staff, student volunteers, faculty and staff who shared insights and information about our programs, climate, and culture. Of course, we continue to reap the benefit of the hard work of our Admissions staff throughout the recruitment cycle and our expanded communication and marketing efforts that generate applicants and draw prospective students and their parents to campus to give us a closer look.

Our enrollment numbers will become clear after the May 1 national “Common Reply Date” when students are expected to inform colleges of whether they will accept an offer of admission.  Our application numbers have remained strong, and to date our paid deposits are at least on track with last year’s numbers.  At last review, the percentage of applications, acceptance, and paid deposits from students in the highest SUNY selectivity class (based on SAT and high school grades) was higher than ever (for paid deposits, 45% vs. 41-42% each of the last several years) – this when some institutions are forced to relax their selectivity to meet enrollment targets.  The racial and ethnic diversity of students who applied, were accepted, and paid deposits to New Paltz continues to grow each year.

Budget Update.  I shared the broad outline of the 2015-16 budget enacted by State leaders at the recent Administrative Council meeting. SUNY administration is still developing its distribution model for campuses but we do know that the budget includes the 5th year of the five-year rational tuition increase ($300 for in-state students), but virtually no new state taxpayer support.  The “performance funding” I referred to in a previous report (only $18 million across the system) is one-time-only; we will develop a plan to qualify for those funds, but because they are not recurring, they can’t be used for ongoing operations or new faculty or staff positions.  Commitments against increased tuition revenue include increased TAP support, a pool to address internal salary inequities, negotiated salary increases, funding for new positions committed when we started the mechanical engineering program.  The net result: we will have little budgetary flexibility to invest in new positions or programs.  If we do not meet enrollment targets, we will face a budget deficit. Our only flexibility is to scrutinize vacancies from retirement, resignation, and non-renewal and plan to reallocate those in areas of declining enrollment to departments and programs where instructional demand is greatest.

Community Outreach. This month I spoke to the Orange County Chamber of Commerce (April 9) and to the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce (April 15) in my continuing efforts to connect with the region and share aspects of our work and accomplishments of special interest to business leaders, employers and community leaders. Thank you to the faculty and staff who represented the College at these events.

I spoke about our educational mission, highlighting our strong grounding in liberal education goals and values (media coverage here). I shared results of our latest economic impact study that demonstrates what a driving force the College is in the Hudson Valley economy, including in Orange and Dutchess counties. I also spoke about the national context for higher education, so that these audiences could understand our challenges and why we make the decisions we make.

The talks were well received and I was amazed at how many of our alumni who reside and work in these counties came forward to share their pride in their alma mater and all that it means to the region. We also made valuable connections with employers, some of them alumni, interested in offering internships to current students. I was rewarded when a faculty colleague in attendance told me that my talk “made New Paltz sound like the dynamic place it is!”

Student Loan Default Rates.  The most recent (2012) preliminary Cohort Default Rate for SUNY New Paltz recently released by the U.S. Department of Education is 2.8%, down from just above 5% last year.  The high national average default rate on student loans (13.7%) drives some of the national conversation about college affordability and concern that colleges and universities are not educating students to thrive in a complex world. Although complex factors drive loan defaults, this is a positive indicator of the value of a New Paltz education and how well our graduates fare after they leave us. This is important data for each of us to have at our fingertips as we engage friends, neighbors, and others in conversation about the success of New Paltz and our graduates.

Strategic Plan: Process Improvements.  I am pleased about the many areas of progress in advancing the strategic plan goal of “improving processes and increasing institutional capacity.”  Earlier this week, Ray Schwarz, Chair of the Strategic Planning Council, shared with Department Chairs and Secretaries the actions underway that are responsive to concerns and suggestions they expressed in a January retreat.  These include new software that will streamline forms and communication in the hiring process; centralizing I-9 and Immigration Form completion; developing FAQs for the hiring process; creation of fillable PDF versions of frequently used forms; implementation of a new web Content Management System that will ease posting of content and give departments more control over their landing pages.  While some of these efforts were underway before the retreat, others stemmed from ideas shared during that session.

Kudos to Helise Winters (Extended Learning) for her summer session campaign to “Ensure On-Time Graduation by Enrolling in New Paltz Summer School,” and to Joel Mumper (IT/Computer Services) for his programming skill that brought this idea to fruition.   Each student has received a tailored email message showing New Paltz summer 2015 course offerings drawn from DegreeWorks that satisfy that student’s remaining degree requirements. We hope this approach will also help students plan their academic program more effectively and improve advising. Secondarily, we hope to steer students to take summer courses at New Paltz rather than elsewhere.  Keeping summer tuition revenue here ensures more opportunities for summer compensation for our faculty, and (we believe) enhances the quality of the academic experience for our students. Additionally, I was heartened at last week’s Academic Senate meeting to hear faculty interest in streamlining and improving processes for curricular review and approval.

Commencement. A reminder of commencement ceremonies:  graduate ceremony on Friday evening, May 15, 6 PM in the Athletic and Wellness Center, undergraduate ceremony on Sunday, May 17, 10AM in the Old Main Quad. As I’ve said before, but cannot say enough: graduates and their families greatly appreciate the presence of faculty and staff who have played a critical role in our graduates’ successful college experience.  This is a special time for them to meet and thank you for your life-changing contributions. All of our hard-working and dedicated faculty and staff who participate in this ritual find this a fulfilling day.

This short video clip (here) gives a preview of the kinds of themes that commencement speaker and honorary degree recipient Bre Pettis will touch on in his address at the undergraduate ceremony. Pettis founded MakerBot, the leading producer of desktop 3D printers, and now shepherds the team at The Innovation Workshop known as Bold Machines for Stratasys, a national manufacture of industry-grade 3D printers and parent company of MakerBot. Bold Machines pushes the edges of what’s possible with 3D printing technology.

Faculty and Staff Appreciation Picnic.  Our all-campus end-of-year barbeque and picnic will be Wednesday, May 20, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on the Old Main Quad (Rain location is the Athletic and Wellness Center).  I hope that you will join us to relax at year’s end with colleagues from across campus, and to honor Classified Staff Presidential Recognition Award recipients.

I wish everyone well in the final weeks of the academic year and semester, at what I know is truly “crunch time” for many of us.  This is also a special time to reflect on and celebrate the many accomplishments and growth of our students marked by numerous end-of-year events, including commencement. I look forward to seeing many of you during these wonderful, celebratory occasions.


Donald P. Christian