Read President Donald P. Christian’s February 2016 Report to Academic and Professional Faculty.
Although there is no faculty meeting this month, I want to update you on several important developments, and provide my perspective to inform faculty deliberation about general education revision when it resumes next month. I will provide only a brief update for the March 4 faculty meeting.
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
- Town Hall – Summary and transcript available, similar discussions to take place under leadership of the to-be-formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee.
- Educational Opportunity Program – SUNY awarded New Paltz $290,000 in competitive process to expand New Paltz EOP by 100 students, add a new advisor/counselor.
- Administrative Considerations and General Education Revision – Some thoughts about administrative considerations in general education reform, funding for transition to new GE program, retaining flexibility and capacity.
- Faculty Numbers – Comparative figures for fall 2015 on full-time faculty numbers, percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty, number of course sections taught.
- Enrollment Projections – Spring semester 2016 enrollments are sound but did not reach ambitious targets, which means lower-than-anticipated tuition revenue and more limited opportunity to invest. Current projections for fall 2016 are strong.
- Our Progress, Priorities, and Challenges – My reflections on alignment of our priorities and focus with broader higher education issues and challenges.
Town Hall on Inclusion. Thank you again to all who participated in this important discussion on February 10. You likely saw my earlier messages summarizing key elements of this event and sharing the transcript of the discussion. These are now posted along with other information and resources on our new website on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. I encourage faculty and staff who were unable to attend the Town Hall to read the transcript to learn about experiences shared by students and concerns they raised that relate to elements within your purview, including the classroom. An important element of the work of a soon-to-be-formed Diversity and Inclusion Committee will be to facilitate ongoing discussions like this.
Educational Opportunity Program/Performance Improvement Funding. SUNY recently awarded New Paltz $290,000 in competitive recurring funds to expand our EOP program by 100 students, a nearly 20% increase. That funding will provide student stipends, add a new advisor position, and address salary equity issues for current EOP advisors. This award grew out of the proposal we submitted in the fall through the competitive SUNY Investment and Performance Fund process; I had shared with you last month that other elements of our proposal had not been funded. We are pleased to grow a New Paltz program that has achieved distinctive success among SUNY EOP programs. SUNY has increased priority on expanding EOP opportunities at the community colleges, and our EOP growth will include not only first-year but also transfer students. Orange Community College (OCC; our second-largest source of transfer students) received funding to re-establish its EOP program. Our EOP program has an established network with programs at Hudson Valley community colleges, and has drawn OCC into that network. We have begun discussions with our state legislators for a special funding allocation to renovate space for the expanded EOP program.
Administrative Considerations and General Education Revision. As faculty prepare to resume discussion of general education revision, I want to share several administrative perspectives that I hope will inform this discussion. We respect that curriculum is the primary purview of the faculty. This creates a dilemma for “the administration” about how and when we voice views on budgetary or other administrative matters that bear on a topic like general education revision: early in the process carries risk of administrative interference in what should be primarily a faculty responsibility; too late in the process risks that an academically attractive proposal developed in some detail by the faculty will, late in the process, be judged infeasible for administrative (perhaps especially financial) reasons. Interim Provost Deen and I are sensitive to these issues, and will weigh in on this spring’s discussions at the request of the Presiding Officer at the appropriate times.
The College will identify reasonable financial resources to support a well-planned transition (over, say, three years) to a new general education program. Such funding will be drawn from one-time funds. However, at the end of the transition period, the newly established general education program should not (cannot) be dramatically more expensive than the current one. As we ponder adding new courses or credits to a revised general education program, we must also consider what we eliminate or scale back, the latter one of the biggest challenges faced by colleges and universities.
You are aware that we have been reallocating faculty lines away from areas of declining enrollment to those of increasing demand. In an era of limited increases in state taxpayer support and concerns about tuition increases, this is one of the few tools available to us to assign resources to areas where they are most needed. It is only fair that we do so, certainly for students, and also for faculty in the high-demand areas struggling to provide sufficient courses and sections of high quality to increased numbers of students. Our goal is to reallocate resources to best meet current needs, while also retaining capacity that will let us respond to possible future shifts in enrollment. A case in point: Our School of Education, which has seen such reallocations due to declining enrollments, is at the heart of our mission and our legacy as a Normal School and later a state teacher’s college. We will preserve our critical role in teacher preparation to respond when demographics and demand for teachers shift, as anticipated in the mid 2020s.
This underlying view is important to have in mind as the faculty contemplate a new general education program. Such discussions always involve an implicit if not explicit concern about loss of student demand for courses in a certain area, with resulting loss of faculty positions. We will do everything feasible to buffer the impact of such changes resulting from a new general education program. A new general education program that includes courses that may be taught by faculty from a broad array of disciplines is one approach to sustain essential teaching opportunities for faculty in the face of shifting demand.
Certainly, I encourage the faculty, in thinking about a revised general education program, to keep a close focus on what is best for our students and consistent with our mission as a public institution of higher education.
Faculty Numbers. We continue to track trends over time in numbers of full-time faculty, courses taught by adjunct faculty, and course numbers. In fall 2015, our full-time faculty count was 366, up by one from fall 2014 and up from 323 in fall 2011 (prior to the investments supported by rational tuition increases). The percentage of courses taught by full-time faculty in fall 2015 was 71.9%, up slightly from the year before and remaining above the 70% threshold that we reached in 2012 and have sustained since then (this compares with <50% in the early 2000s). We offered 1,341 course sections in fall 2015, up from 1,261 in fall 2011 but somewhat below what we might predict given the net increase in full-time faculty during that time.
Enrollment and Revenue Projections. We remain very attentive to enrollment and student recruitment trends, given our heavy and increasing financial dependence on tuition revenue in a highly competitive student recruitment environment. Total registration in our online winter session was 700, a 13% increase over last year – a trend that we hope to continue by identifying high-demand and bottleneck courses for online offering. In addition, Interim Provost Deen and the deans have been discussing new incentive models that will encourage more summer online course offerings.
We set ambitious enrollment targets this spring semester and did not meet them, resulting in tuition revenue substantially less than our projections. To be clear, our revenue for 2015-16 will still be sound, but we will have fewer resources next year to invest in one-time initiatives and projects than we had hoped and anticipated. This shortfall is in part a result of lower graduate enrollment this spring than last, continuing a downward trend that we hoped had bottomed out. This was coupled with our inability to offset this loss by higher undergraduate enrollment. The primary driver of the latter outcome was the need to close admission (this spring, for transfer students) to some of our most popular majors due to capacity issues. I have directed the Course Availability Task Force to expand efforts to address these issues, recognizing that supporting admission to in-demand majors and offerings is the best path to sustain a healthy economy.
It is still early in the fall semester 2016 recruitment season. First-year applications to New Paltz are down slightly (-4%) from last year, on par with the overall decline for the SUNY comprehensive sector and far less than the extreme decline of more than 30% for one campus. Nonetheless, the academic caliber of our applicant pool is the strongest we have ever seen, thus, we have accepted a higher percentage of applicants than last year, resulting in a substantial (16%) increase in the total number of acceptances to date. Fall transfer application numbers and acceptances are both ahead of last year. While the number of applications by general admit minority first-year students is down by about 8%, the number of acceptances is 20% higher than last year. Applications for transfer admission by minority students are up by 29% over last year, and acceptances by 42%. Congratulations to our admissions staff for another great job in positioning us so well at this stage in the process.
Of course, as I point out each year, applications and acceptances are not the full story: these accepted applicants still must decide to come to New Paltz, of the multiple institutions to which many will be accepted. Our collective efforts – faculty, staff, and student ambassadors – to draw accepted students to commit to New Paltz is key to achieving our recruitment goals. You will be hearing more in the coming months about involvement in Accepted Student Open Houses, scheduled for April 2 and April 16.
Our Progress, Priorities, and Challenges. Accessibility. Affordability. Accountability. Sustainability. Differentiation. Those are the five key issues defining the current landscape for higher education, as developed by Jon McGee in his 2015 book Breakpoint: The Changing Marketplace for Higher Education. These issues are reflected in the topics I report on above, and they are the substance of the priorities in our strategic plan and our SUNY Performance Improvement Plan, defining nearly all of our recent institutional focus. Successes in many of these areas also mark our continued progress and the ongoing growth of our reputation and stronger profile in recent years. We might wish SUNY New Paltz to be insulated from these issues and the demographic, economic, political, and social changes that have brought their ascendance. But, of course, we are not. Even as we continue to adjust and shift elements of our programs and direction as our future changes, these considerations must have primacy in our decisions about enrollment, programming, budget allocation, and assessment of the needs and expectations of our students.
I am happy to hear from you by email or speak with you about this report in advance of the March 4 meeting of the Academic and Professional Faculty. I look forward to seeing you then.
Donald P. Christian