Friday, May 28, 2021

Class of 2020: No Regrets

 

The following are my remarks to our students from the class of 2020 who returned to campus last weekend to celebrate their graduation the previous spring in person:

 

Class of 2020, for 442 days, I have been waiting to say this: Welcome home!

 

When Spring Break began on March 7th 2020, few, if any, of us imagined we wouldn’t be back together nine days later, but fate had different plans for all of us, and as I indicated a few minutes ago, I have been counting the days until you could return and enjoy a moment of closure together and an opportunity to celebrate each other and your collective and individual achievements.

 

Through emails and home movies, I asked you to persevere and encouraged you to learn all you could from the experience. Many of you shared your own stories of fear, frustration, and fatigue; of hardship, struggle, and exasperation; and ultimately of resilience, hope, and triumph. You beat so many odds. I hope you are proud, because we are all so very proud of you.

 

We all learned so many lessons last Spring

·      We learned how adaptive, creative, and ingenious you and our faculty and staff truly are

o   Moving all teaching and learning online in a week

o   Sustaining engagement through remote programming from student life

o   Keeping WQSU on the air from bedrooms across the country

·      We learned how compassionate and caring this community truly is

o   Sending scores of computers, internet connections, and hotspots to students in need across the country

o   Bringing over a hundred GO students back from literally all over the world

o   Increasing the use of the Center for Academic Success six-fold to help bridge the gaps

o   Implementing generous and flexible pass/fail options

·      We learned how much our board and alumni are committed to our success

o   Encouraging us at every turn and conveying their confidence when we needed it most

o   Generously supporting the student care fund and the caring colleagues fund to help students and employees in need

·      We learned how selfless and generous my colleagues are

o   There are thousands of individual stories of faculty and staff going above and beyond for individual students and each other

 

Two lessons stand above the others for me:

 

·      The first is how much we value being together as a community.

o   Being part of a living-learning community is an incredible privilege, and we all recognized what it means to grow and adapt in each other’s company. We also found innumerable ways to maintain community with each other while being perpetually reminded how much better it is to be here together.

o   Truly being in community is about the people. For the two months when there were only a few of us on campus, our connections persisted, our community was sustained.

o   Before the governor approved gathering guidelines that made today’s celebration possible, some of you, and you know who you are, contacted me monthly, and in one case, weekly for nearly a year to be sure today would happen.

o   Just after we announced your in-person commencement, I received a sweet note from one of your grandmothers thanking us for not forgetting you.

o   Trust me, we have been thinking of today every day for the past 14 months.

·      The second lesson is the regret of loose ends and things undone or unsaid.

o   So many of you shared with me that the toughest part of last spring was not being able to say goodbye or to savor one last “fill in the blank.”

o   That is an invaluable lesson. Every time you end a conversation or leave a place, think about the thing you would regret not saying if you didn’t get a chance for the next conversation. What would you regret not doing if you couldn’t return to a place.

o   Say it or do it at that moment.

o   Opportunities are fleeting. Seize the moment. Have no regrets.

o   Never miss a moment to commit an act of kindness and never leave something unsaid.

o   Never miss an opportunity to say I love you.

 

Class of 2020. You are brilliant, strong, resilient, filled with grace, and poised to make our world better.

 

You are proof that Susquehanna University truly educates students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.

 

In the year since you officially graduated from Susquehanna, you have continued to make a growing impact on your communities and our world, and this is just the beginning.

 

You entered a world of unprecedented complexity and challenge, but I am hopeful because I know what you can do. I am so proud of you, of what you have accomplished, and even prouder of what you will achieve.

 

Congratulations, and please remember, I love you!

 

Monday, May 17, 2021

Congratulations Class of 2021

The following are my remarks to our students who graduated this past weekend:

I will always think of you as my class. We came in together, and I am sure that none of us anticipated how these four years would play out.

 

The purpose of a liberal-arts education is to provide you with a broad base of knowledge and a developing sense of the profound interconnectedness of things and ideas.

 

Those of you who know our mission statement, please join me.

 

Susquehanna University educates students for productive, creative, and reflective lives of achievement, leadership, and service in a diverse, dynamic, and interdependent world.

 

This is not a pithy slogan. It is the foundation of global citizenship. Over the coming years, I hope you will reflect on how these lofty goals unfold in your own lives and how your experiences at Susquehanna cultivated your capacity to live our mission to its fullest.

 

I often hear students and colleagues say “In the real world,” as if we were a community of avatars. Plato’s idealized academy in Arcadia was an attempt to shelter reflective learning from the noise and distractions of daily life entirely so his students could focus on the big issues of their real world, just as you have.

 

If there were ever any legitimacy to college life being in the shelter of an ivory tower, over the past two years, the real world breached the ramparts and made itself quite at home.

 

The pandemic, social unrest, advocating for racial equity, and a nation and world torn apart by divisive tribalism moved into our Arcadia, our Susquehanna, but it didn’t daunt our mission, and it didn’t compromise your education.

 

Artists, musicians, and actors went to extraordinary lengths to reach audiences who had a new-found understanding of what the arts mean to them and how they serve as a lens for reading the evermore complex text that is our lives.

 

Social scientists have watched the fraying of social systems, community morés, and a loss of faith in institutions once deemed to be the center of our common good.

 

Those in the humanities have witnessed existential dilemmas about what justice means, for whom, and why, and they have seen historically central ideologies aggressively challenged for good and bad.

 

Scientists learned that knowledge and facts alone are inadequate tools to convince the populace to do what is in their own and our collective best interest.

 

The world has been our classroom. In our first semester together, I spoke of Diogenes referring to himself as a citizen of the world. We now know that is what we are, because we have all become students of the world.

 

The Enlightenment was a phenomenal moment in our history in every sense of the word. Political upheavals, scientific revolutions, and economic transformations kindled an intellectual transfiguration that acknowledged the capacity of science to understand the world around us, provided models for a just and free society, and most importantly recognized and elevated the value and capacity of the individual.

 

The Enlightenment was the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights and of the American and French Revolutions. Sadly, it was also the forge for expanding social stratification and slavery.

 

The failure of the enlightenment was that it was neither universally distributed nor equitably applied. That failure was the crucible for the leading challenges of our age.

 

How do we enact the bold and beautiful ideas of the Enlightenment fairly and audaciously to all, and how do we learn from the history of our failures and struggles to achieve those lofty, yet fundamental goals? This is what it will mean to achieve, lead, and serve. This is what it will mean to be better.

 

What can we learn from history, and what can we learn from our present experience that can make those goals a reality? We can only fully learn from our past by acknowledging all of it, the good and the bad. We must not reject the good because of its association with the bad, and we dare not ignore the bad, because we have the capacity to do far worse if we deny the sins of the past.

 

As you all know, the Renaissance refers to a rebirth. Often, we lose sight of how literal that name was. We acknowledge the remarkable flourishing the arts, science, and literature, but those achievements were connected to a rediscovery — a rebirth — of philosophy, literature, and science from ancient Greece and Rome.

 

One of the great architectural achievements of the Renaissance was the construction of the dome on the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence. When Filippo Brunelleschi accepted the commission to design the dome, no one knew how to construct a dome of that size, and yet the Pantheon in Rome, which is even wider had been built by the Romans over 1300 years earlier.

 

We lost over a thousand years of ideas and technology because of their association with other ideas and practices that rightfully remain in our past.

 

You have spent the past four years in a marketplace of ideas. Our future success will depend on its continued breadth and free exchange, and fortunately, you have learned to discern truth from opinion and facts from propaganda. You have become sophists whose goal is to divine the truth and lift up the good.

 

You have seen first-hand how truly interdependent we are. We are able to be here today because you chose to work as a community for the common good, and nearly every setback we experienced resulted from a moment when someone lost sight of that. As leaders, you must always choose the common good.

 

Class of 2021, you are graduating into a world of unprecedented complexity and challenge, but I am hopeful because I know what you can do. I am so proud of you, of what you have accomplished, and even prouder of what you will achieve.

 

Congratulations!

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Economic Impact of Higher Education

 

The Economic Impact of Higher Education

 

Higher education remains one of the leading economic drivers around the world through scientific research, technology development, engineering, and the cultivation of innovation across all categories of human endeavor.

 

Though profound, the economic benefit of innovation from the academy is often indirect, because, in addition to the creation of new knowledge on our campuses, we prepare the talent that makes many of these advances happen in businesses and organizations around the world.

 

The financial advantages our graduates experience also redound to the strength of regional and national economies. The value our institutions provide as engines of opportunities for students from all economic strata is a legitimate public good.

 

In our conversations about the roles our institutions play in micro and macro economies, we often underestimate the direct impacts colleges and universities have on their local and regional economies.

 

Local Impact

 

Susquehanna University is the largest private employer in Snyder County. In addition to generating an income and property tax base through those employees, the University provides more than $1 million in direct economic impact on the community through payroll taxes, water and sewer fees, property taxes, and approximately $180,000 in voluntary contributions to local governments and fire and EMT services.

 

Our students, their families, and thousands of visitors each year provide significant business to local restaurants, hotels, and stores. Over the past decade, Susquehanna has waived more than $4.3 million of tuition for local high-school dual-enrollment students.

 

Independent Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania

 

Private higher education has a $24 billion economic impact in Pennsylvania each year. That figure nearly doubles when affiliated hospitals are included.

 

Independent colleges and universities in Pennsylvania support over 195,000 jobs across the Commonwealth generating over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes. A recent study[1] prepared by Parker Philips estimates that these institutions generate $3.4 billion in additional spending in the communities where they thrive. The same study reports that between students and employees these institutions provided over 5 million hours of volunteer service in 67 counties in 2018 alone.

 

The educational impact of independent higher education in Pennsylvania is especially impressive. Half of all four-year college degree-seeking students in Pennsylvania attend private colleges and universities. That includes 53% of all minority students seeking bachelor or advanced degrees, 49% of all working-age “adult” students, 50% of all bachelor degree-seeking STEM students, and 44% of all low-income (Pell-eligible) students seeking bachelor degrees.

 

On average, students at Pennsylvania’s private colleges graduate with less debt than those at the state’s public institutions. Most importantly, the Commonwealth’s independent institutions have significantly higher percentages of students who complete and complete on time than their public counterparts[2]:

 

                        Sector                         4-year grad rate         6-year grad rate

                        Independent              62%                             74%

                        State-Related             51%                              71%

                        PASSHE*                    40%                            58%

 

                        *PA State System of Higher Education NAICU schools

 

Independent Colleges and Universities in the United States

 

NAICU, the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, recently released a study of the economic impact of private nonprofit higher education nationwide[3].

 

This study estimates that these institutions have a $591.5 billion national economic impact each year. This includes generating $77.6 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue.

 

1.1 million people are employed directly in non-profit higher education, and a total of 3.4 million jobs are collectively supported and sustained by these institutions. They also generate over $2.8 billion in charitable giving and volunteerism in their communities.

 

38% of Pell recipients attend four-year, private, nonprofit colleges even though those institutions enroll just 21% of degree-seeking students.

 

Once again, private institutions significantly outperform their public counterparts in on-time graduation. 70% bachelor’s degree recipients at public colleges completed in four years, compared to 84% at independent colleges.

 

74% of financial aid awarded to full-time students at independent colleges comes directly from the institution, which is more than double the figure for publics.

 

Over the past 14 years, although published tuition and fees have risen significantly, the average out-of-pocket tuition and fees have barely changed. In 2007-2008, the average out-of-pocket tuition and fees at private institutions was $15,830. In 2020-2021, the figure was $15,990. If these figures were adjusted for inflation, that represents a reduction of $3,485.

 

These collective data underscore that America’s independent, nonprofit colleges and universities not only provide a transformational education to over 5 million students each year, they are also a source of economic vitality of the communities they call home and of the nation itself.

 

 

 



[1] The Economic Impact of AICUP Schools: Independent, Nonprofit Colleges and Universities in Pennsylvania. August 2019.

[2] Making the Case for Independent, Nonprofit Higher Education 2020: An Overview of the Impact that AICUP Schools Have on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

[3] Private, Nonprofit Higher Education: Shaping Lives and Anchoring Communities. April 2021.

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