February 12, 2020

Dear Members of the Connecticut College Community,

The Connecticut College Board of Trustees convened for its winter meeting last weekend. The agenda, which focused on the College’s financial future, included discussions of admission, retention, marketing, fundraising, capital projects, and campus climate. Details of the conversations are summarized below.

Building Financial Strength
One of the key goals of the College’s strategic plan is to build financial strength. In October, Chair of the Board Fritz Foltz announced his intention to form a task force focused on this goal. That group, called the Futures Committee, met over the last two months to discuss trends in higher education; evaluate Connecticut College’s place within the market; and consider strategies that would strengthen its position. The full Board reviewed the committee’s findings, which looked at demographic and financial aid trends within higher education and comparative institutional data on net tuition, endowment, fundraising, graduation rates, and expenses per student. Favorable trends for Connecticut College relative to peers included net tuition and endowment per student, fundraising, and graduation rates; less favorable were reliance on tuition, expenses per student, and investments in physical plant.

One of the biggest challenges to come is the national drop in college-going students after 2026. The Board discussed rebuilding enrollment now to improve net tuition and economies of scale; leveraging academic and athletics programs to capture new student markets; and continuing to remodel academic expenses. On the last point, members of the Board expressed admiration for the Priorities, Planning, and Budget Committee (PPBC) as well as the new task force on faculty resources appointed by the Faculty Steering and Conference Committee, for their ongoing help in this work.

Academic Affairs
The strategic importance of Connections was a theme throughout the weekend, as trustees reviewed both admission trends and the outcomes of the first cohort of students to go through the program. The Committee on Academic Affairs heard from Libby Friedman ’80, assistant dean of the College for Connections, and Tyla Alexander ’20, a scholar in the Bodies and Embodiment Pathway, who spoke about the unique success of the inaugural All-College Symposium in November, which allowed students to showcase the integration of their work in classes, in the community, and around the globe.

Student Experience
The Committee on Student Experience discussed first-year-to-sophomore retention, campus climate, and the renovation of the College Center at Crozier-Williams. Dean of the College Jefferson Singer presented retention data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning showing students in the classes of 2018 to 2020 persisting at the same high rates as in the past 15 years. Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion John McKnight reviewed two campus climate surveys being administered this semester as part of the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium (HEDS): one on sexual assault, measuring student perceptions, and the other on diversity and equity, measuring the views of students, staff, and faculty. Data from these instruments will allow the College to compare longitudinal progress with peers.

Dean of Students Victor Arcelus showed recent plans for the renovation of the College Center at Crozier-Williams. The architect’s newest concept connects Cro more intentionally with the Harris Refectory to the north, and with academic buildings to the south. The proposed design includes new Oasis and Humphrey’s eateries, new event and living room spaces, fireplaces, enhanced natural light, and improved access to student support offices.

Capital Projects and Information Security
Other projects discussed by the Facilities and Infrastructure Committee included the renovation of Palmer Auditorium, to begin this spring, and the relocation of the Film Studies program to Hillyer Hall, planned for summer 2020. The committee also reviewed ongoing upgrades to heating, ventilation, and air handling systems in the Plex.

Lee Hisle, vice president for Information Services and librarian of the College, and Jean Kilbride, associate vice president for Enterprise and Technical Systems, reported on a long list of major IS projects recently completed, including the RAVE emergency notification system; the new Salesforce implementation for Advancement (“Connforce”); and the Banner 9 Student Advising module. In the next 18 months, the College expects to complete a new campaign website, a new www.conncoll.edu website, a new cloud-based student information platform, as well as a new mobile and desktop applications replacing our current intranet.

Finances, Enrollment and Fundraising
By tradition, the Board approved the parameters for the fiscal year 2021 budget, including a range for staff and faculty increases, the comprehensive fee, and the endowment draw. The final budget will be approved by the Board in May.

The budget discussion included a review of admission results to date. Applications to Connecticut College are once again at a record high, with the largest number of applications ever for Early Decision. Decisions for the second round of Early Decision (EDII) will be released Saturday. Trustees discussed new marketing strategies being employed to engage prospective students and families; new programs and outreach to high school counselors; and the development of new admission campaign messaging.

Fundraising continues to yield strong results. As of January, the Campaign has reached $122 million in cumulative gifts and commitments, with approximately $12 million received already in FY20. The Connecticut College Fund, running 20 percent ahead of last year, has raised $5 million against a goal of $6.75 million. Laura Becker, director of gift planning, spoke with trustees about the Rosemary Park Society–Conn’s vehicle for estate planning–as a special area of focus for this Campaign.

Honorifics and other business
Trustees conversed with members of Staff Council at a reception on Thursday; with the Connecticut College Alumni Board at a reception on Friday; and with members of the PPBC and the Task Force on Faculty Resources over dinner on Friday. On Saturday, the Board unanimously and enthusiastically approved an honorary doctorate for Trustee Emerita Linda J. Lear ’62–a historian known for her groundbreaking work on Rachel Carson– to be presented at the 2020 Commencement.

Finally, the Board learned that Bonnie Wells, who has served Connecticut College for the past 25 years and as secretary of the College since 2007, has decided to retire at the end of this academic year. Trustees expressed deep gratitude for her support and look forward to celebrating her extraordinary service at their final meeting in May.

Katherine Bergeron