Sept. 3, 2014
STATE OF THE UNIVERSITY REMARKS
Pacific Lutheran University President Thomas W. Krise
Good morning to you all, and welcome to the kickoff of another academic year! If you remember nothing else from today, please remember this: The single greatest thing that distinguishes PLU is our focus on INTEGRATED EDUCATION, and I’ll tell you more about what that means in a moment. Second, the single greatest contribution each of you can make is to work together to find cost efficiencies and new sources of revenue to help us reach $6.7 MILLION IN NET NEW REVENUE BY 2020. And most importantly, I’m DEEPLY GRATEFUL to each and every person in this room for the commitment you make every single day to making PLU the very best it can be.
We need the focus and expertise of every one of you to hit that $6.7 million goal. On your tables you’ll see some paper and pens. I’d like for you to be thinking about questions and thoughts you have. At the conclusion of my remarks, I’d like for each table to spend a few moments collaborating on a question to ask, and we’ll get to as many as we can.
Many of you had a chance to get away and decompress this summer, but I know that for many staff members, and for the Deans and Faculty Chairs, you’re probably wondering where the summer went! It’s safe to say that between budget trimming, enrollment planning, getting new programs up and running, saying goodbye to longtime colleagues and welcoming new ones, it’s been nothing short of a whirlwind the past few months. And I know you all have been dealing with many competing priorities, and having to make some tough choices.
I was thinking about all this recently when I read an opinion piece in The New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, who made a very compelling case for the importance of the Humanities in the digital age. In particular he talked about the timeliness of philosopher Sir Isaiah Berlin, who described the world as muddled and complex, with many competing values, yet no simple yardstick to determine which should trump the others. We yearn for One True Answer, but it’s our lot to struggle, to reconcile inconsistent goals. He referred to this as pluralism of values.
Sir Isaiah also cautioned against the hand-wringing that sometimes paralyzes intellectuals, the idea that everything is so complex, so nuanced and uncertain that one cannot act. It’s the idea pilloried by Yeats: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.” Sir Isaiah argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty…and then forging ahead.
As I read this, I was struck by the similarities to the challenges we face at PLU. I am sure you are all as weary as I am of the sky-is-falling tone of the public debate about threats to higher education and the future of private liberal arts colleges and universities.
Middle-income families’ inability, and wealthier families’ unwillingness, to pay the cost of higher education has never been as prevalent as it is today. And yet families still want the best possible education for their children. There is no denying that a small private institution gives a student the best chance for close interaction with faculty members and opportunities for leadership not granted at larger institutions.
The deeply indebted college graduate has become a stock character in the national conversation: the art history major with $50,000 in debt, the under-employed barista with $75,000…the anecdotes have created the impression that such high levels of student debt are typical. But they’re not. They are outliers, and they’re warping the public’s understanding of the value of a college degree.
I imagine many of you were encouraged by the study released by the Brookings Institution in June that showed that the share of income that young adults are devoting to loan repayment has remained fairly steady over the last two decades.
Only 7 percent of young-adult households with education debt have $50,000 or more of it. By contrast, 58 percent of such households have less than $10,000 in debt, and an additional 18 percent have between $10,000 and $20,000.
The misperceptions matter because they distract us from the real challenge with our higher-education system. It’s not the graduates of expensive colleges who are struggling to get started on a career. History proves to us that most of these graduates will do just fine. In fact, an impressive 93% of the PLU class of 2013 was either employed or admitted into graduate school within six months of graduating.
The vastly bigger problem is the hundreds of thousands of people who emerge from college with a modest amount of debt, yet no degree. That’s like buying a car and not being able to drive it off the lot. And they are far more numerous than bachelor’s degree holders with huge debt burdens.
But here’s a little-known fact: According to a study by the New York Federal Reserve Bank, the return on investment for all college degrees has held steady at roughly 15% annually for more than a decade, despite rising tuition costs. To put these findings in perspective, consider that investing in stocks has yielded an annual return of 7 percent and investing in bonds an annual return of 3 percent since 1950.
These rates of return indicate that, for most students, a college degree remains one of the best investments they’ll ever make.
And there’s even more good news: The incomes of college graduates have grown steadily since the early 1990s, and the repayment time for many loans has become longer.
All of this to say that student debt is indeed a problem for some young people today, but it’s not a new phenomenon. For most, the returns on a college education have more than kept pace with the cost.
So what can we learn from this? The single most important thing that each of us can do—for our students and for the financial health of our institution—is to ensure that our freshman retention rate improves from our current 82 percent to 90 percent or better by 2020, and our four-year graduation rate increases from 52 percent to 65 percent or better, while our six-year rate increases from 65 percent to 75 percent.
How will we do this? Well, there are many great minds serving on the Strategic Enrollment Management Advisory Committee—or SEMAC, as it’s known—who are putting plans in place, which you’ll be hearing more about in the coming days, to address these goals.
Second, many of you have heard me speak of my desire for PLU to become an internationally renowned model of the New American University that purposely integrates the liberal arts, professional studies and civic engagement: a university with a strong commitment to teaching, in a highly personalized setting that links scholarship, teaching and service, and a place that prepares students for lives of personal meaning AND career achievement.
For those of you who were here for last year’s Fall Conference, you may remember the tri-fold brochure that reminds us of our PLU Vision and PLU 2020 strategic priorities. What was missing from that vision, however, is an explicit reference to the crucial third pillar of the New American University: CIVIC ENGAGEMENT.
PLU has been pioneering the New American University idea almost from the very beginning: always deeply committed to our communities thanks to our Lutheran tradition; always a residential liberal arts college rooted in a sense of place, and not just any place, but this very place, unlike our cross-town rival, which has moved five times in their history; and always engaged in professional education alongside the liberal arts.
But while we OFFER all three of these things—and many of our students do manage to put these three things together—we don’t truly INTEGRATE them. This is the big programmatic challenge we need to tackle: How to PURPOSELY INTEGRATE the liberal arts, professional studies and civic engagement.
Another way to think about this integration is to focus on the whole student. Our healthcare system is flawed for many reasons, but one thing that it is attempting to get right is improving the quality of care by allowing patient medical information and clinical-decision support to be available all the time, to all the different doctors, nurses and clinicians treating that patient, so that care is coordinated.
There are many examples today of medical facilities that are combining innovative technology and an all-encompassing holistic approach to care— treating all aspects of a patient: mind, body and spirit. Treating the whole patient with the whole team.
I would very much like for us to apply this model to our own work. I would like us all to be able to say that we provide an INTEGRATED EDUCATION that stands in opposition to the cafeteria-style experience at places like UW. I would like to say that when a student comes to PLU, a coordinated team of people, from Admission counselors and academic advisers, to Career Connections professionals, club and team coaches and faculty mentors, to residence-hall advisors and Campus Ministry and Interfaith guides, is there for her.
And that when that student faces challenges, the team of advisors collaborates to help her overcome the challenges.
Let me share a few examples of this purposeful integration that I hope will serve to educate our new members and inspire us all:
• Dr. Samuel Torvend, Professor of the History of Christianity and Chair of Lutheran Studies, has focused his research on religious and humanitarian responses to local and global food insecurity. He has published and spoken at numerous national and international academic conferences on the topic. In addition, there are a number of ways in which he has promoted the work of the Emergency Food Network of Pierce County:
He takes PLU students to EFN’s Mother Earth Farm in the Puyallup Valley, where they have planted and harvested crops that are brought directly to food pantries and meal sites throughout the county; he has invited Helen McGovern, the director of EFN, to speak in his religion classes on the work of EFN and to invite students to become volunteers at their warehouse; and Dr. Torvend also makes service at EFN an option in a service-learning based course.
• Dr. Jennifer Smith, Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Director of PLU’s Women’s Center, has led an effort to collect old cell phones that are refurbished and distributed to victims of violence, enabling them to call for help when they have no other means of doing so.
They have also conducted clothing drives—specifically for professional clothes—for the Washington Women’s Employee and Education organization.
And the Men’s Project—a program of the Women’s Center—annually hosts a Mother’s Day brunch at the local YWCA, where male students cook brunch for the women who are in the shelter, as well as play with their kids, to give Moms a much-needed break.
• Joel Zylstra and the staff of the Center for Community Engagement and Service have been spearheading a Parkland Education Initiative: Each year, more than 200 PLU students tutor and mentor kids in five schools located less than a mile-and-half from PLU. Tutors and mentors commit a minimum of three hours per week for a minimum of one semester. Engagement ranges from service-learning courses housed in the School of Education and voluntary after-school programs, to in-class tutoring and lunch-hour mentoring at Keithley Middle School. CCES also launched a Big Brothers Big Sisters mentoring program at Brookdale Elementary last year. And this year, we have an AmeriCorps position to connect students with Keithley Middle School, where we will be launching Diplomas Now, a national program designed to reduce truancy rates. Last year, nearly 15 percent of the students at Keithley were chronically truant. PLU students will be assigned a “case load” to check in with students, call home when they don’t arrive at school, and meet with them regularly to understand why these students are missing classes.
• And Dean Dave Huelsbeck’s work with the Makah Native American Community over J-term is quite remarkable. I believe he’s has been nurturing this relationship for 15 years or more.
These are just a few examples…there are many more throughout this great place. This isn’t just an academic fad of the moment meant to appeal to Millennials. And these aren’t courses that you could just pick up from any institution and drop into a syllabus here. These programs are unique to PLU and our mission. This notion of integrated education is part of our DNA; it’s hardwired into our mission. But even with all that we do, I would argue that we need to do this even more deliberately and articulate it convincingly.
Another thing that has been on my mind—and probably on the minds of the presidents of all residential liberal arts colleges—is how to successfully adapt our historic purpose to that complex and muddled global world of the 21st century that Sir Isaiah Berlin spoke of.
Since I arrived two years ago, I’ve been doing occasional student “fikas” – which is Swedish for coffee breaks—and one of my first conversations stands out for me. I was chatting with a group of students and asked them if they understood what we mean by vocation….blank stares. Then I asked if anyone had heard of our Wild Hope Center or our First Year Explore Retreat, and they knew what these programs were, but they hadn’t made the connection between these programs and the discernment of vocation.
We must continually articulate and refine our identity for ourselves and for our students. We cannot forget the power of our history, and how that history can inform and inspire a distinctive identity for the 21st century. It was clear to me after talking to those students that we needed to adopt a more activist and aggressive approach. We needed to let go of the notion that it’s not Lutheran to brag. In short, we needed to “brand” and “sell” the benefits of a distinctively American liberal arts education to ourselves, our alumni and to our prospective students.
And so we created a new division of Marketing and Communications last September, and I’m happy to report that we’re making good headway with a more consistent and modern brand image and messaging. Perhaps you’ve noticed the new ResoLUTE magazine that’s taken the place of Scene? Or the microsite called 128.com designed to help us stay connected with new and continuing students and to help them stay on track toward a successful four-year graduation. Any idea why it’s called 128? It’s an important number…that’s the minimum number of credits needed to graduate from PLU.
And soon you’ll see billboards popping up all over the Puget Sound region, including two high-profile statements on the West Seattle Bridge and another near Safeco and Century Link fields. You also should keep your eyes peeled for our distinctive black and gold on the Link Light Rail train between Sea-Tac airport and downtown Seattle.
We’ll actually have two outdoor campaigns: one, a brand campaign featuring six-word stories about the distinctive PLU experience submitted by members of the PLU community, and a second pro bono campaign, inspired by the “My Language, My Choice” program that the Diversity Center created. This free, public service campaign that will be seen on more than 100 billboards throughout the academic year features several students, student-athletes and even a few staff and faculty members too. The pro bono campaign has more than doubled the investment we made in the brand campaign.
For too long, departments around the university have sort of “done their own thing” when it comes to marketing, often out of habit and necessity, and also because we haven’t had a central capacity until recently. The downside of that is a decidedly inconsistent brand image for PLU. I encourage you to please consult with the MarCom team on your high-profile marketing efforts, communications and events. While they can’t be involved in everything, they are eager to help support your needs and ensure that we are putting our best foot forward.
Finally, I want to talk to you about The Plan, The Box and The Bridge.
First, let’s talk about “The Plan.” The Long Range Planning Committee includes myself and a group of other “non-experts,” whose task has been to come up with some suggested KPIs—or key performance indicators—to measure effectiveness against our university-wide priorities. We were inspired by the work of SEMAC, which already has completed work on strategic enrollment goals and KPIs and is now at work on strategies to pursue its goals. The work for the LRPC now is to have discussions with the actual experts in each division and department to refine these KPIs, so that we have a way of measuring our success in accomplishing the goals of PLU 2020.
You may recall that at last fall’s University Conference, we asked you to give KPI “rankings” and some possible measurements for our strategic priorities. All of that feedback went into this work. I just wanted to share a couple of the recommendations from last year with you:
• Under Enhance Student Achievement and Success:
— Measuring the number of Lutes admitted to heaven!
— And on a slightly more serious note: track Alumni success both in jobs and commitment to PLU values (volunteer hours, service on boards, etc.)
• Under Increase Community Engagement and Leadership:
— A suggestion that faculty and staff be allowed 8 hours per semester to volunteer in the community, at food banks, school reading programs and the like, to allow us to better serve our communities.
— Measure the number of Fulbright Scholars, Americorps volunteers and Peace Scholars.
— And advertise PLU more.
• Under Strategic Enrollment Management and Marketing:
— Track the percent of interesting backgrounds of students (military, first-gen, non-traditional students, part-time, and the diversity of ethnicities and sexual orientations).
— Also, an actual plan for retention.
Finally – to prove we read them all, there was this: “This is an EPIC FAIL. This is too vague, the categories compete, it’s written only with the institutional image in mind. It doesn’t truly address individual needs. To me, these are poorly identified. Pretty much, this feels like poorly executed lip service. The conference started so well, but then took a disappointing route that felt like the same old, same old.”
Never let it be said that Lutes are afraid to share what they really think!
Next, “The Box”: For those new to PLU, “The Box” refers to a resolution adopted by the PLU Board of Regents in May 2013 that sets out to accomplish three things by 2020: First, the resolution directs us to achieve pay parity for faculty, staff and administration with peer institutions by working together to find cost efficiencies and to develop new sources of revenue; second, it calls on us to properly maintain our campus buildings to enhance teaching, learning and student living; and third it directs us to retain adequate reserves, in part, to maintain access for students who need financial help to attend PLU. In other words, “The Box” is about investing in our people and their workplaces.
The requirements of “The Box” resolution are to generate enough growth – from tuition revenue, annual giving and endowment revenue, auxiliary income and savings – to reach $6.7 million dollars in net new revenue per year by 2020. Every single person on this campus can help PLU reach the goals of “The Box.”
Our entire community needs to work together in order to create the compensation, facilities and reserves that a University of the First Rank should have.
And to that end, we also made a commitment to move toward a budget model that enhances transparency and enables better-informed decision making by relating resources to actual activity levels. The President’s Council has worked to “right-size” department operating budgets for the 2014-15 fiscal year to levels that more accurately reflect historic spending patterns and take into account new market realities. As a result, this meant an increase in budget allocations for some departments and a decrease for others. And, as we move forward in becoming a more transparent and performance-based institution, all departments will be expected to stay strictly within their allocated budgets.
We also made the decision to closely tie spending to revenue generation areas including total enrollment, annual giving and endowment performance. And to underscore the notion that “timing is everything,” no sooner had we right-sized budgets than the enrollment numbers came in at the end of May and we realized that we’re looking at an incoming 2014 class that is about 150 students shy of our projections. So for many departments, you got hit with a double whammy budget trim.
I’ve heard people lately talking about an “age of austerity” at PLU, and I can imagine how you might feel that way, especially those of you who have just come through two rounds of budget cuts in short order. But I urge you to think differently; please think of this as a time of wise investment and as a time of focusing on where we can eliminate waste and inefficiency. Our first class of more than 60 Six Sigma Green Belts just met at a retreat on Aug. 25 to identify projects for the upcoming year. Our goal is to isolate $200,000 in annual savings across campus. I urge managers who have Green Belts—or who have members who are interested in learning the Six Sigma process—to make time for those individuals to learn this valuable methodology.
In the coming year, we are looking forward to quantifying real savings in postage, printing, utility and maintenance costs and in many other areas, and sharing that information broadly. One simple example is mailing at the nonprofit rate. On average it can save us about 10 cents apiece in postage compared to the regular rate for bulk mail. And when the nonprofit rate is compared to the cost for using a regular first-class stamp, we’re looking at a savings of closer to 29 cents per piece. Those are real savings that can add up quickly.
Finally, I want to talk to you about what I metaphorically refer to as The Bridge. Every serious challenge facing our world today, from disease to energy security to climate change, requires a strong foundation in the natural sciences and mathematics, if solutions are to be discovered.
And much of today’s groundbreaking research occurs collaboratively at the intersection of a number of disciplines. Today’s scientists are crossing knowledge boundaries and linking ideas in ways that would have been considered radical 20 or 30 years ago.
Nearly 20 percent of students at PLU graduate with a major in one or more of the natural sciences. In addition, every undergraduate here is required to take courses in the sciences. In the last several years we have seen significant increases in enrollment in the Natural Sciences and our resources, including infrastructure, are being taxed. In 1986, when the Rieke Science Center first opened its doors, we had 29 full-time faculty members. This past academic year, we had about 40 full-time faculty members.
PLU needs to “do science” under conditions that more closely mirror the work settings of current and future scientists and enable our students—and our faculty—to interact, connect and communicate across disciplinary boundaries. More closely connecting scientific learning with Nursing, and providing collaborative research facilities with Psychology, for instance.
When Rieke opened, it was noted for its deliberate blending of the disciplines, and we want to maintain that commitment and renew it for the 21st century. The renewal and addition to the Rieke Science Center are a top priority. To bring the center up to date, the university has begun implementing a plan to renovate the building, room-by-room and lab-by-lab, as well as adding additional interdisciplinary space and a stand-alone greenhouse. Learning spaces, both formal and informal, will be designed to better reflect the increasing collaborative nature of science and to further encourage the kind of intellectual collisions that spur creative thought. It is my hope that our science center becomes the heart of campus, bridging the upper and lower campuses.
As we focus on all that stands before us, let’s take a moment to reflect on what we accomplished in the past year:
• As I’ve just said, we started planning for the next fundraising campaign to support “The Box” resolution and the sciences, and to that end, we’ve made significant headway on a vision for expanding the teaching and research capacity in Rieke. And with the appointment of our new Vice President for Advancement, Dan Lee— who is on his second day of employment here—I have confidence that we will make great strides on those goals this year.
• We initiated an 18-month process that led to an updated campus master plan, and we secured funding for renovation of Stuen and Ordal Halls, and we’re very close to completing construction work in Stuen.
• We completed several Six Sigma projects and trained additional Green Belts.
• We launched the Budget Working Group to explore and recommend alternative university budget structures that have resulted in more transparent and performance-based budgeting practices.
• The Long-Range Planning Committee made recommendations on several initiatives and key performance indicators to guide our efforts and hold us accountable to the vision of PLU 2020.
• PLU’s first-ever Graduate and Continuing Education program was launched, complete with a new building at the corner of Pacific and Garfield and a new Associate Provost, Geoff Foy.
• Our Instructional Technologies group, in collaboration with faculty departments, launched PLUTO—Pacific Lutheran University Teaching Online—with a series of workshops and training sessions for professors. This fall we will offer eight blended online courses across divisions, which are all fully enrolled. And next summer, we will pilot online-only courses during the summer session.
• We also launched PLU’s first doctorate program in the School of Nursing, under the guidance of new Dean Sheila Smith, and the School of Business will soon start accepting applications for a new Master’s of Science in Marketing Research.
• And this fall also will mark the beginning of a Minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, one of only a few in the nation.
That list certainly doesn’t sound like an institution resting on its laurels! And this is, by no means, a full list of accomplishments. You can learn more about what we have accomplished, and what is yet to do toward our vision of PLU 2020, by clicking on the Institutional Planning link on the Office of the President’s web site.
In closing, I’d like to leave you with my thoughts about what I think makes PLU different and better than other institutions, and I hope you will consider echoing some of what I say:
• We attract people—faculty, staff and administrators—who want to spend time with students, helping them learn, of course, but also helping them discern their vocations in life, and helping them develop a lifelong passion for learning.
• We have distinguished faculty members who are noted experts in their fields of study—who regularly make original contributions to new knowledge—AND who want to engage students in their work;
who want their students to be as excited about their fields and about the thrill of discovery as they are.
• We have a “door-opening” culture—not just literally: We do hold doors open for one another; but more importantly we actively hold open doors to knowledge, to fields of endeavor, to vocations, to life paths, and we’re eager to help students pass through those doors and move on to more doors and more opportunities. You might say that research-focused, large universities leave the doors unlocked, but at PLU we open them and smile and invite you in.