From the Presidents of St. John's College
As we look forward to greeting our new freshmen and welcoming back returning students in a few weeks, we are developing strategies that will continue to improve St. John’s, and we would like to let you in on our thoughts and goals. We are concentrating on the academic program and opportunities for students on both campuses as well as a more outward focus for the college. St. John’s needs to be better known, better understood, and better recognized for the value this education provides.
It will come as no surprise that St. John’s has not been immune to pressures from the unsettled economy. Since October 2008, undergraduate applications have fallen across the college. Overall enrollment continues to be within target range in Annapolis but has decreased in Santa Fe. St. John’s remains committed to providing financial aid—to meeting what is called “demonstrated need” for families from nearly every income level. Thus, financial aid costs have increased by almost 60% since 2008. We recently enhanced financial aid for incoming freshmen and introduced merit scholarships, the immediate result of which has been an increase in the number of accepted students who choose to come to the college. Continuing to convey the message about the college’s affordability is an important goal and should help increase the number of total applications and have a positive effect on enrollment.
Despite economic pressures we have balanced and outperformed our budgets. Philanthropy—the generosity of alumni and others—constitutes more than 25% of what it costs to run the college; at a time when net revenue from tuition is not increasing, this is extremely important. Increased philanthropic support of our operating budgets has offset the increase in our financial aid to students, a healthy enough development to keep our bond rating stable despite the effect of reduced tuition revenue on operations. However, we recognize that we must reverse the decline in applications and enrollment and increase our non-tuition sources of revenue if we are to ensure the strength of our distinctive and valuable program of instruction.
In light of these challenges, and with the support of the Board of Visitors and Governors, we are embarking upon a three-year plan to make a substantial investment, from gifts and the college endowment, with four objectives:
This strategy has two parts: First, increase the reach and effectiveness of the college’s position as a leader in liberal arts. Chris Nelson, president of the Annapolis campus, will devote significant time to writing, speaking, blogging, and other activities designed to carry the St. John’s message about the effectiveness and value of this education. Second, the college will adopt a new, fresh way of presenting itself on the Web and in print. We’ve retained a consulting firm, Siegelvision, and their team is delivering outlines to the college for this new approach. We are not changing who we are; we are making an effort to convey what we do and how we do it more clearly, in ways that might be received more readily by prospective students. Early testing has confirmed our message needs to change and we continue to consult with students, prospective students, alumni, and faculty to assure that this effort is successful and represents the college we know and love.
This will include funds for faculty release time to support the admissions effort, an expansion of the successful Summer Academy program that introduces high school students to St. John’s, and other efforts to expand the number of visits by prospective students to campus and improve the quality of their visits. The investment funds will also support the work of consultants who are helping us better understand the effect of our tuition and aid polices on applications and enrollment.
Improve Student Experience:
We will substantially increase the number of college-funded summer internships for students as well as other opportunities under the rubric of “Pathways.” Pathways will cover a wide variety of opportunities for students outside of traditional internships—for example, enrichment courses in the summer, assistance with courses required for post-graduate work such as pre-med, and the possibility of summer study abroad.
2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Santa Fe campus. This is an opportunity to raise additional funds specifically directed toward the Santa Fe endowment and operations. The goal for Santa Fe is $20 million over the next three years. We are pleased to report that we have received a pledge of $5 million from Dr. Norman Levan toward this goal, but we will need the help of alumni and friends close to the college to strengthen the resources in Santa Fe and, indeed, of the whole college. Beyond the campaign for the Santa Fe 50th we are also looking at other ways to increase revenue through expanded offerings such as Summer Classics and Executive Seminars as well as new initiatives that we will share with you once they are developed.
We are excited by the prospects of this plan and appreciate the commitment of the Board to its success. But we cannot emphasize enough that we need your support. We need your financial support, to be sure. Many of our fundraising efforts depend on it given that the first question asked by foundations and major donors is “What percentage of your alumni gives back to the college?” Equally important is the support you can offer through your engagement in the public debate about the value of liberal education.
As alumni, your greatest gift to the college is also your great gift to the world around you: you take the college with you in your lives as alumni, parents, and neighbors; as public servants and leaders in your professions; and as fellow citizens in your participation in your communities and associations, places of work, and houses of worship. You carry with you a higher vision of the public good; you understand the difference between means and ends; and you are more likely to treat your fellow companions in the journey through life as worthy ends in themselves because you have found a worthy end for yourselves. For this reason, others are more likely to entrust you with the responsibility of shaping a better world.
The greatest service our alumni can do is to show the world what a well-lived life looks like—and along the way, spread the word that there is an oasis from the storm of life that gives young people an opportunity to find themselves and ask how they too can make happy lives for themselves and for those they touch.