We are already one third of the way through our semester, which is hard to believe. So far, we are keeping COVID at bay, and our students continue to impress me with their compliance with our policies, including the SUNY vaccine mandate. On September 28, only 1 student had to be un-enrolled as a result of not following the policy. While I am sorry to see any student leave campus, I know that we must put the greater good above the individual at times, and a world-wide pandemic is such a time. We respect the sincerely held religious beliefs of our students and have offered both a religious and a medical exemption policy. We are fortunate that we now have 96% of our student body fully vaccinated against COVID. Our faculty and staff numbers are also above the regional average, with 78% of our employees offering HR evidence of their vaccination status. Any unvaccinated individuals will need to continue to test weekly throughout the fall semester, whether they have exemptions or not.
Student Numbers and Budget
Our census numbers were reported to Senate on September 27, and I want to share them more widely today. Our final headcount of students is close to the figure we had budgeted for, but lower than we had hoped: 6,992. We haven’t dipped below 7,000 for many years. Nevertheless, please know that our undergraduate admissions team and our Center for Graduate Studies all did amazing work in recruiting students in a difficult environment, and in working in partnership with College Communications and academic departments; I am grateful to them for their efforts. We recruited 1,012 new first year students, 756 new transfer students and 331 new graduate students. Our transfer numbers surpassed the figures from 2020, but in all other cases, the numbers of new students are lower across the board. However, the biggest reductions were in relation to our returning undergraduate students.
We retained more graduate students than in previous years (946, up three from last year and significantly higher than fall 2019, when we recruited 879). Our strategy has been to increase graduate student numbers to offset changing demographics, and this is a strategy that we believe will continue to be a fruitful one. Our continuing undergraduate student numbers have declined over the last four years, and our retention rate has dropped to 68.8%. Every indication suggests that this drop is COVID-related, and we are hopeful that with more in-person classes, and a more robust campus life, these numbers will increase next year. But hope is not a strategy, so I wanted to assure you that work continues on our Persistence Roadmap (what used to be our Strategic Plan for Undergraduate Retention). We are putting in place stretch goals in relation to retention and graduation rates, as well as supportive programs to ensure our students can achieve a sense of belonging. If you have not already, please visit our new webpage related to these topics.
We must hope for the best but continue to plan for what may happen if these numbers continue to drop year over year. This means paying attention to our fee-based programs and right sizing the budgets to align with student numbers, and continuing to follow SUNY guidance regarding fiscal strategies. We have been fortunate to receive one-time federal funds to support us during the last year; without them, we would have started the year not only with a lower budget, but with fewer reserves to shore us up. At the same time, we must budget according to our revenue, and this means a budget that is several million dollars less than in previous years. Jim Wall will be giving a full budget update later this month, and I encourage you to attend Senate, Joint Planning and Budget Committee, and the Town Hall for more information.
Colleagues have asked for updates on the telecommuting pilot. We do not yet know if SUNY and the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations (GOER) will extend the pilot into 2022, but we remain hopeful that they will. As you will be aware, we took a cautious approach to the first semester under the pilot, in order to assist our students with their return to campus. Many of us worked remotely, partially or even fully, during the height of the pandemic, when the vast majority of our students were also remote. Now that they are back in person, we have a duty of care to ensure that they are connected to the resources they need. What they need most is people. During non-student facing times of the calendar—in the break between semesters and during the summer—we intend to utilize the full amount of time that SUNY allows for telecommuting (assuming they have extended the pilot) for individuals for whom working remotely makes sense. This means that individuals can request up to five days per pay period for telecommuting during these periods. We will also continue to look at other options to extend the policy once the semester is over.
I had lunch with student leaders early in September, and I was struck by something one of the juniors shared with me. She said she had never had lunch in the Union until then. In fact, during her whole academic career at Brockport, she had only been on campus for one semester: thus she felt like a first-year student whom we were treating like an experienced one. This gave me real pause, and helped remind me that our current students have needs we may not have taken into consideration or may not have thought of as they return to campus. So our being there for them helps with their transition, and ensures a sense of belonging that is so important for their success and our sustainability. I know that this semester has been an adjustment for everyone, and I want to assure you that we continue to look at ways to support the needs of all of our community. Our most vulnerable populations are our students, and I am so grateful for all that you do to support their learning, whether you are inside or outside of the classroom. We are all a part of student success.
One of the outcomes of the Faculty and Staff of Color Interest Group, Cabinet, and International Faculty and Staff Association group work this spring was the development of an EDI Brown Bag Lunch and Learn Series. The purpose of the series is to provide members of the Brockport community with the opportunity to engage in ongoing discussions about EDI-related topics. The first brown bag session will be held Friday, October 15, 2021 via zoom from 12:20 -1:10 pm. The topic is COVID’s Impact on Mental Health. Look out for more information about how to join the zoom session in The Daily Eagle.
Annual Report and Strategic Planning
I am pleased to share our annual report with you, which is published on our website. If you would like a hard copy of the report, please let me know. Our annual report shows that despite a difficult year, we were able to make strides on all four goals in our strategic plan, and to ensure that we continue to Build a Better Brockport.
Our strategic planning process for the next five year iteration of the plan is well underway. The Strategic Planning Committee (SPC) has been meeting weekly since September 1. We have reaffirmed our commitment to the broad principles of the four goals of our current plan, and we are currently working on consolidating our objectives and tactics underneath these goals. You may be aware that our current operational plan runs to some 61 pages. While this is a comprehensive cataloging of our measures of success and the work being done on them, it has become a rather unwieldy document. Thus, our plans for Building a Better Brockport 2.0 are to note where sufficient progress has been made so that individual measures can be noted as achieved, to consolidate measures where possible, and to move away from measures that no longer have relevance for the next five-year stretch.
Please look out for a college survey that will ask for your input, and look for Daily Eagle messages regarding our next strategic plan town hall, which will happen the first week of November.
Last week, Steve Lewine ’80 was on campus to finalize plans and announce a $300,000 gift commitment to support global education initiatives over the next five years. I am thankful that Senate President Jamie Spiller offered Steve a spot on the Senate agenda to make this announcement and to share his reasons for giving back. Steve’s amazing and transformational generosity will benefit students, faculty, and staff for years to come, and his gift represents the largest single gift given by a living donor in Brockport’s history.
In other good news, through the generosity of a recent Perkins Grant, the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center has launched a REOC Student Mentoring Program to increase student retention, provide career guidance and assist with referrals. Currently, 11 mentors and 16 mentees have signed up.
Finally, you may have noticed that this email looks different than my previous emails. The Office of College Communications is rolling out a new email platform for the College that will give us more options for our communication. They worked with IT to integrate student, faculty, and staff email addresses into the platform. The emails are mobile-friendly, and College Communications will offer templates and training when the new platform is ready to be fully rolled out to the campus next semester.
Thank you for all that you do to support our students.