All-College Gathering Address

By President Shirley M. Collado, February 12, 2021
On February 9, our Ithaca College community tuned in for our first All-College Gathering of 2021. These gatherings share key updates with faculty, staff, and students and provide opportunities for connection and engagement around college business.

During my address, I touched on the college’s academic program prioritization process and our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever; our financial health; our enrollment and retention work; and some recent wins from our philanthropy and engagement team.

I was thrilled that Connor Shea ’21, president of the Student Governance Council (SGC), and Abigail Murtha ’21, senate chair for the SGC, joined me to share some of the critical work they are engaging in on behalf of students on our campus.

The full text of my address is below, and students, staff, and faculty may use their Netpass credentials to watch the Zoom recording.

All-College Gathering, February 9, 2021
Remarks as prepared

Greetings – thank you for taking time to join us for this All-College Gathering during the first full week of on-campus classes for our spring semester.

I want to offer my most heartfelt and my most sincere WELCOME to our students, particularly those of you who are joining this community for your very first year—we are thrilled to have so many of you with us and on campus!

Getting to this moment has required the incredible dedication and hard work of so many staff, faculty, and volunteers, many of whom have, over the past few weeks, literally worked through a storm and countless feet of snow to ready this campus for our students.

This week, as students continue to move in, I want to take a moment to recognize some key departments and members of our community who have made this return to campus a reality:

Our Student Affairs and Campus Life staff have done an incredible job in orchestrating an intricate move-in process while negotiating some stringent COVID protocols. The complexity of this has required the collaboration of many departments and individuals across our campus and I want to not only acknowledge this massive effort, but thank you for taking good care of this community.

Hats off in particular to Christina Moylan, our director of Public Health Emergency Preparedness, for her amazing leadership …

To our campus dining services staff, who have been working hard to shift the way they serve students to ensure that safety and protocol are followed, and that our students are being well taken care of …

To our public safety staff, who continue to serve this community as such a wonderful resource …

To our IT staff who have worked so creatively and diligently to keep us all connected around our academic mission.

And to our facilities staff, who have been shoveling, snow-blowing, and otherwise readying our campus for the return of our students. To give you an idea of the scope of this work …

  • Hundreds of spaces on campus were reconfigured to hold face-to-face classes (with students physically distanced)
  • more than 3,000 chairs have been moved and marked for students to sit in
  • the print shop created 15,000 wall signs and floor stickers to remind people of guidelines
  • 400 hand-sanitizer dispensers (and seven saliva test kit drop boxes) were created and installed on campus

I want to express my sincere gratitude to our faculty, who have been preparing diligently for our students’ arrival. Nearly all of our students were remote last week, and beginning yesterday, approximately 61 percent of our courses switched to either fully in-person or hybrid, with about 32 percent of courses being offered as synchronous online and around 7 percent asynchronous online.

  • Providing options for our students has been so critical this semester, and I want to thank our faculty for their effort and preparation in offering learning opportunities that support our students’ circumstances and comfort levels

Finally, bringing students back to South Hill would not have been successful without the staff and faculty—from departments all over campus—who volunteered their time to help our students move-in.

  • 175 volunteers worked a total of 965 volunteer shifts to assist in storing and moving student belongings
  • Volunteers joined our facilities staff in packing 5,000 bags with shelf-stable food for students in quarantine

I pitched in last week, too, and was so moved by the energy and the enthusiasm of our students and the excitement of our staff and our volunteers.

I know this semester’s move-in provoked a lot of anxiety for our students, particularly those who are living alone or have arrived at a new place in isolation. I want to recognize our students’ resilience and heart, and I want to acknowledge the dedication of all members of our community who stepped up on behalf of our students and our college.

Because of you, this community is strong.

So, as we kick off this semester, I want to turn to some important updates about Ithaca College, including our academic prioritization process, our financial health, our enrollment and retention efforts, and our alumni engagement and philanthropy—all key components of our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever.

Academic Program Prioritization Process
It’s no secret that this is a challenging time, as COVID has triggered an acceleration of some of the work that we had already planned on doing to recalibrate our college’s operations, in both academic affairs and co-curricular offices and departments.

As you know, the Academic Program Prioritization Implementation Committee released its draft of the recommended steps for Ithaca College to take in resizing our academic programs to best meet student needs and get us to our target student:faculty ratio of 12:1 and student body size of around 5,000.

These recommendations represent the first phase of our important academic program prioritization work: aligning the size of the faculty to the size of the student body in academic programs that both affirm the liberal arts and the power of professional education and meet student demand and need.

These recommendations also represent a strategic decision to hone in on our strengths; to consolidate or end what is no longer responsive to student needs; and to invest in and grow areas of promise (MBA and PA).

These draft recommendations build off of two years of work around the creation and implementation of our strategic plan, Ithaca Forever, and relied heavily on the guiding principles created during the last academic year by a strategic plan action group.

In addition to releasing the full “shape of the college” document to our faculty, staff, and students, members of the APPIC have engaged with many segments of our IC family—from a recent Student Governance Council meeting, to our All-Staff and All-Faculty Gatherings, to our Faculty Council, to our Alumni Association Board of Directors and our newly established Family Council. 

I want to express my appreciation for their thoughtful work in drafting these important recommendations, for their outreach efforts to keep our community informed, and for their humility and humanity as they went through this process.

The “Shape of the College” document is currently under review by our faculty, as provided for by our faculty handbook. After this review period closes next week, the APPIC will deliver its final recommendations to the provost and me, and we will then make our final decisions about the reshaping of the academic programming at Ithaca College by the end of this month.

Our decision will be communicated to our entire IC family: students, staff, faculty, families, and alumni, and the changes to our academic programs and departments will take place over the next three years.

I want to be clear that the pandemic has intensified the urgency of this work—it didn’t create the necessity of it. The business model of higher education ... our very real enrollment trends … these challenges were here well before my team or I arrived at IC. But it is our job, right now, to prioritize the greater good and ensure the continuation of this institution and its ability to serve our students and our community for the long haul.

We have been and we will continue to be transparent about the college’s financial health and about the academic prioritization process. We will continue to do so through meetings like this one, through all-staff, all-student, and all-faculty gatherings, through emails, question-and-answer sessions, websites, and individual meetings.

Personally, I have a slate of office hours posted for the spring semester where any student, faculty, or staff member can connect directly with me. I am also engaging small groups of students for topic-specific conversations. All you need to do is sign up.

With that, I want to turn now about the college’s financial health.

Financial Health
We are currently working through FY21, which ends on June 30. The budgeting process is a living thing throughout the fiscal year, and as I mentioned we are negotiating challenges around COVID expenses and outcomes this year.

  • We’re landing this fiscal year with about $7 million in COVID-related expenses.
  • The college is hoping to receive stimulus funds to help with these expenses—about $6 million from the federal government.
  • While this is helpful, it will not cover the forecasted shortfall of COVID-related expenses nor will it absorb the lack of revenue due to our fully remote fall and our diminished on-campus population this semester.

Even with excellent stewardship and careful use of resources, our budget deficit for this fiscal year is estimated right now at about $24.5 million, primarily due to the two things I just mentioned:

  • COVID expenses
  • Reduced revenue this year from room and board

I know this is difficult news, but I also want to state why I am hopeful.

While other institutions may have been caught flat-footed by the challenges of this past year, our community had built a strategic plan that was already shifting our business model and the need to identify and establish a sustainable size.

  • Ithaca Forever enabled us to pivot quickly to face our reality and begin making some important changes to put us in a position of strength as we look at and beyond this moment.
  • Simply put: We don’t have the time or the breathing room to maintain the status quo. We cannot afford to not be nimble for student needs and we must invest in access and affordability for the future of IC and for future students.

As we move forward, we remain committed to our students and committed to ensure access and affordability.

  • This academic year, we provided $113 million in institutional aid to nearly 95 percent of our students;
  • Next academic year, we’re expecting that institutional aid number to be around $115 million.

We also decided to not increase tuition for the coming academic year as a strong reflection of our dedication to our students and their families and our ongoing work to balance affordability with institutional sustainability. We cannot make decisions on the backs of students and their success.

As we walk through this year, we are simultaneously drafting our budget for next fiscal year—FY22—which will be presented later this week to our Board of Trustees in draft form during our remote February meetings.

We have a lot of work to do as a senior leadership team and with the IEBC in order to present a final and solid budget to the BOT.  The board will vote on this budget during its May meetings, and we will report that news to the community.

I want to thank Vice President for Finance and Administration Bill Guerrero, for his leadership during this challenging time, and I want to express my heartfelt appreciation to the finance and administration staff and to our IEBC—the Institutional Effectiveness and Budget Committee—for their careful, thoughtful work to ensure the financial sustainability of Ithaca College.

Enrollment and Retention
I want to turn now to our enrollment and retention efforts at IC.

With our spring semester fully under way, we have 5,264 total students – undergraduate, graduate, full-time, and part-time - enrolled at Ithaca College.

Last year at this time, we had 5,960 students taking classes at IC—and a decade ago, in Spring 2011, we had 6,579 students enrolled at IC.

In addition, the number of students who will reside in campus housing this spring is much lower than in a normal spring semester, with more students than expected choosing to enroll from their permanent addresses and be fully remote this semester.

  • Our residential enrollment this spring is approximately 2,460 instead of the usual number of 3,800.
  • This represents a more than $6.5 million loss in housing revenue alone for the spring.

It is critical for me to be clear that part of this dip in enrollment is undoubtedly COVID related—and part of it is in keeping with a trajectory of lower enrollment that the college has been experiencing for almost a decade.

Reaching our enrollment goals is as much about the students we retain as it is about the new students we enroll. We are happy that our first-year fall applications are running ahead by 2 percent this year, even though the latest data from Common App indicates schools like IC are, on average, running behind by about 1 percent.

However, we also know that one of the biggest opportunities to strengthen our enrollment is keeping a higher percentage of our students through to graduation. This is good for our students and good for the institution.

Within our comparative set of schools, we are performing below the median on six-year graduation rates. In fact, we are losing nearly 25 percent of the students who initially enroll at IC.

This is something we have to look at holistically--everybody plays a part in student retention. And central to this effort lies our ability to create of a sense of connection for our students—it is critical to retaining and graduating our students.

I want to thank Laurie Koehler, vice president for Marketing and Enrollment Strategy, our Remote Engagement Strategy Team, and our talented MES staff for all of their work on enrollment, retention, and our new “brand platform,” which distinguishes IC from our peer institutions by highlighting our distinctive identity and our complementary combination of a liberal arts core and outstanding professional schools.

Philanthropy and Engagement
I am going to turn now to a brief update now about the work of our staff in philanthropy and engagement.

I hope everyone saw Vice President for Philanthropy and Engagement Wendy Kobler’s recent email sharing some of the work of her division. I want to thank Wendy and her staff for all of their hard work and highlight a few of points of pride:

  • In November, as a partnership between Philanthropy and Engagement and our Student Affairs division, the college established the Ithaca College Family Council, which plugs in and engages a key group within our IC family;
  • The college was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Hearst Foundations, which supports the establishment of a simulation lab in our School of Health Sciences and Human Performance;
  • The son of alumnus Sidney Norris ’35, endowed a new scholarship with a $250K gift in honor of his father. The scholarship benefits students from the greater New York City area;
  • We continue to receive funding of the BOLD program and the creative, impactful projects spearheaded by our talented BOLD scholars. Four cohorts of BOLD Scholars are going strong with this ongoing funding;
  • Our first Iger-Bay scholar has joined us this year, as a result of the generosity of alumnus Bob Iger and his wife, Willow Bay; an endowed gift of $1 million.

I want to wrap up my remarks with gratitude and hope. Thank you for being a part of this community, and for walking through this time of challenge and change with us. I can assure you that the strategic and tough work we are doing now will result in a greater good for our workforce and for our students—and for the future of Ithaca College.

With that, I will turn it over to Connor Shea, president of our Student Governance Council, and Abigail Murtha, SGC Senate Chair, who are joining us today to share with us some of the work they are doing on behalf of our students.