Just about a year ago, I wrote to update the Wesleyan community on the university’s progress in relation to our strategic framework, Wesleyan 2020. This document was approved by the Board of Trustees in 2010 and was the basis for a “strategy map.” We continue to use these guideposts to help us allocate our resources, and to put the work we’ve been doing in a context for assessment and planning. Wesleyan 2020 outlines three overarching goals: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution; and to work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values. Attached to each goal are more focused objectives, and below I highlight some of the things we’ve been doing to meet them.
Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience
The faculty has primary responsibility for the curriculum, and over the last year we have seen creative efforts to deepen and broaden Wesleyan’s curricular strengths. In 2014 we launched the College of East Asian Studies, the College of Integrated Science, and a new Masters Program in Curatorial Practice in Performance. And we laid the groundwork for real progress in 2015 on a Center for Global Studies. Replacing the office of International Studies, the Center will strategically leverage the wealth of resources already on campus in the areas of global awareness, world languages, and social commitment. We have also further integrated our engaged campus work and interdisciplinary social science efforts through the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life; new kinds of research and teaching collaborations in conjunction with the Wesleyan Media Project have been especially noteworthy. In many respects faculty and staff made significant contributions this year with respect to the 2020 objective “Refine and refresh curriculum, exploiting academic strengths.”
There has been a strong desire for more productive avenues for pedagogical innovation. In January we ran our first Winter Session, and the intensive courses launched during this pilot program were seen as very successful by faculty and students alike. We have begun developing a Center for Pedagogical Innovation to develop new kinds of courses, certificates and degree programs. The Center should also help with the university’s efforts to improve advising and help meet the 2020 objective to “enhance faculty’s capacity for mentoring students.”
“Choose students who can most benefit from and contribute to Wesleyan” is another 2020 objective. This year we welcomed our first cohort of military veterans to campus, the fruits of our collaboration with the Posse Foundation. We have also been able to extend our “no loan” financial aid packages to families earning less than $60,000 per year [up from $40,000]. We were able to increase our spending on financial aid this year, and we continue to look for ways to attract a diverse, cosmopolitan student body.
Over the last year we have had extensive conversations about campus learning, about how to connect the full residential experience to our learning goals for all students. These have been closely linked to conversations concerning equity and inclusion. We also made preparations for a community-wide conversation next semester about how the culture of learning here intersects with the physical environment. The purpose of this ideas-driven campus planning project is to frame a set of principles to guide the evolution of the campus in the future. Those principles certainly include campus safety and facilities open to full participation from everyone. These efforts are part and parcel of our objective to “enhance co-curricular programs to support the personal and academic learning environment.”
Recognition of Wesleyan as an Extraordinary Institution
Our faculty, staff, students and alumni continue to do amazing things, and the University shares in these successes by bringing them to the attention of diverse audiences. The Wesleyan magazine in print and various online university publications celebrate the achievements of the extended Wesleyan family. Almost every week the national media carries stories about or by Wesleyans, demonstrating (directly or indirectly) the power and the relevance of the liberal education we offer. From the White House to the Broadway stage to the gridiron, Wes folks are visible and embracing alma mater. This addresses the 2020 objectives to “make research of faculty and students more widely known” and to “strengthen lifelong alumni engagement.”
Throughout the country the Wesleyan Media Project is becoming known as a dependable source for analyzing links between campaign financing and advertising. Hundreds of news stories in the fall of 2014 depended on the research done here in Middletown and with our partner institutions. The innovative work of the Center for the Arts has been widely celebrated by national arts organizations. These are just two examples of the many efforts this year that have helped us “enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution.”
One of the most important ways we measure recognition of the university is through the number of high-quality applicants who want to have access to the education we offer. Although the overall number of applications for the class of 2018 was down, the students who matriculated were as strong as ever. Outside study confirmed that the decline in the size of the pool was most likely a temporary “correction” after significant growth. Early indications seem to bear this out. We have received a record number of early decision applications for the class of 2019.
Wesleyan recruits students from all over the world, and our faculty share their research in venues from Australia to Europe, from South Africa to Northern China. Our online classes through Coursera enroll students from more than 100 countries, and as of the end of this year are closing in on a million enrollees. These efforts are helping us meet the objective of “promoting Wesleyan in areas where we are not well known.”
Sustainable Economic Model and Core Values
Wesleyan continues to limit tuition increases to inflation, and this year we increased the amount of money available for financial aid for the class of 2018. Overall, we continue to meet the full financial need for all admitted students, and we do so while keeping required loans within financial aid packages to a minimum. (See the Sustainable Affordability site for more on our economic model.)
Last year in this update I wrote about our disappointment with our admissions “yield” on high need students – meaning that fewer high need students accepted our offers of admission than we expected. We were determined to reverse this for the class of 2018, and we did. The class of 2014 had a successful “raise the cap” fundraising effort, adding additional dollars to our financial aid budget. We continue to admit about 90 percent of the class without regard to the ability to pay. This does not meet our “need blind” objective from 2020, but it is as close as we can come now while meeting full need.
The 2020 objective to “attract and retain faculty who are productive scholars, first-rate teachers and contributors to campus community” was taken on with great energy this year by faculty and Academic Affairs. Although we lost some beloved professors in the last year to Ivy League schools (or retirement), we have also recruited some extraordinary young scholar-teachers to join our ranks. One of the attractions to faculty and students alike is the beautiful campus on which we work. The tireless and creative work of the Physical Plant staff contributes to our objective to “maintain a safe, attractive and sustainable campus conducive to learning.”
One of the most important financial objectives of 2020 is to “grow the endowment while restraining the growth of the annual budget.” Our endowment performance, especially when measured over the last three and five year periods, has been among the top quartile, and our growth in the annual budget has been about the lowest of any school in our peer group.
A key element in our long-term economic health is successful fundraising, and for the last three years our efforts in this regard have been energized through the THIS IS WHY Campaign. We have raised around $360 million toward a $400 million goal, with financial aid being our highest priority. We set another record last fiscal year in fundraising, with more cash over the transom through the end of the year than ever before. In early December, we smashed single day participation records on Giving Tuesday. This was very exciting, and I am so grateful for the generosity of the Wesleyan family, and for the inspiring work of the University Relations team. We have created scores of new endowed scholarships, and we are so grateful to all our donors, big and small. In addition to financial aid, I’d like to underscore gifts received to help us improve advising, endow the College of Film and the Moving Image, and create dozens of paid internships.
The Wesleyan faculty are dedicated educators who create an educational experience second to none. These teacher-scholars receive broad recognition for their work, and they are advancing their fields while expanding the horizons of their students. It goes almost without saying, but staff, too, work to enhance the educational experience of our students. Whether in finance or physical plant, fundraising or student life, we are all educators. Staff as well as faculty are here for the good of the students, and often we have the great benefit of learning with them.
Wesleyan’s “spirit of experimentation” is recognized across the country (and increasingly around the world). Our willingness to develop new programs, create unexpected combinations, explore surprising opportunities – these are part of our identity.
Building reputation is a long-term process, and it can seem derailed by crises, accidents and changes in the political and social context. At Wesleyan, we have embraced the mission of providing “an education in the liberal arts that is characterized by boldness, rigor, and practical idealism.” Yes, these attributes are in tension with one another – it’s a tension we embrace and make productive.
Meaningful reputations are built on real achievements, and there are plenty of “builders” here on campus. From our new colleges and centers to our core academic departments, we are fortunate to have entrepreneurial faculty who are creating programs that make new knowledge and serve our students. In every corner of campus one can find the spirit of practical idealism – combining mighty inspiration with hardheaded realism.
Teamwork and solidarity have been very much in evidence over the past year. That’s true in protests, too, of course, and I have learned much from talking with students, faculty, staff and alumni who want to see us chart courses different from the ones we are on. Loyalty to alma mater of those marching for their causes is deep. It’s this deep loyalty that inspires our work on campus as we “build a diverse, energetic community of students, faculty, and staff who think critically and creatively and who value independence of mind and generosity of spirit.”
Pragmatic liberal education at Wesleyan is centered in free inquiry, experimentation and creative practice. The members of our community are open to ambiguity and complexity, helping us to think independently, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, seize opportunities and solve problems. Carrying this education far beyond the campus, Wesleyans aim to understand the world while contributing to it. I am so proud to be within these ranks.
Michael S. Roth