Trustees brainstorm ways to increase retention

Stephanie Miller November 3, 2016 0

The Elizabethtown College Board of Trustees held their fall meeting Saturday, Oct. 29 in the Susquehanna Room behind Myer Residence Hall. The meeting began with breakfast and a student-faculty research presentation before moving on to cover the business agenda.

In addition to the officers and members of the Board of Trustees, members from different parts of the College community were in attendance, from professors to representatives of Student Senate.

President Carl Strikwerda’s report touched on many aspects of the College, from the approvals of future comprehensive fee increases to the success of the men’s soccer team. Strikwerda also mentioned that Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolfe declared November 2016 “William Shakespeare Month” because of the College hosting the traveling Shakespeare’s First Folio exhibit and events.

Strikwerda also discussed the College’s new “Envision 2020” Strategic Plan, which will involve many of the other topics discussed by the Board. A draft of the plan will be ready for different campus organizations to review and edit in January.

One issue that received a lot of attention was the College’s enrollment rate. Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs (SVPAA) Betty Rider described the impact the recent drop in enrollment has had on the College and led a discussion about how to deal with the decline.

The Class of 2020 is made up of 442 students, which is short of the annual goal of 500 students per incoming class. This combined with the similarly small population of the Class of 2018 had several trustees worrying about the size of the College and the financial consequences a decreasing student population can have. Strikwerda said a more thorough analysis of the enrollment situation and ways to improve it is being planned for the Board’s winter meeting.

“Our school is a tuition-dependent small college that cares about its students,” one trustee said.

“Every kid we lose is a big deal.”

The trustees then brainstormed ways to help prospective students make personal connections with the College and make them more likely to enroll. Several trustees liked the idea of making a personal phone call to every accepted high school student.

The calls could come from a random faculty member or student or from someone who is involved with one of the student’s interests. For example, future prospective students could receive calls from athletic coaches or professors in their departments of interest.

Strikwerda and Rider both said that what the College is making up for any lack of enrollment with its retention rate. “The Class of 2019 had an 86.7 percent retention rate from their first year to their sophomore year, which is great for any institution and especially for Etown and the kind of students we have,” Strikwerda said.

The trustees also discussed the proposed Sports, Fitness and Wellness Center and unanimously voted to proceed with designing the building. The completed design will be presented to the Board for approval at a future meeting. In terms of funding the Center, so far the College has raised over $11 million of the $15 million goal.

The Center will be built over the practice field next to Wolf Field and is predicted to open in the fall of 2018. According to an email Strikwerda sent after the meeting, the Center will boast a fitness center, three indoor courts, a floor level running track and spaces for students to hang out.

Other future campus projects discussed at the meeting included a café in the High Library, more renovations to the second floor of Nicarry Hall and renovations to the bathrooms in Myer Residence Hall. These projects will be funded by the College’s Plant Reserve Fund. At the meeting, the trustees voted to move almost $2 million into the Plant Reserve Fund to help pay for these projects.

Campaign Steering Committee chair and former Board chair James Shreiner gave an update on the BE Inspired campaign launched this past spring. The campaign is designed to raise money to benefit all aspects of life for Etown students and is organized around certain goals.

Some of the goals are “Building Community,” which involves funding projects like the Sports, Fitness and Wellness Center and various sustainability efforts, and “Transforming Lives,” which will fund student-faculty research and programs like Called to Lead. With well over $34 million donated or pledged to be donated so far, the College is more than halfway to its goal of raising $50 million by 2020.

“If each dollar donated so far was represented by a foot-long blue jay, the blue jays would reach from Etown to Tokyo, Japan,” Shreiner said. “Now we have to bring those blue jays back around to Etown.”

The trustees also voted to purchase a property located at 593 College Ave. This property could have many different functions once the purchase has been made official. Other such properties have been turned into Student-Directed Learning Communities (SDLCs) or extra space for academic departments. The most recent College-owned property to open is the diversity-themed Mosaic House.

Board members discussed ways to help current and prospective students see Etown as a college town and connect students to the town itself and the surrounding area. One idea was sharing a shuttle with Masonic Village and the Etown community. The shuttle would take people to local businesses and possibly places like Hershey or Lancaster on weekends.

In addition to discussing topics relevant to the entire Etown community, the trustees discussed topics that pertain to the Board itself. The trustees approved the Board Leadership Succession Plan, which states the length of certain trustees’ terms and describes how their positions will be filled when their terms are over. Later, Board Assistant Secretary and 2001 Etown graduate Leanna Meiser gave an update on the Trustee Annual Fund.

The meeting finished with an Executive Session led by Board chair Robert Kerr. This session was open to trustees only and concluded with lunch after the meeting adjourned. The theme of the meeting was “College Leadership, Envisioning Our Future” and between all the planning, discussion and decision-making, the Board did just that.


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