St. Thomas Board of Trustees discusses enrollment initiatives and more

St. Thomas Board of Trustees discussed enrollment initiatives and more at February meetings

One of the most important responsibilities of the St. Thomas Board of Trustees is to look toward the future and ensure that we are in the best possible position to respond to the needs of many different constituents – students, faculty, staff, alumni and the communities in which we live and work.

That responsibility is one that our board has always taken very seriously, and we are fortunate to have recruited wise, engaged and generous trustees who are committed to the university and work tirelessly on its behalf.

The St. Thomas Board of Trustees met Feb. 21-22 on our St. Paul campus, and I want to take this occasion to report to you on the highlights of committee meetings on the first day and the board’s plenary session on the second day.

The board and its eight committees – Academic Affairs, Audit/Finance, Board Affairs, Executive, Institutional Advancement, Investment, Physical Facilities and Student Affairs – also meet in May and October. The Executive Committee conducts business of the board between these meetings.

Senior staff members attend the board meeting and individual committee meetings, as appropriate to their duties. In addition, selected faculty, staff and students attend committee or board meetings for specific presentations and discussions. There are faculty and student non-voting representatives to the Academic Affairs, Audit/Finance and Student Affairs committees.

Our 39 trustees come from many backgrounds and interests, and include corporate executives, non-profit leaders, entrepreneurs, presidents or former presidents of Catholic universities, and members of the judiciary and the legal community.

The board and its committees had full agendas when they met in February on the St. Paul campus. About 30 trustees were in attendance, including new trustee Amy Goldman, chair and president of the Better Way Foundation, which provides funding for children living in poverty in the United States and for orphaned and vulnerable children in Africa.

A primary topic during the board’s plenary session, as well as meetings of the Executive and Academic Affairs committees, was undergraduate enrollment initiatives.

The board had discussed enrollment issues at its May and October 2006 meetings, and has become well versed on demographic trends that will occur over the next decade. The number of high school graduates in Minnesota will decline by 10 percent, including a 19 percent decline in the number of white students and a 52 percent increase in the number students of color.

Marla Friederichs, associate vice president for enrollment services, told the board that St. Thomas has not been affected negatively by the declines so far, and that it expects to enroll another academically strong class of 1,300 freshmen in the fall of 2007.

She outlined a series of enrollment directions. They include: sustaining success through community involvement in recruitment, increasing diversity by recruiting more students of color and international students, developing stronger relationships with community colleges that provide transfer students, and examining ways to recruit more adults interested in pursuing degrees in the evening or on weekends.

Acting on the recommendation of the Executive Committee, the board unanimously approved a resolution encouraging the university to continue to develop the enrollment directions.

In other activity, the board or its committees:

  • Approved a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. The budget calls for an undergraduate comprehensive fee increase of 5.3 percent, including a tuition increase of 5.9 percent.
  • Heard a presentation by the School of Social Work about its curriculum initiative, “Teaching to Mission, Teaching to Social Justice.” Dean Barbara Shank, project director Mary Ann Brendan and two students – Mary O’Brien and Susan Morgan – described the project. The two core values of the social work profession are service and justice, Dr. Shank explained, and the School of Social Work emphasizes those values in all of its work. An advisory committee assists in areas such as faculty development, curriculum development and student engagement. Feedback has been positive from students and faculty alike as appreciation deepens for the mission and distinctiveness of the program, a joint effort of St. Thomas and the College of St. Catherine.
  • Learned the university’s invested assets, net of funds for debt and construction, totaled $399.6 million as of Dec. 31 – a 61 percent increase from $248.9 million in December 2002. The increase is a result of market performance and new contributions, minus withdrawals for spending. Our rate of return on our investments regularly exceeds the industry benchmark; for the year that ended Dec. 31, for example, our return was 15.4 percent vs. a benchmark of 14.5 percent. We are fortunate to have an active Investment Committee to advise our staff and investment managers.
  • Reviewed plans for a 704-car parking ramp on the south campus tennis courts. Plans call for ramp construction to begin in May 2008 and for the ramp to open in the spring or summer of 2009. Representatives from Ryan Companies, the contractor and architect, briefed the Physical Facilities Committee.
  • Was told that the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching has selected St. Thomas as one of 76 U.S. colleges and universities that will be included in the foundation’s new Community Engagement classification. I shared with the board that I am extremely proud of the designation and that I had written, in my letter applying for the classification, “Developing a robust and responsive program of community engagement is central to the mission of the University of St. Thomas. Indeed, this is the first national classification program in higher education that we feel truly captures who we are and who we aspire to be.”
  • Learned that St. Thomas again has placed high in national rankings for the percentage of undergraduate students who study abroad. A recent report from the Institute of International Education shows that in 2004-2005, our participation rate of 66.4 percent was third nationally among doctoral institutions. A year ago, St. Thomas ranked No. 1 but had a lower study-abroad participation rate, at 61 percent.
  • Elected Dr. Susan Alexander, executive adviser to the president, as secretary of the university.
  • Thanked Michael Thyken '83 for his two-year term as St. Thomas Alumni Association representative to the board. His successor is John Bannigan Jr. '58, immediate past president of the association.