Why Colleges Should Offer a Three Year Option

As I prepare for my commencement speech this year, I remember vividly when I first realized that I could graduate college in three years rather than four. As a freshman, I was certainly in no hurry to leave. Indeed, I loved being in college: I was excited by the combination of freedom and opportunity to work hard on subjects I loved with faculty I admired. I didn’t want to leave – even for vacations!

But I realized that graduating in three years would save my family lots of money. Neither of my parents had attended college, and they had sacrificed for years to send my brother and me to the schools of our choice. My father was a furrier, and my mother had given up a promising singing career to raise us (while earning money selling clothes in our basement). They were proud that they were able to afford good colleges for us, and they would never have asked me to skip a year.

But I was proud, too, and I wanted to show my father that all the studying I had done had paid off in some way. I had accumulated credits through APs and a summer program, and with a little extra effort I could save almost a year of tuition – over $6,000! I loved my alma mater, but it seemed expensive even in the 1970s, and so I became a sophomore during my first year. The campus offered me countless opportunities, and I ran after them: I was president of my (co-ed) fraternity, published fiction, took music lessons, held down more than one job, and sought to excel in my classes. At the time, I thought that given the fact that I was going to be at school for only three years, I’d better take full advantage of everything there that I could.

Well, I have now been back at my alma mater as its president for five years, and I still find it an amazing place full of opportunities for learning. Recently, I have spoken with the trustees here about measures we can take to make the university more affordable while still ensuring the quality of an education that comes from face-to-face learning with accomplished scholar-teachers. Wesleyan, like many universities, has gotten ever more expensive, and even though we have a robust financial aid program, we know that many families who don’t qualify for large scholarships have great difficulty paying the high tuition we charge. We use these high fees to maintain the quality of our campus and our instruction – and to provide more funds for financial aid.

But in the last year or so, I’ve come to believe that this model is unsustainable. In a new model we are developing we will be committed to spending almost a third of our revenue on scholarships while meeting the financial need of our students without requiring excessive loans. We will also commit to linking tuition increases with inflation, rather than depending on the much higher rates of increase to which Wesleyan (like most colleges and universities) has been accustomed for decades.

We will also make more visible — and provide more support for — the “three year” route that I chose in the mid 1970s. That is, we will help those students who choose to graduate in six semesters (along with some summer work) get the most out of their time on campus. The three-year option isn’t for everyone, but for those students who are prepared to develop their majors a little sooner, shorten their vacations by participating in summer sessions, and take advantage of the wealth of opportunities on campus, this more economical BA might be of genuine interest. In our case, allowing for some summer expenses, families would still save about 20 percent from the total bill for an undergraduate degree. At many private schools that would be around $50,000!

Some have said to me that students think of their undergraduate experience as among the four best years of their lives – so why would they only want three? That’s the question I faced in 1975, and my decision then was that the economic trade-off was worth it. My appreciation for the remarkable experience had at residential liberal arts colleges has only grown since then, but that does not mean that I came to regret my decision. Three marvelous years here were enough to set me squarely on the path of a lifetime of learning.

Again, by no means is the three-year option for everyone. But if we can offer families the same quality undergraduate degree at a significantly reduced total price – and I think we can – why not do it? Our professors will continue to advance their own fields as they mentor young people whose curiosity, idealism and ambition are unleashed. By making this experience a little more accessible, I am betting we will only add to the diversity and quality of the experience for all our undergraduates.

Cross posted from the Washington Post

Year-End Thanks

Looking back on the year, I feel so grateful for the combination of caring and ambition, cooperation and intensity that marks our Wesleyan community. I think of the wonderful welcome our athletes gave the new students on move-in day, and of the stellar seasons that our men’s and women’s soccer teams had this fall. I think of the powerful theatrical experiences on campus – from the joy of musicals to the awe of classic dramas re-imagined by our students and faculty. Perusing the virtual faculty bookshelf, I admire the scholarly achievements of our professors, from studies of Frank Lloyd Wright to genealogies of racism, especially since I know well the contributions our scholar-teachers have made to the intellectual development of their students. And every day I am grateful for the contributions of the Wesleyan staff, who make all these achievements possible. The hard work of our staff, from reading admission files to planning graduation events, is the foundation of so much of what we are able to accomplish.

The Board of Trustees continues to guide the institution with affection, intelligence and generosity. Trustees, faculty, alumni, students and staff are dedicated to ensuring that our university remains at the forefront of forward-thinking liberal arts education. I am grateful for being part of this team.

I wish you all a restful break, a joyful holiday and a very happy new year.

Innovative University

This past weekend the trustees were in Middletown for their annual retreat. Our theme this year was “the innovative university,” and we worked together to think through how Wesleyan might get out in front of some of the major changes in higher education. Technology, of course, is driving many of these changes, as is a strong desire (for many) to lower the cost of education while making it more vocational. In this context, how could Wesleyan preserve and build upon some of its great traditions of scholarship and learning while also creating opportunities for new modalities of education in the future? How do we expect student learning and faculty research to change over the next decades, and in what ways can Wesleyan contribute to making those changes as positive as possible? These were some of the broad issues the Board discussed with faculty, staff and student representatives.

We have been using Wesleyan 2020 and a strategy map that complements it as a framework for allocating resources and planning the future of the university. We have three overarching goals that animate all our other objectives: to energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience; to enhance recognition of the university as an extraordinary institution; to maintain a sustainable economic model. At the retreat we talked about a number of possible innovations that would be “disruptive” — that would change the platform for the educational experience of students. These ranged from significantly changing the time to degree, to collaborating with other institutions for joint programs, to adding many more online opportunities to our curriculum. I am particularly interested in how we can contain the cost of a degree while simultaneously offering every student opportunities to participate in the arts, athletics, internships, and independent research. There is no doubt that doing all this while maintaining our capacity to support original work by faculty will be especially challenging. But it is a challenge we take on because of our belief that the deepest educational experience depends on the scholar-teacher model.

Like many of the trustees, faculty, and students present, I left the meeting thinking that the urge to streamline education to meet some imagined vocational standard was a big mistake. At many other institutions, under the guise of “innovation,” calls for a more efficient, practical college education are likely to lead to the opposite: men and women who are trained for yesterday’s problems and yesterday’s jobs, men and women who have not reflected on their own lives in ways that allow them to tap into their capacities for innovation and for making meaning out of their experience. Under the pretense of “practicality” we are really hearing calls for conformity, calls for conventional thinking that will impoverish our economic, cultural and personal lives.

Hearing the passionate dedication of our trustees, I felt energized to rethink how we might change Wesleyan while remaining true to its core values. The mission of universities focused on liberal learning should be, in Richard Rorty’s words, “to incite doubt and stimulate imagination, thereby challenging the prevailing consensus.” Through doubt, imagination and hard work, students “realize they can reshape themselves” and their society. At Wesleyan, we recognize that challenging the prevailing consensus can actually enrich our professional, personal and political lives. The free inquiry and experimentation of our education help us to think for ourselves, take responsibility for our beliefs and actions, and be better acquainted with our own desires, our own hopes. Our education contributes not only to our understanding of the world but also to our capacity to reshape it and ourselves. That may be the most profound innovation of all.

 

 

Wes Trustee Joshua Boger in Biotech Hall of Fame

Yesterday I had my final conference call of the fiscal year with Wesleyan’s Board of Trustees. This devoted group of alumni and parents help steer the university for the long haul, and they find time in their busy schedules to provide support, critique and financial assistance for key Wes priorities. I am so grateful for their efforts.

The Board of Trustees is led by Joshua Boger ’73, P’06, P’09. A philosophy-chemistry major here as an undergraduate, Joshua has had an extraordinary career as a scientist, entrepreneur, philanthropist and citizen.  Recently he was recognized for his work in biotechology and chemistry. He  received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Boston Biotech CEO Conference.  Shortly after this honor, a large international gathering in Washington D.C. presented him with  the Biotechnology Heritage Award, jointly given by BIO and the Chemical Heritage Foundation (non-profit keepers of the history of chemistry, located in Philadelphia).  This means that Joshua is a member of a very small and distinguished group known as the Biotechnology Hall of Fame.

Joshua Boger

Congratulations, Joshua!

 

How are the Humanities?

Last week I met with many faculty members from Wesleyan’s division of Arts and Humanities. We had an interesting conversation about some of the challenges facing teachers and scholars in these areas, which have found themselves under increasing pressure around the country as schools cut budgets. Recently, the State University of New York at Albany eliminated some foreign language programs, and that is only one dramatic example of many that seem to show that humanities-based education is in deep trouble. Recently, Stanley Fish critically considered many of the contemporary Cassandras predicting the collapse of the liberal arts, but he also noted the founding of a new (and traditional) liberal arts college in Savannah, Georgia.

At Wesleyan we have much to be proud of with respect to the humanities. Our faculty regularly inspire students and readers in subjects ranging from the most traditional to the most avant garde, and they continue to create scholarship that shapes their fields. Russian Professor Susanne Fusso, for example, has written powerfully on Dostoevsky’s exploration of sexuality, deviance and the young person’s encounter with the adult world. Joel Pfister, of English and American Studies, has for years helped reconfigure our understanding of the relationship of Native American and White American culture, and he recently published a study of Winnebago (Ho-Chunk) Henry Roe Cloud, entitled The Yale Indian. Like Susanne, Joel has been an active member of the university community, and he currently chairs the English department. Andrew Curran, of the Romance Languages and Literatures Department, has just finished a major study of ideas of race in the Eighteenth Century, and this spring he is organizing a Shasha Seminar on race in conjunction with a class he is teaching. There are so many examples I could cite of humanities scholar-teachers here working at the highest level! They are attracting some of our best students and launching them toward a lifetime of learning.

One of the confusing aspects of our curriculum at Wesleyan is how we define our academic divisions. At Wes, some disciplines commonly thought to be key to the humanities, like Philosophy, History and Religion, are located in the social science division. Many courses within these programs are labeled as humanities classes, though there are also several surprises. Over the next several months I hope to better understand how we have organized the curriculum, and talk to faculty and students about how this organization supports their educational goals.

This week the Board of Trustees are here for the fall meeting. I’ve asked our board members to let me know how their humanities  college education has remained relevant to their lives after graduation. They have written at some length about critical thinking, communication skills, and the expansion of their powers of empathy. How do we understand the narratives of those around us, and how to we learn to shape our own story? Many of our trustees trace their love of music, art and literature to encounters in the arts and humanities here.

Professor of Italian Ellen Nerenberg recently shared with me the self-study conducted last year by Romance Languages and Literatures. The department discusses the humanities as a crossroads of the world, as a gateway to interculturalism, and as a constructive engagement with tradition. These are certainly crucial dimensions of humanistic study, which provides students with an orientation to traditions, cultures and creativity. An education in the humanities also offers enormous pleasure, expanding one’s capacity for delight and wonder.

Students are now choosing their classes for the spring. As I look at the rich array of offerings, I can only imagine the joyful discoveries that await them. How are the Humanities at Wesleyan? Self-questioning, as always, but also alive to both tradition and the contemporary world in ways that continue to benefit our students.

 

Wesleyaning into the Future!

Last weekend the Wesleyan Board of Trustees was in town for its annual retreat. The trustees, almost all alumni along with several parents of Wes students, gathered this year to focus on two major topics: building the long-term economic health of the university, and imagining how Wes will look 30 or 50 years from now. We were joined by faculty, staff and students, and the discussions were animated and productive.

On Saturday we looked at the general profile of the endowment — past, present and future. There are three key ingredients to building an endowment strong enough to provide annual revenue for the operations of the school: gifts, spending, and investment performance. Over the last three years we have shifted our fundraising priorities so that we now invest more of the gifts we receive rather than spending them, and we have reduced the percentage that we draw from the endowment. Finally, we have hired Anne Martin, formerly a Director in the Yale Investment Office, to provide wise stewardship of our investment portfolio. Anne led the retreat participants in some exercises that explored how we choose the asset classes in which we invest, and how we choose managers within those classes. Everyone left with a greater understanding of how our investment operation works.

We also discussed endowment fund raising at some length, since all trustees are active friendraisers and fundraisers for the university. Chair Joshua Boger led us in some creative exercises in which we thought about our highest aspirations for Wes and how we might envision taking steps to act on them. One trustee suggested that we find a way over the next decades to do so much good for our students and the world that Wesleyan becomes a verb!

This week we had our inaugural faculty meeting of the year. Department chairs introduced more than a dozen new professors who are joining our ranks across all divisions. These are extraordinary scholar-teachers who have already begun making their mark. Listening to the descriptions of their research and the classes they are teaching filled me with confidence in the ongoing rejuvenation of our curriculum and of our ability to shape scholarly fields through original contributions.

I was Wesleyaned!

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Trustee Meetings: A Grand Gift, MoCon, Tuition, Liberal Arts

This past weekend the Board of Trustees was on campus. Despite the blizzard in the Northeast, trustees managed to get here for key meetings, engaging conversations and for some important decisions. One of the great moments of the weekend was the dinner to honor Wesleyan volunteers. At this celebration I was delighted to announce that Joshua Boger ’73, P ’06, P’09 and Amy Boger, M.D., P’06, P’09 have pledged 12 million dollars to our fundraising efforts. This will establish the Boger Scholarship Program and the Joshua Boger University Professorship of The Sciences and Mathematics. The first recipient of the chair appointment will be David L. Beveridge, professor of chemistry.

Here are some other highlights from the Board’s meetings.

The Campus Affairs Committee has an extraordinarily wide portfolio of concerns. They receive reports on Admissions (plenty of good news there!), co-curricular initiatives and core academic affairs. We discussed some of the current departmental models for assessing student learning and heard a report on the summer session pilot program. This committee also forwarded its recommendation to grant tenure to two stellar young scholar-teachers: Matthew Kurtz in Psychology and Typhaine Leservot in Romance Languages and the College of Letters.  Matt works on the neuroscience of cognitive rehabilitation for schizophrenia, and Typhaine’s research concerns changing modes of literary analysis (postcolonial, feminist) for contemporary Francophone writing. Congratulations to both!

The Finance Committee has a lion’s share of the work at the February meeting because it’s here that we propose our tuition for next year in the context of our budget projections. For next year the Board approved a 5% increase in tuition and fees, and we also project an 11% increase in our financial aid expenditures. We had plenty of discussion about how we might find ways to reduce costs so as to restrain future tuition increases without sacrificing the quality of student experience. This is a high priority going forward.

A topic that came up in various venues throughout the weekend concerned the future of McConaughy Hall. I knew the building well as a student, living just across from its front doors as a frosh. I remember with real fondness its grand staircase and wonderful light, and I also think back to some great parties and concerts I attended there. The building has been empty since I began my presidency, and since that time I’ve been trying to find an alternative use for it. The structure turns out to be terribly inefficient, and in great disrepair. Still, I had hopes that we might transform it (as we have done with Davenport and Fayerweather, and will do with Squash) for some community use.

I haven’t found an alternative use for MoCon. But given all the strong feeling, which I share, about trying to find alternative uses, I’ve delayed signing contracts for its demolition. The building has been here for almost 50 years, and I don’t take this decision lightly. But I also will not spend significant university funds every year without having a real function for the building. So, I am reviewing options (with appropriate professional guidance) one more time. I appreciate the input I’ve gotten, and I will be writing again soon on this subject.

At the main Board meeting we held an open discussion concerning changes in the liberal arts curriculum. How should we steer liberal arts learning in the future? I was particularly interested in hearing what fields the Board thought should be added to a liberal arts education, and which areas should be cut or reduced in importance. For example, I’ve been exploring the possibility of developing a liberal arts approach to engineering, and I’m also interested in how design thinking can have a more prominent role in our curriculum. Integrating our arts programs more fully into our academic programs (as with our new efforts in creative writing) is an important priority for many of us at Wes. I can ask readers here what I asked the Board: What would you like to see Wesleyan doing more of, less of?

Our conversation centered on three main areas for growth, and, truth be told, no real places for cutting: (1) public policy domestically and internationally, (2) engineering and design, (3) and the study of the impact of technology on culture and society. Dean Don Moon reminded us that while it might be good to have these general conversations at the Board level, each year the Wesleyan faculty develops dozens of new courses. The curriculum has been evolving and will continue to do so. We can thank our scholar-teacher model for that! It’s through their research that our professors develop new ideas that energize the classroom, and we are all the better for it!

Studying Abroad

I’m traveling with Board Chair Joshua Boger and his wife Amy this week to meet with some alumni overseas. We’ve been in Bangalore the last few days and had an extraordinary visit with Azim and Rishad Premji at their Wipro headquarters. Rishad graduated from Wesleyan in ’99, and just last year we awarded his father Azim an honorary doctorate for his outstanding philanthropic work. The Azim Premji Foundation is focused on making a national impact on the educational system here – with particular attention given to helping girls erase the literacy gap. I also learned about the Foundation’s programs helping very young children of migrant workers, as well as an ambitious plan to open the Azim Premji University in a few years. This university will have teacher training as its core mission. I’ve been deeply impressed by the foundation officers and their work.  They taught me so much in a short time, and I’m optimistic about their chances of success.

Wipro is a major international technology services company based in India, and it is increasingly taking on work in “green industries.” Joshua, Amy and I met with a group of Wipro executives responsible for the professional development of the staff (over 100,000 employees!). They are practically running a university at Wipro, and it was fascinating to hear about their approach to continuing education through seminars, lectures and mobile device access. I took plenty of notes!

Our conversations with Azim Premji and Rishad Premji focused on how to raise Wesleyan’s profile in India and on how a liberal arts education can prepare graduates very well to become imaginative engineers.  I look forward to continuing these conversations as we enhance internationalization at Wes and develop connections between our programs and the broad spectrum of engineering (from infrastructure to technology and sustainability).

We had the chance to see a bit of Mysore today, and we’re off tomorrow before dawn. Next stop, London, for a brief visit with the Wes community there.

india_palace

india_bull

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Discovering Strategy

This past weekend the Board of Trustees, including its faculty, student and staff representatives, spent hours discussing some of the key themes that will form the strategy for Wesleyan going forward. We discussed together elements of our core purpose, and some of the crucial values that have guided the institution for years. Many of the key words will be familiar to Wesleyan folks: transformative liberal arts experience, service, creative and critical thinking, inspired teaching. We quickly developed a consensus around the central elements of our core purpose.

We then settled on four main elements of strategy: Energizing Wesleyan’s Distinctive Educational Experience; Achieving Recognition as an Extraordinary Institution; Delivering Excellent Stakeholder Experiences (for students, alumni, faculty, and staff); Working Within a Sustainable Economic Model. Within each of these areas we developed some key aspects on which we will be working over the next few months to focus our use of intellectual energy and financial resources.

The work we did this past weekend helps refine the framework for planning that I’ve distributed as Wesleyan 2020. On Sunday night I met with the Wesleyan Student Assembly to discuss the retreat and any concerns students might have. As usual, there were great questions concerning the curriculum, budget and other campus issues. I always learn a lot from meeting with the student leadership.

We are refining our ideas for the future and working together to coordinate all our efforts to help Wesleyan live up to its potential. This afternoon I met with the faculty ad hoc committee to discuss more short term budget priority issues. There was much common ground, but still some difficult choices ahead. With our shared sense of purpose, I am confident that we will be successful in steering our school through these uncertain economic times.

Over the weekend we took a break to dedicate the new Sukkah designed by Prof. Elijah Huge and his students in an architecture studio class. It was a joyous occasion, and the sight of the beautiful temporary bamboo structure on Foss Hill makes me smile each time I see it. You can wander into the Sukkah to study, or to play music, or just to lie on the grass to see the light shine through the bamboo. It’s a shelter and an inspiration. In this way, it reminds me of Wesleyan.

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