Dear Hiram community,
As we start a promising new academic year, articles have appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Inside Higher Ed that focused on some of our recent challenges in budgeting and enrollment. These brief and somewhat narrowly focused pieces generated a host of questions from many of you who care deeply about the College. I thought it was best to clarify and add perspective to these issues sooner rather than later. Towards that end, there is much good news to share that has yet to receive air time. As we create our well-informed collective narrative, it is important to note that:
- We opened our doors this past week to 240 new (and by the way, very excited) first-time students. This reflects a 20% increase over last year’s Traditional College move-in numbers. Any small liberal arts college would rejoice in such a year-over-year increase (official numbers will be published at census). While we would like to check in an even larger new class, we are very pleased with the appreciable increase we achieved.
- Our enrollment in PGS (Weekend College/Community College Partnerships/Graduate) looks fantastic. Currently, Fall 2016 PGS enrollment sits at 8% over budget. This increase is primarily due to Weekend College and Community College Partnership students enrolling in more credit hours. We should all send big kudos to our colleagues in PGS for hitting this milestone.
- For two years now, the academic indicators of our entering students are higher than they have been in several years. Specifically, both the average GPA and SAT scores of the incoming students in Fall 2015 and 2016 are up. As part of this good news, however, we should not forget a noteworthy point of pride. Hiram does a remarkable job of helping students at various levels of “readiness” meet their academic potential and go on to do great things.
Other important student metrics are also moving in the right direction. Both our “persistence rate” (the percentage of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors enrolled last year who are returning this year) and our first-to-second year “retention rate” are on the rise.
- In 2015, 86% of our students returned; this year, our current data suggests that 89% of them are returning.
Even more promising: the first-to-second year retention rate seems to have gone up eight percentage points.
Last year, 66% of the freshmen who began in Fall 2014 returned in Fall 2015.
As of this writing, 74% of the freshmen who began in Fall 2015 are registered to return this Fall. A retention increase, in a single year, of eight percentage points is extremely high and quite uncommon.
- Student metrics are not the only ones that signal the health of a college. Trustee, alumni, friend, and employee giving is another important indicator. Hiram College just logged the most successful fundraising year in its 166-year history. And, we didn’t narrowly surpass the 2001 record of $8.2M; we crushed it by over one million dollars.
The context that frames this record-setting year is incredible: we brought in $9.3M during the year we had a new chief development officer at the helm of the leanest team that the College has employed in years. Congratulations to all of them.
- The data delineated above are encouraging; indeed, they give me great hope. And hopeful though I am, there is hard work yet to do. To sharpen our forward-focused vision, we must methodically cut and grow. The former is difficult, but we have faced this challenge head-on by using data and experience to better align expenses with projected revenues and the student population we currently serve. As I have shared over the summer, we made reductions in operations, cancelled several institutional memberships, partnered with a new facilities company, offered eligible employees a voluntary retirement program and had a reduction in force of 13 employees. For a tightly-knit college, saying goodbye to valued colleagues was the most difficult of the important steps in our repositioning.
As we all know, strategic and judicious decision-making is not marked solely by reductions, efficiencies, and streamlining. Viable and enduring change must target areas of growth and investment as well. We are continuing to put students first, targeting areas that will help us boost recruitment and retention by:
- launching Hiram Health – a curricular and co-curricular program that positions Hiram to be the destination for undergraduates who want to study health, embody a healthy lifestyle, and help their classmates and faculty build a healthy campus community.
- bolstering the number of faculty and staff in our Nursing program and hiring faculty in Classics, Economics, Mathematics, and Public Health.
- introducing Hiram Connect – Hiram College’s way of doing the liberal arts. Hiram Connect teaches students how to intentionally integrate what they learn in and out of the classroom with what they experience in their personal lives. It also helps them step back and explicitly reflect on what they are learning now and what they still want and need to learn as they imagine life beyond Hiram. As part of Hiram Connect, all students will complete an experiential component, such as an internship, study away program, or research project before they graduate.
- adding new academic programs in exercise science and natural history. Hiram has a strong tradition in both of these curricular areas, and each one is expected to attract new students to campus.
- overhauling our entire College website to highlight admissions and other key student areas.
- being one of the first institutions in Ohio to offer men’s volleyball at the intercollegiate level. Since we are an early adopter in this regard, we hope to be ahead of the game (literally) on this one.
- exploring the addition of an interdisciplinary sustainability program that will help us leverage our 550-acre biological station as a learning lab for various science, art, and environmental studies programs.
- beginning a comprehensive strategic planning process that will include many of you reading this letter.
Our work at Hiram is far from done. But thanks to creative and pragmatic leadership at many levels of campus; a renewed focus on sound management, prudent budgeting, and staffing; heightened donor support; and timely and mission-relevant programmatic adjustments, we are setting Hiram on a sustainable path … hopefully for its next 166 years.
I have put these facts and figures at your fingertips, in part, so you can help us chart that path. One of the first steps we can take this new year is to tell a fuller and more informed Hiram story. It is a true story: one best told by those who know and love this place. Please help me tell it.