GOAL IV: Sustainability
To Continue to Build a Sustainable Institutional Foundation for Excellence: Deploying the concept of sustainability, broadly understood, as an organizing principle, we will invest our time, energy, and funding in initiatives to ensure the College’s long-term viability and success.
The success of all of the initiatives outlined above, along with our capacity to compete
effectively for students and resources in an increasingly competitive “market,” will
depend in large part upon our capacity to increase and steward our resources wisely,
creatively, and effectively. In particular, there are four categories of resources
that we must consider: financial, human, natural, and marketing. The first is perhaps the most obvious: we must find ways to grow our endowment and
core revenue streams while at the same time using those resources as effectively as
possible. “Human resources” refers both to our faculty and staff and to the broader
community of alumni, students, and friends who contribute significant amounts of time,
energy, and financial support to the College. “Natural resources” refers to the effect
of our decisions and actions on our campus, where we must ensure that our facilities
are run as effectively, sustainably, and efficiently as possible. But it also refers
more broadly to the larger environment; here we must consider issues of sustainability
understood in the widest sense. And principal among our “marketing resources” is our
public institutional identity—our “brand”—which plays such a critical role in attracting
students, faculty members, and staff. But the narratives by which we communicate our
institutional identity also play a role in creating a shared sense of purpose and
identity across the Skidmore campus community and with our alumni, parents, and other
friends of the College.
Managing our Financial Resources
In the coming years we can expect financial pressures to increase in areas such as
employee healthcare, technology, library resources, maintenance on our physical plant,
energy, and, most significantly, financial aid and compensation. At the same time,
our capacity to generate significant revenue growth from at least one of our major
traditional sources, tuition and fees, will be quite limited as we seek to keep Skidmore
affordable. This means placing a greater emphasis on stewarding and growing our endowment,
increasing our fundraising capacity, and identifying new revenue streams.
As the preceding pages of this Plan demonstrate, there are few constraints on our ambitions. We have taken one major step towards addressing this issue with the launch of Creating Our Future: The Campaign for Skidmore. Beyond providing for several key capital projects, the campaign will also add $60–80 million to the College’s endowment while enhancing a reliable source of annual operating dollars through the Skidmore Fund. Longer term, we also need to reverse the continuing erosion of our participation rate of donors among our alumni. While it exemplifies a larger national trend among colleges and universities, and despite the fact that the dollar value of our annual contributions has steadily increased, our declining alumni participation is nevertheless concerning and must be addressed. For this and other reasons, we must develop new and creative ways to increase alumni engagement—to help them feel a stronger sense of membership in the Skidmore community and responsibility for continuing to support the College, just as previous generations of alumni made it possible for Skidmore to offer the opportunities it did to them when they were students. Even more broadly, we must enhance our capacity to project our institutional message externally to key targeted audiences.
We also need to continue to manage our endowment in a “prudently aggressive” fashion. A key element of our success over the past 20 years, and a critical part of our ability to survive such challenges as the recent recession, has been a stable and steadily growing endowment. It provides an essential underpinning to our long-term planning, and our goal is to exceed the $500 million mark over the next decade through market increases and giving. Lastly, we must identify additional, reliable streams of income to buttress our financial position. Areas we will explore include an expansion of our summer conference program and further development of the Skidmore Classic Horse Show, which generates support for the College’s financial aid program.
Beyond increasing our resources, we also must enhance our sense of shared purpose in improving our operational efficiency. This means aligning all of our activities as closely as possible with our strategic priorities. It places greater emphasis on effective communication across operational areas (an issue identified in our recent staff surveys) to avoid waste, duplication of effort, and unnecessary delays in accomplishing basic functions. And it means adopting a “limited-growth” approach that assumes all or most new initiatives will be funded either by newly identified funds, through partnerships across areas or other collaborations, or by cost reductions or reallocation of resources. We must continue to identify opportunities to share or lower costs through collaborations (such as those we currently have with the New York Six schools) as well as technology (such as offering instruction in less frequently taught languages via the web). Leveraging existing resources in these ways will be crucial but not sufficient. In addition, we will need to be both innovative and disciplined in seeking annually to identify 3–5% of our resources through reallocation, cost-containment, cost-reduction, and new sources of revenue. Our financial sustainability depends upon our success in doing so, and it is far better to build such practices into our ongoing operations than to wait for a crisis to force them upon us.
An important example of the need to realign spending and engage in cross-institutional collaborations is the Library. The cost of scholarly resources has skyrocketed in recent decades, resulting in double-digit profit margins for the biggest scholarly publishers. Journal subscriptions are bundled and licensed like cable-TV packages, with annual subscriptions that burn through acquisition budgets, leaving comparatively scant funds for book purchases. Increasingly, students and faculty members at colleges such as Skidmore have difficulty finding the resources they need for teaching, learning, and research. As more institutions of higher education commit to supporting open-access publishing models, libraries like our own will eventually be able to cancel these expensive subscriptions and instead invest those funds into high quality, peer-reviewed, open-access publishing initiatives that will make scholarship freely available to the Skidmore community and beyond in perpetuity. Skidmore College cannot accomplish this alone; the success of open access depends upon broad participation throughout the “citizenry” of higher education.
Managing our Human Resources—Strategic Alignment
In many ways, Skidmore’s greatest asset is its people—the faculty and staff who do
the work of the College as well as the many thousands of alumni, parents, and friends
who support that work through their gifts of time, energy, and resources. It is essential,
therefore, that we nurture all of these groups to ensure their well-being, satisfaction,
and effectiveness. Recent staff surveys, for example, have shown a need to make improvements
in how staff are managed and trained and how we communicate within and across our
community. Staff members also have asked for more opportunities to engage directly
in the planning and operations of the College. With those concerns in mind, we will
implement changes in how we train and evaluate managers, while identifying ways to
provide better staff development opportunities. We also have launched a pilot Staff
Advisory Group and strengthened our internal communications. We will continue to operate
within our Total Compensation Framework Plan, which is designed to ensure that we
can continue to offer competitive compensation to all faculty and staff. With regard
to our alumni, parents, and friends, we will focus on three areas: growing our fundraising
volunteer base, expanding our programming for alumni in their first five years, and
broadening efforts to support the career needs of alumni throughout their lives.
But in a broader sense, we must change how we operate to enhance planning and communication and seek new levels of both transparency and “strategic alignment” in how we do our work across the College—meaning that all of us within the Skidmore workforce must take responsibility for understanding both our strategic objectives and how our actions and decisions influence our ability to achieve them. We need to find new ways to encourage people not just to seek to follow rules in a narrow sense but to use their judgment to achieve excellence in the work they are responsible for completing.
Managing our Natural Resources
As outlined in the recently endorsed Campus Sustainability Plan for Skidmore, “we endeavor to enact environmentally responsible practices, grounded
in economic and social equity, and through our actions to have a positive impact on
our community and planet.” The Sustainability Plan sets challenging goals in the areas
of energy, food, waste, lands and grounds, and engagement. We not only talk about
environmental sustainability or our impact on natural resources, but we also embrace
the more comprehensive definition of sustainability that includes the interconnected
spheres of the environment, the economy, and society.
We envision a Skidmore that truly embraces the principles of sustainability in all of its institutional decision making, and this means that every purchase, project, and, when appropriate, policy should be viewed in part through the lens of sustainability. Positioning sustainability more prominently in our decision making will continue to transform our physical campus into one that immerses all of our students, staff, and faculty members in a living and learning environment characterized by practices that embody institutional values. In order to fully realize this vision, we must be even more intentional about making visible the work we are doing around sustainability in our operations at Skidmore. This includes not only enhancing communications about the outcomes of our work but also making more transparent various decision-making processes themselves. Visibly modeling how to make such institutional choices will demonstrate the skills, knowledge, and complex considerations necessary for making enlightened decisions and help promote more sustainability-oriented behavior in people’s lives, most especially our students’ lives. In other words, we have a significant opportunity to leverage our efforts to create a deep living and learning environment around sustainability on campus; the changes we—students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni—help make on our campus will be carried forward to the various communities in which we live.
The next several years will mark an historic moment in the College’s history, as we complete a more than 50-year migration from the College’s downtown location to what we continue to refer to as “the new campus” at the end of North Broadway. This phase will begin with the construction of the Center for Integrated Sciences and a new Admissions and Financial Aid building (near-term) and end with implementing the initial stages of our Athletics Facilities Master Plan, which (pending the identification of sufficient resources) we anticipate completing sometime in the late 2020s. We have some additional capacity for debt. But, as has been our pattern, we will continue to rely largely upon new resources (primarily contributions) to construct or significantly renovate any major facility. At the same time, we will work carefully both to maximize the usage of our existing facilities and to attend to their upkeep on a reasonable schedule. Our guide in this work will be the Campus Master Plan, which we adopted in 2007 and which we will continue to update as needed.
An essential element of our approach must be integrating sustainability into every aspect of our facilities management and construction. Over the past decade, we have made impressive strides in reducing our environmental impact and enhancing community engagement around sustainability. Our geothermal, solar, small-hydro, and energy-efficiency projects have helped us reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by well over 50% since 2000 and have positioned us as a national leader on innovative energy strategies. Our Bikemore bike-share program, community garden, composting, dining hall, waste, and land stewardship projects have raised awareness and empowered the community to contribute to these efforts.
Sustainability-related efforts already permeate the curriculum as well, and, as we have already experienced, there is a rich feedback loop inherent in our sustainability work. Often ideas that are developed in our sustainability-related courses feed changes to our campus operations, and modifications to our campus often serve as case studies and research opportunities for our courses, hence fostering curricular and pedagogical innovation. It should come as no surprise then that the lines between student experiences related to sustainability are truly blurred. For example, a volunteer effort on campus may lead to a senior thesis idea; a service-learning project in a course can meld into an internship with a local community organization; a tour of one of our alternative energy projects on campus may launch a research project during a study-abroad program; and serving as a student Sustainability Representative in a residential hall might spark a summer collaborative research idea. Sustainability, therefore, exemplifies integrative learning by connecting student experiences across time, across disciplinary boundaries, across boundaries that traditionally separate the curriculum and the cocurriculum, and across the border between the campus and the world beyond.
Attending to sustainability also directly supports our institutional goals around community, well-being, integrative excellence, and inclusion. Making collective and informed decisions about sustainability compels us to become more scientifically literate, to better understand the complex social networks and markets inherent in a more globalized society, to enhance our multicultural understandings, to engage more deeply in interdisciplinary communication and collaboration, and to think about what a more equitable, just, and healthy world should look like. Working towards such a world requires that we listen to a variety of perspectives and learn to more fully engage in informed, thoughtful, and respective dialogue both within the Skidmore community and with the larger community outside our borders. The skills and knowledge we develop through our work on sustainability, therefore, will serve us well as we continue to strive to become a more open and inclusive community.
Strengthening the Extended Skidmore Community and Enhancing our Public Identity
The world has taken note of Skidmore’s achievements, and the College has never been
better positioned to take advantage of its standing within the universe of American
colleges and universities. The phrase “Creative Thought Matters” and the marketing
campaign we developed around it to define our institutional identity have been central
factors in our success over the past 15 years. They have helped us attract larger,
better prepared, and more diverse student populations. They also have allowed us to
gain stature and wider recognition within the higher education community. They have
given our core constituents a language that is both affirming and aspirational to
describe themselves and their community. In short, Creative Thought Matters has both
great power and institutional value. It also must be nurtured and, most importantly,
must reflect the true character of the College.
In recent years, a number of other colleges and universities have recognized that “creativity” resonates strongly within the higher education marketplace, and we now see other colleges and universities championing the cause of creativity. This places at risk our ability to use this idea to distinguish us from other institutions. We must, therefore, continue to strengthen our position as the institution where creative thought truly matters, first and foremost through the strategic investments in our community and educational programs outlined above, and through a more focused, comprehensive, and persistent approach to how we present ourselves to the world.
We have already taken the first step in this process by creating a new, Cabinet-level division of Communications and Marketing, headed by a Vice President, who will report directly to the President. This office has been charged with developing and implementing a comprehensive plan for articulating the College’s story to prospective students, the broader world of higher education, our campus community, and our extended community of alumni, parents, and friends. It will also develop a series of metrics to measure our success and inform future planning and investments. Lastly, recognizing the importance of the campus visit for prospective students, we will construct a new Admissions and Financial Aid building more centrally located on campus that more powerfully reflects the strengths and unique qualities of a Skidmore education.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL IV: Sustainability
Continue to develop, effectively manage, and steward the financial resources necessary to maintain ongoing College operations and achieve the objectives incorporated in this Plan.
- Through effective portfolio management and fundraising, increase College endowment to at least $500 million by 2025.
- Develop and implement a long-term cost-containment program tied to projections of key budget parameters (e.g., net F.T.E. of student body, comprehensive fee, net tuition revenue, compensation, financial aid discount rate, etc.). Seek to identify 3-5% of our resources annually through reallocation, cost-containment, cost-reduction, and new sources of revenue.
- Complete fundraising and construct the Center for Integrated Sciences [$100 million; additional funding required: $60 million].
- Complete funding and construct the new Admissions and Financial Aid building on the main campus [$5–7 million].
- Complete funding and construction for the new Boathouse for Crew program. [Additional fundraising required: $250,000.]
- Complete funding and implement Phase I of the Athletic Facilities Master Plan. [Additional fundraising required: approximately $15 million.]
- Complete the current comprehensive fundraising campaign, Creating Our Future: The Campaign for Skidmore.
- Explore the desirability and the feasibility of decreasing our reliance on short-term and part-time non-tenure-track faculty by 10% (not included in this initiative are artists-in-residence, writers-in-residence, teaching professors, and other long-term non-tenure-line positions).
- Explore making an explicit commitment to open access in various venues.
Managing our Human Resources—Strategic Alignment
- Enhance training resources for managers at all levels within the College, emphasizing administrative competence, creative problem solving, and ways to strengthen strategic alignment of efforts across the College.
- Enhance communication across campus, especially between the administration and other segments of our community, but also across groups (work to minimize experience of disconnection across different areas and divisions).
Managing our Physical and Natural Resources—Campus Sustainability
- Implement the Campus Sustainability Plan. Assess progress in meeting benchmarks identified in the Sustainability Plan and reevaluate on an ongoing basis.
- Review and, if necessary, revise the Campus Plan.
Strengthening the Extended Skidmore Community and Enhance our Public Identity
- Build a forceful and effective marketing operation that focuses on digital content and outreach to major audiences via new media. Strengthen marketing efforts around the identity statement that Creative Thought Matters. Enhance search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) in all aspects of College communications.
- Update and fortify digital communications and the web presence for alumni. Explore the feasibility of instituting an internal web portal in order to focus the main website on key publics such as prospective students, prospective faculty and staff members, alumni, parents, and the media.
- Increase and strengthen digital content and social media interactions with members of the media; focus on increasing national news coverage of the College.
- Enhance capacity to promote the accomplishments of faculty and students whose work exemplifies creative and integrative teaching, learning, research, and professional activity. Establish an online Faculty Experts database to feature those faculty members willing to be interviewed by media regarding their research and expertise.
- Design and implement a new Admissions marketing program and related web presence with an emphasis on academic strengths and creativity. Continuously refresh Admissions materials, web pages, and digital communications to reach “digital natives” more effectively.
- Develop new ways to advance fundraising and Campaign efforts using digital resources.