Wednesday, November 22, 2017



We are in rankings season. It is a perplexing and frustrating time, not because we have done poorly, but because there is so little consistency between rankings, and there is little correlation between the rankings in mainstream media and the quality of student experience.

Rankings based upon high endowment-per-student ratios and low acceptance rates have led to an institutional cachet that is independent of what happens to students while they are enrolled. Frankly, although our institutions are quick to celebrate an ascendency in any national publication’s ratings, those rankings are not particularly useful in making a good college choice.

The White House Scorecard was an attempt to focus on outcomes. They have published median salaries of graduates 10 years after matriculation, graduation rates, and average actual cost of attendance for every higher-education institution. These are important considerations when evaluating possible college choices, and Susquehanna performs very well in these measures.

It is important to read those data with a sense of context. Some institutions focus on preparing students for critically important and intrinsically rewarding careers that are historically lower paying like school teachers and social workers. Graduation rates are one of the most important measures of success, but some institutions with lower graduation rates serve populations that are high risk, or who begin degrees close to home before completing elsewhere. One of the most meaningful U.S. News measures is the difference between predicted and actual graduation rates, because it provides a context for the data.

The measures I believe are particularly important for families to consider when selecting a college are the percentage of graduates who complete in 4 years, employment rates of graduates, and the availability of high-impact practices including: study abroad, internships, and independent research.

Outcomes matter. At Susquehanna: 99% of our graduates complete in 4 years; our alumni have the highest employment rate of any college or university in Pennsylvania, and we are 9th in the nation; 100% of our students have a study-away experience, and all our students have access to internships and independent research; and back to the White House Scorecard, our median alumni incomes are 53% higher than the national average of college graduates.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Family Weekend Parent Q and A

Family Weekend Parent Q and A

This weekend was Family Weekend at Susquehanna. Activities included the delightful fall musical, She Loves Me, a fascinating lecture by Ed Slavishak on the surprisingly dangerous early history of automobiles in the region, an exciting football win, and numerous receptions and social activities including an open house and a legacy reception at Pine Lawn.

I also hosted a question and answer session for families. Here are a few points from the conversation.

Q. Why do you think there is such a good “town-gown” relationship between the University and Selinsgrove?

A. The University was sponsored by members of the community in 1858. They provided support for the new Missionary institute as long as the Female College and Classical Department were also established to provide a liberal-arts education to their sons and daughters. The Female College was on Market Street and both men’s programs were just blocks away. There has been a sustained and mutually beneficial relationship between the town and the University for 160 years. The presence of Susquehanna banners along Market Street in between those for Selinsgrove gives me great pride.

Q. How will Susquehanna be different five years from now?

A. We are expanding our service activities, especially in Action Research. This will provide a point of contact on campus to which community organizations and businesses can bring research questions and projects to the University. We will identify appropriate faculty members and groups of students to undertake the problem and develop a response for the community partner. These could be business feasibility studies for local start-ups, or a budget plan for a non-profit organization. We will also expand the number and geographic footprint of student service projects as we develop programs like SUSL (Susquehanna University Service Leaders).

I am confident that we will also be expanding our efforts in sustainability and environmental studies. The research our faculty and students are already undertaking in support of the Susquehanna River and its tributaries is already having a regional and national impact. The University is establishing strong partnerships with a variety of environmental organizations and other Universities as we take action in addressing the health of our waterways.

We will also be breaking ground soon on the largest solar farm at any college or university in Pennsylvania. This will not only benefit the University financially while reducing our carbon foot print, but it will be a visible affirmation of our commitment to environmental stewardship.

Q. What do you see as the University’s biggest threats?

A. The first is reputation. A recent survey showed that within one party, a majority of respondents stated that colleges and universities had a negative impact on the United States. The current lifetime earnings of a college graduate are approximately $1 million greater that those who have not attended college. Contemporary media denigrate liberal arts colleges despite irrefutable evidence to the contrary. The survey I frequently cite that identified Susquehanna as having the highest employment rate of its graduates among all Pennsylvania colleges and universities listed the leader in each state. Not only were we 9th in the nation, but 9 of the top 10 institutions were private, residential, liberal arts institutions. We prepare students to enter an ever more dynamic world of work with the flexibility to take on new opportunities and to navigate a fluid professional environment.

From its founding, Susquehanna has had a commitment to providing a transformative education to students without regard to their financial capacity. As a result, we have matriculated and graduated a large percentage of economically disadvantaged students. I can think of no better way to improve the prospects of young people, but our limited resources make this remarkably challenging. Our ability to support, retain, and graduate those students remains my greatest concern.

Q. Do you see the University getting much larger?

Our current plans have us growing incrementally throughout the coming years. The upcoming graduation of a particularly small class this May will create a noticeable bump in our campus population next fall. There are benefits to controlled growth. Some expenses grow with the population (general staffing and course offerings per capita), some remain singular (president, chaplain, etc.), and some have trip wires (a residence hall). We need to plan carefully so that we position the University to ideally distribute expenses and provide the most benefit for all. I am also committed not to place the burden of any future buildings on the operating budget, so planning will be important to secure necessary philanthropic support to accommodate future growth.

Q. Could students from other institutions participate in GO experiences with Susquehanna students?

Yes, some students participate in GO Long programs now that are overseen by third-party providers. These programs place our students with peers from other universities across the U.S. and sometimes from around the world. GO Your Own Way proposals could also include students from other institutions if compelling proposals are developed by the students. We may also look at how we can systematically offer certain GO programs to students from other institutions as a revenue source that could underwrite some of the costs of programs for our own students.


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