Facing the Future from a Position of Strength

By President Shirley M. Collado and La Jerne Terry Cornish, October 19, 2020
A message from the president and provost of Ithaca College.

Dear Faculty, Staff, and Students,

As we approach the mid-point of a truly unique semester and the end of what has been an incredibly challenging year, we wanted to take a moment to connect directly with you — this resilient Ithaca College community — to affirm the path that we are walking together and contextualize our current work within the history and the future of Ithaca College.

Right now, we are hitting our stride in this remote Fall 2020 semester, putting into practice the thoughtful planning of so many faculty and staff who have crafted innovative, meaningful academic and student life experiences. Our Return to Campus Plan implementation remains ongoing, particularly as we look ahead to delivering an on-campus experience to all students this spring.

This comprises our immediate, day-to-day work. But there is a greater context we are simultaneously moving through, a context that is difficult for many members of this community, and that is the reality of the implementation of our strategic plan goal to determine and maintain an appropriate and sustainable size for our institution.

This goal represents major, real change to not just the shape and size of Ithaca College, but in the lives and livelihoods of the people who create our academic community. It asks us to be open to transformative shifts that require us to reexamine our work and engage in critical action informed by our new understandings.

We want to pause right now and talk about why we are moving through this crucial moment in our history and how our current decisions will strengthen our beloved Ithaca College in the near and long term.

Our Students

Our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, is simply and fundamentally about our students, their success, and their sense of belonging at Ithaca College. The strategic plan goal to establish and maintain a sustainable size has a critical impact on the college’s ability to keep the cost of attendance as low as possible and to fiercely protect our ability to offer significant institutional financial aid and discounted tuition.

While many colleges continue to add and carry legacy expenses and then pass them along to students and families, our goal to establish and maintain a sustainable size represents our choice to take a student-centered approach deeply informed by our values. Access and affordability must remain among our highest priorities as we educate current and future students.

Our path forward requires alignment on a number of dimensions: student interest and academic offerings, including the development of areas of academic promise; a school size consistent with the current market; and a student-to-faculty ratio more closely reflective of peer institutions and our own historical data. Contributing to this alignment is a critical part of the Academic Program Prioritization process.

Refining the slate of academic programs we offer and focusing our nonacademic student support on fostering a sense of belonging requires substantive choices, a commitment to our institutional values, and deep thinking about our priorities. It also requires data-driven decisions and actions that are consistent with our mission and strategic vision.

Therefore, the information gathered in our strategic planning process and an in-depth review of relevant data have resulted in the determination of a sustainable size for Ithaca College that rests in the next several years at a student body (undergraduate and graduate students) of 5,000 and an overall 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.

The Need to Develop a Focused, Strong Institution

We must take a direct, informed, and holistic path toward positioning IC for future success by developing a more focused, strong institution. This was a part of our strategic work before the public health crisis related to COVID and the subsequent decline in enrollment for academic year 2020-21.

Embracing our areas of strength and promise and growing in areas of real interest to students allows us to leverage the capacity of our resources and to position Ithaca College well. This approach also requires us to stop doing what is no longer central to student interests or sustainable for the college.

This effort is among the most challenging and difficult realities any institution will face. It is painful, but it is necessary if we truly want to put students first and to have a strong institution with a very bright future ahead.

And as we move through this process, we must hold fast to our institutional value of equity. This change cannot come by simply reducing staff. We must do this collectively across roles, departments, and levels, especially in the area of academic programs as they relate to student success and interests.

Our strategic plan provides for nonacademic and academic program review, both undertaken to result in not only a right size, but also to fulfill our additional Ithaca Forever goal of being an employer of choice. This includes affirming our commitment to competitive salaries and benefits, such as our retirement match and offering annual salary increases.

Nonacademic Program Review

The nonacademic program review has been an ongoing and focused effort to explore areas for administrative cooperation, as well as to identify opportunities for efficiencies and elimination of redundancies. This has been a painful process. Since March 2020, 264 staff — our colleagues and friends — have been impacted by furloughs, position eliminations, or reductions in hours.

Academic Program Review

Last year, we began the effort to prioritize our academic programs as part of our first-year implementation of Ithaca Forever. Valuing transparency and inclusion, the Academic Program Prioritization Action Group was convened, which included faculty leadership and was comprised primarily of faculty. With the help of many members of the Ithaca College community, the group worked throughout the 2019-20 academic year to develop the guiding principles that will direct our holistic, data-driven, and inclusive process of academic program prioritization.

This semester, the work continues with the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee (APPIC), which has been charged to develop recommendations regarding the future shape of the college’s academic programs.

With 547 full-time equivalent (FTE) faculty positions currently, in order to have the desired 12-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, the college must decrease the number of faculty FTE to approximately 416 — a change of 131 — by the conclusion of the 2021-22 academic year.

This will be accomplished in a variety of ways, including faculty retirements, not filling vacant faculty lines, and distributing faculty workload equitably. In addition, some academic programs will be discontinued and others consolidated, which will result in a number of current faculty members losing their positions in accordance with section 4.9.8 of the Faculty Handbook.

It is critical to understand that no decisions have yet been made about programs to be discontinued, since such decisions will be based on the recommendations from the APPIC. It is also critical to understand that students who are currently in affected programs will be able to complete their degree in that major at Ithaca College.

A timeline of this work and decision points can be found at the bottom of this page.

Facing the Future from a Position of Strength Rooted In Our Core Values

At presentations across campus during the past two academic years, Vice President for Marketing and Enrollment Strategy Laurie Koehler and her team have not only outlined their great work to bring students to IC, but also provided some key reminders about our reality, both within higher education and at Ithaca College. The most sobering of these reminders, at a national level, project diminishing numbers of college-going students leading to an “enrollment cliff” in less than 10 years, and, at IC, show a steady pattern of lower enrollment over the past decade.

Higher education is a critical sector that prepares each generation to meaningfully engage in civic and economic life. It is — as a sector — experiencing transformative challenge. It would be deeply irresponsible for us, as leaders, to ignore the warning signs about what lies ahead. Ithaca College is in a position of strength right now, however, making the changes necessary to thrive and flourish in our new reality. That is what Ithaca Forever is all about.

We both came to this institution because we saw strength, promise and potential. We saw a dynamic college that has risen, again and again, through difficult change and extreme challenge. This is the history of Ithaca College. We were — and are — inspired by it.

And when we thought about whether or not this place was the right fit for us as people and as professionals, we met all of you. We were introduced to a community of scholars, professionals, and learners who love what they do, who are masters at their craft, and who are fearless in creating a vibrant, thriving community. We were — and we continue to be — inspired by all of you.

We look forward to being together again on campus this spring and continuing to walk with you and support you during a time of great change and great promise for Ithaca College.


Shirley M. Collado

La Jerne Terry Cornish
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs