February 28, 2022
Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,
The Board of Trustees met online for their winter meeting on Feb. 11 and 12. I am writing to report on the discussions that took place.
The Board’s plenary sessions were focused on two different but equally important topics: one looking inward, at student mental health and the development of mental health support at Connecticut College; the other looking outward, following the College’s historic national championship victory in December, at the work being done to elevate competitive success in athletics.
Student mental health is an area of critical concern for the College, and a topic that the Board has taken up in the past. Given the circumstances of the past two years, the Board wanted to have a deeper conversation about pandemic-related shifts in student wellbeing. Victor Arcelus, dean of students, along with Sarah Cardwell, senior associate dean, and Bryana White, assistant director of student counseling services, led a discussion on the state of student mental health across the country and the tiered approach Connecticut College is taking to address rising demand on our own campus. The presentation covered broad-based educational outreach efforts, non-clinical interventions, as well as clinical services offered both in-person and online. Of particular interest were some recent innovations at Conn: the workshops for faculty and staff on helping students build distress tolerance; and the new student support positions now built into the department of campus safety to enhance expertise in responding to late-night crises.
The second plenary discussion took up the progress on the College’s action plan for competitive success, based on the strategic goals of strengthening the student experience and elevating the College’s visibility and reputation. The presentation addressed the longstanding scholar-athlete ideal and the development of Conn’s athletic programs over the past 50 years, to frame the more recent work to achieve excellence in recruitment, coaching, and the student athlete experience. Victor Arcelus again led the discussion with Mo White, director of athletics, and our now decorated head coach of men’s soccer Reuben Burk, along with Lorenzo Bocchetti, one of the co-captains of the men’s soccer team. The committee on Marketing and Communications extended this conversation with data on the surge in social media visibility following the national championship.
Other committee discussions focused on the College’s ongoing COVID response, enrollment and retention, FY 22 and 23 budget scenarios, investments, facilities, fundraising, and academic innovations.
Enrollment, Finances, and Investments
The Committee on the Student Experience discussed the effects of the pandemic on student wellbeing and persistence. Erika Smith, dean of the college, gave a presentation on first-to-second-year retention, noting the drop from fall 2020 to fall 2021, caused in part by an increase in student personal and medical leaves. She also outlined both short- and long-term intervention plans that are underway.
Student enrollment was also a topic in the Finance Committee, which looked at the favorable FY 22 budget projections along with the budget parameters for FY23. Andy Strickler discussed some initial data from the nearly 9,000 applications we received for the Class of 2026, which show an increase in both academic quality and potential affinity for Connecticut College. The budget parameters for FY 23 include provisions for increases in compensation and in the College’s contribution to the 401K. The committee has plans to hold additional mid-cycle meetings to discuss longer-range budget planning before the final approval of the FY 23 budget in May.
Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing was taken up by the Investment Committee. Margaret Bounds and Doug Thompson were invited to a discussion with committee members about ESG criteria and their use in evaluating the soundness of investments and in avoiding future financial risk. As of December 2021, the College’s endowment had reached $453.2 million.
The Committee on Academic Affairs had a first discussion of the staffing plan for 2022-23, and then did a deeper dive in the College’s efforts to create more Open Educational Resources for students. Members of the library’s instructional technology team as well as faculty who have created their own free textbooks came together to talk about the importance of these efforts for the College’s goal of full participation.
Facilities and Fundraising
Enterprise systems and the advantages of moving to a cloud environment was one of the areas discussed by the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee. The other area of focus was the College’s capital budget and the list of infrastructure projects being planned as a result of the Hale gift, other philanthropic support, and a recent Board-approved debt issuance. Projects planned for summer 2022 include classroom renovations; improvements to residence halls, admissions, athletic facilities, and the waterfront; and energy upgrades related to our sustainability plan. The committee also reviewed progress on the nearly complete Athey Center for Performance and Research, which will have its official rededication on April 29.
The Advancement Committee focused on results of the Defy Boundaries campaign since its public launch in October. Current campaign gifts and pledges stand at $220 million, or 73% towards the College’s goal of $300 million. The Committee also discussed alumni participation rates and new methods to expand both the volunteer and the donor pool in the final years of the campaign.
Finally, the Board had the opportunity to welcome Rodmon King as our new dean of institutional equity and inclusion as well as Reginald White, our new vice president of Human Resources, who will begin on March 14. The next Board meeting is anticipated to be in person, on April 29, to coincide with the rededication of Palmer Auditorium and the campus celebration of the Defy Boundaries campaign.