State of the College Address 2019


I recognize this is something new, delivering a State of the College address. It’s new for you, and it’s new for me, so I want to thank you in advance for taking part in this change. I believe this is an important opportunity to look at where we are and what is ahead for us.

We live and work in interesting times. We learn new and fascinating discoveries in science and technology every day. We see complicated challenges in society and the environment. We experience both heartwarming and heartbreaking events in our own lives and the lives of people around the globe. This steady stream of information and events reinforces that the only constant is change.

There is much change around the world, and certainly within our country. Within our own industry of higher education, we know that change is always shaping and reshaping how we approach our missions.

Each of us has some awareness of how demographic forces impact who we serve, and how we serve them. I have been reading a book recently by Nathan Grawe, titled, “Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education.” In it, the author explores a variety of data sources and identifies a series of trends that he argues will reshape who wins and doesn’t among America’s colleges and universities in the coming decade.

The book’s description reads, in part:

Higher education faces a looming demographic storm. Decades-long patterns in fertility, migration, and immigration persistently nudge the country toward the Hispanic Southwest. As a result, the Northeast and Midwest―traditional higher education strongholds―expect to lose 5 percent of their college-aged populations between now and the mid-2020s. Furthermore, and in response to the Great Recession, child-bearing has plummeted. In 2026, when the front edge of this birth dearth reaches college campuses, the number of college-aged students will drop almost 15 percent in just 5 years.

We have known this was coming for some time now. We have experienced it firsthand in Morrisville’s own enrollment trends.

In the year 2000, when my son and now daughter-in-law graduated from Morrisville-Eaton Central, there were more than 90 graduates. This year, there will be fewer than half that.

Our students are coming from different places and in different numbers than they did just eight years ago. There is a shrinking pool of prospective students in our part of the country, and even in our own county. There is greater competition for those who remain, as we and our competitors seek to not just stabilize, but increase, our enrollment numbers.

The good news is, we are the right kind of institution to survive these demographic challenges. Yes, there are elite institutions with healthy endowments to help them weather the storm. However, those colleges and universities that serve the vast majority of students in the American system have to find other ways to ensure their competitiveness.

Key among these strategies for prospering in difficult times is the ability to offer true, hands-on learning. We know that “applied learning” and “hands-on” and “experiential learning” are all the rage, even as schools without much proof assert that they are these things. They do so, because they have seen the research that shows this is what students and parents want. They want education that promises knowledge, yes, and credentials, too. But they are every bit as interested in a college education that promises practical experience and career readiness.

Our programs are strong and reflect practices and values that have stood the test of time. Other institutions, such as University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, are reinventing their traditional liberal arts approach to more closely align with our hands-on, practical, career-oriented teaching and learning.

This past weekend, the New York Times published a story about UW-Stevens Point. Here’s what it read in part:

At Stevens Point, where flashing signs announce the next hockey game and low-slung buildings sit near evergreens, administrators are trying to make up for increasingly elusive freshmen.

Their solutions: Recruit more midcareer adults to enroll in programs such as nursing. Promote majors such as business and education with clear career paths.

In related news accounts about UW-Stevens Point, the university proposes exploring opportunities in environmental engineering, aquaculture and aquaponics, business administration and natural resources because they have a viable financial plan.

Knowing that we come from a position of strength with more than a century of practical learning should make us stand tall and proud! Our history and our mission have never been more relevant or affirmed! We know how to deliver the kind of educational experience the marketplace wants, and we are already way ahead of where our competitors want to be.

As long as we listen to our students, to potential employers, to elected and appointed officials, to advisory boards and to local communities, we have a beacon of light to guide us through the potentially rocky areas before us.

Many of you already know at least some of the challenges we face, not the least of which is our budget. As I shared with you early in the academic year, our current budget is not sustainable. Our revenue falls short of our expenses.

Last summer, we submitted our budget to SUNY system with $28 million in revenue to cover $32 million in anticipated expenses.That is a gap of at least $4 million.

You may know that higher education is a labor-intensive industry. Indeed, our total labor costs represent 85 percent of our budget and includes more than 540 employees. This includes 216 professional staff and 149 teaching faculty within UUP. Our CSEA members make up 132 of our employees, and we have 24 administrators who are Managerial/Confidential, and nine PBA members within University Police.

A sorely needed, new contract with UUP was settled this fall as well, which adds an additional $2 million in expense we must cover each year for five years. While we are pleased that the contract is secured, a source of funds to cover this increased cost has yet to be identified by state leadership. Other obligations, such as utilities, operational expenses, new facilities, and the CSEA contract are other important considerations that will widen the gap further.

We also know that we have to employ a variety of measures and strategies to address these challenges. Let’s examine what might happen if we relied on one solution alone.

At $7,000 per student, we need at least 285 additional students to cover the cost of the UUP increases alone. Likewise, if we were to cover this $2 million through tuition increases alone, at current enrollment levels we would have to raise tuition by an additional $800. Most recently, the Board of Trustees has recommended a $200 increase, which falls far short of what is required.

If we were a private college, raising tuition by $1,000 would be little more than an afterthought. But doing so for our student population is simply contrary to our mission of offering access to public higher education. Therefore, the solution has to involve securing more direct funding support from the state.

For the past several months, we have been working closely with system administration to identify opportunities for both increased revenues and reduced expenses. We have considered many, many concepts and plan to pursue those that make the most sense.

We are not alone in these challenges. Other SUNY institutions grapple with the same demographic forces and contractual obligations. You can well understand why the presidents of the SUNY system recently met with the SUNY Board of Trustees to advocate for our collective case. This, by the way, is just one example of why it is important for us to build and strengthen our external relationships to help us work through these challenges.

We are studying many options, from:

  • Consolidated administrative organization and processes
  • Improved retention, including through advising, tutoring and intervention
  • New program offerings, including microcredentials, certificates, workforce training, and other non-credit outreach
  • More efficient course scheduling and workload adjustment, to save on overload and overtime expenses
  • Increased tuition and fees

No single action will be sufficient to solve our problems, and some actions may not be the right fit for us at all. Many, if not all, of these strategies have been implemented by other colleges like ours. They are proven, not experimental. However, we must assess all of them and assemble the right mix to enact as a plan that works best for Morrisville.

Institutions that are fleet of foot and recognize change will survive. Those who do not, will not. We are up to this challenge! We can do this! I know we can, because Morrisville has weathered tougher storms before. The determining factors will be our commitment to acting and doing so together. We must all lift to support the college as a whole. We can serve our students and fulfill our mission only if we work together.

I am energized by the work ahead of us. We do have a plan, and working the plan will lead us to Morrisville’s next great era. All we need is all of us, working together.

As we engage in this work of change, both responding to and leading it, we will emphasize the three priorities I first shared last August: student success, program development and institutional effectiveness. Expressed as imperative statements, these are the charges entrusted to us:

For student success, we must provide the resources and guidance our students need to successfully complete their programs of study.

For program development, our program offerings and delivery must match the needs and the interests of our students and external stakeholders.

And for institutional effectiveness, we must use data to understand how well we are meeting our responsibilities and make adjustments, big and small, to continually document and improve our mission effectiveness.

I want to make clear that the work we have done within our Strategic Plan since the first days of my presidency is essential to our work. All of our priorities are rooted in the Mission, Vision and Goals of the College, as expressed within the Strategic Plan. This living document offers three themes:

  1. Inspire Learning through Experience,
  2. Build Community and
  3. Achieve a Sustainable Future,

within which there are strategies, future priorities and accomplishments delineated and refreshed each year. Following my remarks, I will email to the campus yet another copy of the updated Strategic Plan for your review and perusal.

Many of you will recall my inaugural trio of priorities of 1) Recruitment and Retention, 2) Friendraising and Fundraising and 3) Communication and Marketing. These remain important to the College and are interwoven within the currently emphasized Three Priorities.

And we have had great success in these inaugural priorities. Through the market research and institutional identity work we have done, we have a clearer picture of who we are, how we are perceived and who our competitors are. We are more confident about distinguishing ourselves in the marketplace, and we have measurable results through our improved website, promotional publications, social media engagement, news media coverage and more.

Our recruiters and counselors are better than ever about knowing which students are the right fit for Morrisville, and they know where to find those students. Even in the great difficulties of a changed demographic landscape, we have improved strategies and tactics for connecting with prospective students in new markets. We see increased inquiries and applications and we are getting better and refining our processes to enroll students more efficiently in a variety of ways.

We have won greater support and interest from public officials, organizations and industries. We have won special project funding, grants, gifts and partnerships that would not have been possible without this outreach.

Our donor gifts have increased from $88,000 in 2016 to $179,000 in 2018. We are on track to reach our goal of $500,000 in cash gifts this fiscal year, the largest gift revenue in recent history. We have exceeded our goal of $200,000 in endowed gifts this year by an additional $37,000, with several months left to go! We take pride in these significant increases in these gifts, and it is important to remember they are not intended to support operational expenses. Most of the funds support our students with scholarships.

We are undertaking one of the largest facility transformations of any campus our size within SUNY. In the next few years, total investment in our capital facilities could approach $100 million. This would include a new Alternative Fuels Facility, and new Four Seasons Farm, significant investment in underground utilities across campus, and significant renovation at our Syracuse Educational Opportunity Center.

Last night, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh in his State of the City address outlined his plans for a new economic development initiative, dubbed Syracuse Surge. Supported by the Governor in his State of the State address, the Syracuse Surge will put our EOC geographically and logistically at the center of transformation for workforce development throughout Central New York.

We continue to garner tremendous support among our external stakeholders as we engage with them on issues and initiatives that are important to all of us. In the last few months, we have hosted summits, roundtables and conferences for the region to discuss issues surrounding diversity, agriculture, and industrial hemp, to name a few. In the coming months, we also have plans for applied learning, accreditation and other topics that impact our larger sphere of peers and stakeholders.

We are doing great things! And we will continue this with our three priorities of student success, program development and institutional effectiveness.

Student Success

Our North Star should always be student success.

Many of you have witnessed the change in the students who come to Morrisville, whether you have been here for a few years or several decades. Let’s consider just the past eight years.

In 2010, 815 of our first-year students students came from Upstate, and 236 came from Downstate. In 2018, our Upstate first-year student numbers reduced significantly to 484, with Downstate students increasing to 312.

In the same eight-year period, our number of underrepresented minority students increased more than 30 percent, while our non-minority students increased by not even nine percent.

These are fundamental changes in the makeup of who our students are, and we have made some changes in response. However, we can do more.

Through the recent National Survey of Student Engagement, our first-year students indicated that they feel insufficiently supported in basic academic functions. They give weaker marks when rating their collaborative learning experiences, institutional emphasis on studying, analyzing an idea and finding challenging courses. In these regards, Morrisville ranks among the lowest in SUNY in these areas.

Similarly, results from the National Institute for Transformation and Equity (NITE) Culturally Engaging Campus Environments (CECE) survey--what we often shorten as, “the climate survey”--revealed that our students of color, students with accessibility needs, and our LGBT population want to see more of themselves within our curriculum and our campus workforce, and they need more evidence that we are seeking to combat bias and provide reasonable accommodations.

The identities of our prospective students today are much more diverse and complex. We can no longer serve only a group of homogeneous students from Upstate New York in traditional ag and tech delivery modes.

We need to meet students where they are and build their communities here. We thrive when we provide them the experiences and skills for social mobility. Well-defined programs of study have changed, and many students need more direction and aid toward certainty. They do not necessarily know yet where they want to go, who they want to become or what problems they wish to solve, but they do know college is the path to a more promising future for those willing to work for it.

One important recent effort has been our Academic Recovery Program.

Historically, we have dismissed about 100 first-year students each December. These students can now can enter into a program of academic recovery. This plan was developed after reviewing what other SUNY peer institutions have done to address similar issues on their campuses.

This kind of approach is right both from a practical and financial perspective that secures tuition and fees, as well as a moral and ethical perspective of helping students realize their potential.

We anticipate we could preserve as much as $700,000 in revenue through this effort. Assuming the program is successful, we will continue to refine and improve this effort.

Program Development

As we listen to our students, both current and prospective, we can learn more about their interests and needs. That is how we develop solutions to ensure their success. We can do the same for our communities and affiliated industries. This listening translates into actionable strategies when we systematically engage in the process of program development.

The challenge for Morrisville is to be more than what it has been, to not rest on the laurels of past success, and recognize that the world is changing around us and requires our response. We must respond to both market and demographic shifts that confront us.

We cannot—and will not— live in the past, but instead we must develop the standards and best practices for the future.

Twenty years ago, we began introducing four-year degrees to build on our history of two-year degrees. Within 10 years, we developed 17 bachelor’s degrees programs. In the last 10 years, we have slowed our pace and introduced just three bachelor’s degree programs (Applied Psychology, Criminal Justice and Renewable Energy) one new associate degree program (Culinary Arts Management), two certificates and a few changes or revitalizations (Nursing) to others.

Last year, we successfully won approval to propose our first-ever master’s degree, in Agribusiness. I believe this is a milestone moment which elevates us to the next level. We can strengthen this moment by also redoubling our efforts to revitalize our current programs and introduce new ones.

Other colleges in our sector have even more recently developed new bachelor’s degree programs and moved significantly online with specialized programs.

Since 2010, Alfred State and Cobleskill have each introduced 12 bachelor’s degree programs, while Canton and Farmingdale have each introduced 14 -- and Farmingdale also has a master’s degree program in Technology Management.

Alfred State has 11 new academic programs just since 2017 (five bachelor’s and six associate programs).

Canton has fully 25 percent of its total enrollment being in online programs, and its new-this-past-fall bachelor’s degree in Game Design & Development with an entering class of 78 students, and an online BBA in agribusiness that is in direct competition to Morrisville’s own agribusiness program.

Delhi now has more than 635 students in its online nursing bachelor’s program. Interestingly enough, Delhi and Morrisville received approval for a bachelor’s in nursing on the exact same day about 10 years ago. The last new bachelor’s degree program that Morrisville introduced was in 2013, Applied Psychology. Additionally, Morrisville does not have a single program that is fully online.

We have already made smart moves to improve our program development efforts. Jason Zbock’s new role as Associate Provost of Assessment, Planning & Educational Development has strengthened our ability to review and improve programs. With the leadership of Provost Barry Spriggs, Jason heads the Program Development Committee, which provides clearer processes and resources to evaluate new or changed degree offerings in response to market demands. These kinds of efforts give me great optimism for Morrisville’s future.

Already, we have 10 program review meetings scheduled this spring. We have two existing programs looking to move completely online, and three programs are in development. Four more programs are already under priority review, including cannabis-related studies at a “gold rush” moment when the state considers legalizing recreational marijuana just a few years after Morrisville was the first to resume growing industrial hemp after an 80-year hiatus.

Just yesterday, Kelly Hennigan and Jen Gilbert Jenkins of our faculty, along with Morrisville graduate and current ISA Howard Rice, met with local media to talk about this great new opportunity. (Kelly stayed behind the camera, but she certainly is playing a lead role in this new endeavor.)

While we know we face shrinking demographics among our traditional-aged student populations, the demand for workforce training and credentialing is growing. These areas offer an opportunity to both serve our dynamic Central New York workforce while diversifying Morrisville’s revenue stream.

Doing more with microcredentials, certificates, workforce training and other non-credit outreach, particularly through institutes and centers, will prove vital to our transformation. We have had tremendous success with the Environmental Training Center, which does great work training hundreds of wastewater professionals from municipalities from across the entire state.

Most recently, on the heels of the Human Services program review last fall, Julie Burton has spearheaded the creation of a Human Services Institute to offer critical training and services for the communities of Norwich and Chenango County. We only expect this influence and work to grow.

Institutional Effectiveness

What empowers us to develop our programs and ensure student success, as well as respond to a changing workforce, is the disciplined practice of institutional effectiveness.

Our success, indeed even our survival, depends on how well we collect information and, more importantly, how we analyze it to make decisions and take action.

We will embrace data more strongly than ever, being sure to understand our peers and our own performance and trends. Success no longer comes from simply having information, but from the ability to filter and decipher which data is important and what trends are developing. We have set up systems and roles that are more proactive than we have ever been.

We will also continue our practice of consolidation.

System administration has supported our consolidation and restructuring plans. They will help us address essential cost savings as we confront some of the budgetary concerns we have discussed with you this past year.

In the case of administrative consolidation, we continue to do this with the expectation of saving money but not compromising services to external constituents. In academic cases, restructuring will be done with an eye toward saving money but also with the intention of increasing, streamlining and enhancing communication and effectiveness for students, faculty and staff.

Consolidation is not something new for us. It is a continuation of an ongoing practice we have undertaken as positions have vacated, such as: Chief of Staff, VP for Finance and Administration, Dean of Liberal Arts, Director of Accounting, and Director of Grants, to name just a few from this past year.

We will continue to consolidate and flatten our academic administrative structure by creating two schools, each with fewer divisions than currently exist. The support staff, too, will be reorganized to create more efficiencies and expedite services to faculty and students. In the coming weeks, we will refine the details as we identify the best synergies for aligning programs and departments within this new structure. This will take effect by July 1.

While change can be intimidating, we can take heart in the promise of simplified organizations that are less isolated. Technology has flattened organizations. It is easier than ever to collaborate with individuals wherever they are. We can tap into expertise, connect with each other, overcome distance and time, all through the power of technology. This is why it is important to make the kinds of investments such as we made in technology infrastructure this past year. Those who once were limited in their voice can now wield massive influence through the power of their ideas and work. We need organizations that accommodate and encourage this. We need positions to provide support to the best ideas and most promising pursuits.

There are other important measures we are taking.

You may be aware that some campuses, such as SUNY Binghamton, have enacted hiring freezes or similar measures, subject to certain exceptions. While I am not inclined to announce an inflexible blanket approach like a hiring freeze, we will increase scrutiny of vacant positions, and especially new positions. We will not proceed with additional searches without more specific information from system and the governor’s office about larger budget measures.

In the meantime, we will restructure in ways that shift people to focus on the activities and endeavors that make the most impact, within their job titles and classifications.

The new Financial Service Center is a great example of improving institutional effectiveness this way. Last summer, the Financial Aid Office and Business Office swapped locations in Whipple so Financial Aid could be closer to Student Accounts. Though moving office locations is never fun, this relocation made a lot of sense for our students because both offices have processes and forms that intersect. In many cases, a student who needs to visit with one office also has business to take care of with the other. The results of this move have greatly enhanced the student experience!

We are also looking at improved management of the master schedule to minimize the courses taught through adjunct and overload at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Similarly, we will reduce overtime expenditures. Both of these categories--which total more than $1 million-- must cut spending dramatically for us to show true responsibility and restraint.

In response to the recent UUP contract agreement, system administration has recommended that campuses extend similar consideration of raises to Managerial/Confidential employees within their workforces. Morrisville will not extend such raises to senior Management/Confidential positions.

We obviously have significant challenges ahead of us. So does everyone else. Unlike everyone else, we have our eyes wide open and our minds set on the future. If change is a constant, we have to embrace it in ways that are reflective of our history and our ethos.

I am reminded of a stanza from “To See How We Move,” by Devon Branca:

Sometimes mustangs
move quickly, sometimes slowly,
but mustangs always move,
because we are visionaries
following invisible maps.

Thank you, Devon, for giving us this touchstone that I often reference.

So, here we are. That is my State of the College address in these 30 minutes we have had together. We’ve got this. All we need is all of us, working together. Stay safe and warm, this weekend, and let’s get onto it next week.