2015-2020 Strategic Plan: Midpoint Review
Produced by President Emeritus Philip A. Glotzbach, reviewed by President Marc C. Conner and the President’s Cabinet
The following is a narrative overview of the progress we have made toward achieving the Goals of the 2015-2025 Strategic Plan: Creating Pathways to Excellence; where appropriate, this document also highlights work remaining to be done. If it had been completed prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, this report would be quite different. It acknowledges the enormous challenges associated with the pandemic and the resulting accommodations that altered either our planning or our execution of the initiatives discussed below.
In addition, Skidmore now has completed a transition in presidential leadership. Throughout the 2020 spring semester and into June, we intentionally facilitated ways for then President-Elect Marc C. Conner to engage with the College’s senior leadership team, key governance committees, especially the Institutional Policy and Planning Committee (IPPC), the Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding (CIGU) and the Board of Trustees, and the Skidmore community as a whole. Much of this transitional work had been planned in advance. But given the previously unimaginable range of decisions required to manage both the College’s response to COVID-19 in the spring and the complex planning for a safe fall reopening, it became essential to accelerate the timing of this transition: to involve then President-Elect Conner sooner and much more actively than previously anticipated in the decision-making that would profoundly shape the early years of his presidency.
Introduction and Context
The preamble to the 2015 Strategic Plan begins with the following statement:
OUR CHALLENGE — AND OUR OPPORTUNITY — IS TO CREATE AND EMBRACE A VISION OF SKIDMORE COLLEGE 2025 THAT IS AT ONCE DISTINCTIVE, COMPETITIVE, GROUNDED IN SKIDMORE’S PARTICULAR EXPRESSION OF THE VALUES OF LIBERAL EDUCATION AND ACHIEVABLE. Because of the breadth, depth and interconnectedness of our academic and co-curricular programs, and because of the ways we teach our students and encourage them to find their own paths through our curriculum, the College is well positioned to seize this opportunity. (P. 1.)
Building upon 10 successful years of progress guided by the previous Plan: Engaged Liberal Learning, Creating Pathways to Excellence sets out a program of actions intended to achieve this overall objective. This Plan incorporates and reaffirms the College’s ongoing commitment to the fundamental tenets of liberal education and the belief that these values remain highly relevant for students and graduates in today’s world. It is ambitious and expansive, envisioning a Skidmore that continues to achieve ever higher levels of excellence in fulfilling its core educational mission.
An earlier version of the Plan, however, began with a rather different statement:
THE FUTURE OF SKIDMORE COLLEGE is inextricably joined to the future of our world. As we work to create our own institutional future, we must consider how that future will be affected by and can affect change in the world.
The past five years have made these sentences appear more prescient than we possibly could have realized in 2015 – especially in light of two subsequent developments:
First, in the spring of 2018, as we were working to enroll the Class of 2022, we saw a pronounced increase in the percentage of applicants requesting financial aid – to 75%, up from 55% in 2008 and resulting in a jump from 42% of entering students receiving aid in 2017 to 47% in 2018. We previously had expected continuing increases in the financial aid budget, year over year. We had not been able, however, to anticipate such a significant one-year change, much less the point at which it would occur. Meeting the increased demand for financial aid in fall 2018 required an additional $1.2 million beyond the amount originally budgeted for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019. Fortunately, we were able to offset the increase with savings from a smaller-than-anticipated need for financial aid for returning students. In subsequent years, this trend has continued, placing increasing pressure on annual budgets and depressing net tuition revenue.
The second event, of course, was the onset of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), the global pandemic that disrupted not just Skidmore’s 2019-20 academic year but the entire world. Though the full consequences were not fully evident at the beginning of the pandemic, its social, economic and medical implications have become increasingly apparent. Along with all other colleges and universities across our nation, we have been living with these implications since March 2020, when we first extended spring break for one week, then informed our students that they could not safely return following the scheduled break, transitioned all our courses to “remote learning,” recalled students from abroad and moved most of our workforce (except for some “essential workers”) to a virtual working environment. Next, we canceled summer programs and instituted a hiring freeze. We asked departments to curtail spending as much as possible and realized significant savings from reductions in Services and Supplies budgets that would prove crucial in helping us bring students safely back to campus in the fall. Most construction plans were immediately placed on hold, except for a small number of ongoing projects such as the Center for Integrated Sciences and the Annex (each of which we have managed to continue on schedule). We also instituted temporary furloughs from May through July for employees whose work was reduced or eliminated by the severe reduction in summer activities. Human Resources supported those employees who were affected in accessing New York State Unemployment benefits and additional benefits provided through the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program (FPUC). Most campus offices and functions were shut down or radically curtailed through this period, while we developed a range of possible scenarios for the upcoming fall semester and the rest of the academic year.
The College experienced significant financial challenges from offering pro-rated rebates to families for spring room and board charges (approximately $4.5 million), loss of revenues from summer programs (approximately $2 million) and additional COVID-19-related expenses. Even though plans to conduct in-person instruction were successfully implemented during the fall 2020 semester, it is inevitable that the College will continue to experience ongoing budgetary challenges. While the future remains unclear, it does appear likely that the College will see at least a temporary reduction in the size of the student body – or, at least, of the on-campus student population. That factor, combined with ongoing increased pandemic-related costs, is likely to reduce available revenues, relative to base-budget projections for FY 2021 and possibly beyond. Hopeful signs include the strong results we experienced in spring 2020 in enrolling the Class of 2024 and the positive response of the Skidmore faculty and staff in adjusting to the new reality. Even in this new and quite different environment, fundraising also has continued, resulting in a stronger-than-anticipated performance in the Skidmore Fund and ongoing overall progress on the Campaign.
Throughout this process, the four Goals of the Strategic Plan continued to provide an overarching framework for the College’s actions. Faculty members responded to the enormous challenge of suddenly having to convert their courses to remote-learning formats. We did everything possible to meet students’ (sometimes increased) economic needs and enable them to continue to pursue their academic goals. Specifically, we worked to accommodate the special needs of certain students for on-campus housing and for assistance in accessing their educational programs in the remote-learning format. We also responded to requests for increased financial aid. The COVID-19 emergency response team focused on protecting the health and safety of all members of the entire campus community. And we did all in our power to address the resulting financial and other challenges that threatened the long-term sustainability of the College.
Along with the need to manage the significant financial challenges described above, two basic principles have guided the College’s COVID-19-related planning:
- Preserving the health, safety and wellness of members of the campus community – students,
staff and faculty – as well as the health, safety and wellness of the greater Saratoga
Springs community, was our primary and guiding concern in all our decisions. Any plan to return students to campus needed to answer a set of medical, COVID-19-related
questions relating to the health and safety of both our students and our employees.
At the same time, it was necessary to acknowledge that no course of action can fully
guarantee the safety of anyone. So, the necessary decisions were guided by the best
available medical and epidemiological information, as we strove to achieve the best
possible balance between preserving safety and continuing our operations. Throughout
this process, the College worked closely with Saratoga Hospital, Saratoga County Public
Health Services and other regional medical authorities. That collaboration is ongoing.
As has been the case for all colleges and universities in New York, the range of possible options available to Skidmore has been shaped by directives and other guidance from the New York State Governor’s Office. In addition, throughout the planning process we worked closely with the Council of Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), the New York Six and other organizations to better understand our options and to participate in resource-sharing where possible and appropriate.
In conjunction with this first principle, we also sought to remain true to our guiding educational mission.
- Therefore, understanding that the residential learning experience is central to a Skidmore education, the College was determined to do everything in its power to provide our students with the highest quality educational opportunities via remote learning in the spring and then committed to returning to a fully residential, in-person liberal arts education as soon as safely possible. Accordingly, the Office of Academic Affairs and the division of Information Technology made significant efforts over the summer to provide additional resources to faculty members as they developed their fall courses. Plans were then finalized to bring as many students as possible back to campus for a fall semester slated to begin earlier than usual in August and to conclude in-person instruction at the Thanksgiving break.
Against this backdrop of the extraordinary and continuing challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, let us now review the first five years of the current Strategic Plan and then conclude with a look forward.
Creating Pathways to Excellence – the First Five Years
GOAL I: Integrative Learning and Education — To Develop Students’ Capacities to Create, Imagine and Change the World, and to Enhance the Work of the Faculty as Teacher-Scholars: We will invest in pedagogical and scholarly programs and educational strategies that develop the capacities of students and faculty members to achieve, model and demonstrate excellence as scholarly, creative and integrative learners.
This Goal focuses on the concept of integrative learning, an intentional approach to curriculum and instruction that aims to enhance students’ abilities to connect different aspects of their academic college career. This is an especially appropriate ambition, given the complexity and multi-dimensional nature of the large issues our graduates will face across their professional lives: climate change, the need to regulate the internet as both a powerful marketplace of ideas and a disruptive social and political force, the coming industrial revolution driven by the increasing application of artificial intelligence, the severe economic disruption caused by the pandemic and the profound political and cultural divides we see both in our nation and around the globe, to mention just a representative sample of these so-called “wicked” problems. These challenges cannot be addressed from just one disciplinary standpoint; rather, they require the capacity to synthesize insights from a broad range of areas and to translate that knowledge into practical applications.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL I: Integrative Learning
- Complete fundraising and construct the Center for Integrated Sciences (CIS).
- Provide the physical context to bring together all nine departments and programs in the physical and life sciences to support new approaches to integrative learning, not just in the sciences but across other curricular areas as well. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. The $50 million fundraising goal has been achieved; a new accelerated construction plan and a revised funding plan were developed; the Annex was added to house faculty members displaced by construction and provide necessary temporary classroom and laboratory spaces. Work is progressing, with anticipated completion of all phases by fall 2024.
- Develop a virtual prototype of the IdeaLab, in anticipation of its inclusion in the CIS. COMPLETED. With the aid of outside grant funding and faculty leadership.
- Bolster Scribner Library’s capacity to support integrative learning associated with the Center for Integrated Sciences. Develop infrastructure and expertise to improve data services (including data hosting, data management, data curation and data literacy) on campus. IN-PROCESS.Hired metadata librarian who is developing expertise to contribute to data services in coming years. The director of Scribner Library has also been developing her knowledge of data literacy, data visualization and data management in her role as advisory board member to the Visualizing the Future National Forum (https://visualizingthefuture.github.io/). At present, further efforts around data management and records retention are stalled, largely because the pandemic has forced the working group's attention elsewhere.
- Create new structures to support student integrative learning, making that concept
a regular part of Skidmore’s internal narrative.
- Complete the General Education curriculum revision, including new ways to support scientific literacy (for all students, not just science majors, as is required of all responsible citizens in today’s world), intercultural competency, quantitative reasoning, information literacy and visual literacy. COMPLETED. The new General Education curriculum has been approved by the faculty.
- Implement the new General Education curriculum.IN-PROCESS. The new curriculum is going into effect with the Class of 2024 that entered in fall 2020. But challenges remain in staffing certain provisions (e.g., the Bridge Experience and the Senior Coda). Departments not currently offering a Senior Coda experience will need to ensure they have one in place for this year’s incoming junior transfers.
- Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Center for Quantitative Reasoning and a Center for Entrepreneurship. IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. Work has progressed regarding the Center for Entrepreneurship with several ideas being explored; the Center for Quantitative Reasoning is deferred.
- Ensure the ongoing alignment of Library collections and services with curricular goals of fostering creativity and integrated learning. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. Revision of our Information Literacy Framework rubric has been completed (Information Literacy - Library Instruction - LibGuides at Skidmore College); outreach to students has been designed to foster creativity through initiatives such as escape room-style information literacy sessions, a research-a-thon, a pumpkin challenge and altered book contest, and finals table activities. The Library continues to review and build its collections to support work across disciplines.
- Partner with other New York Six colleges to expand opportunities for Skidmore students to study (in some cases via technology) with faculty members from those schools or to access programs sponsored by the other schools (e.g., study-away programs). Explore ways to partner with other institutions as well. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. Partnership with New York Six schools has become increasingly important over the past five years. We see strong collaboration and cooperation within administrative groups (presidents, academic officers, student affairs officers, et al.) and among selected faculty groups. Procedures for opening access for all students to study-away programs in each school have been implemented, though limited numbers of students have participated. Other academic collaborations have been explored and a number of successful faculty development conferences and workshops have been held. Other notable accomplishments include an annual student research conference, shared purchasing agreements, partnering on computer security, sharing legal expenses for the review of the new federal Title IX regulations, etc. During the COVID-19 pandemic, administrative consultation and collaboration across colleges have taken on increased importance.
- Develop better, more consistent and more effective assessment mechanisms for determining where and to what extent integrative learning is taking place at Skidmore. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. We have developed increasingly effective academic assessment processes, as was recognized in our most recent Middle States accreditation review (2015-16). The role of Faculty Director of Assessment (FDA) in the Committee for Educational Policy and Planning (CEPP) has been made more explicit.
- Secure dedicated resources to support the Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery operating budget. IN-PROCESS. The Tang has secured substantial support through the current Creating our Future Campaign. As of mid-July 2020, the Campaign has yielded in-kind gifts of art totaling nearly $15 million and $9.34 million in support of the Tang endowment and programs. Fundraising continues for endowment and operations/programmatic support.
- Explore the possibility of expanding the Tang Museum, especially as our permanent collection increases. DEFERRED. It is not currently clear how such an expansion would align with other capital project priorities and strategic goals and how any such expansion would be funded. What is clear is that the Tang’s collections and its programs have expanded beyond the existing capacity of its space.
- Develop new ways to support faculty members across all three dimensions of their work:
teaching, research/creative activity and college citizenship.
- Evaluate the feasibility (both curricular and financial) of increasing the size of the tenure-track faculty by 15 over the next 10 years. COMPLETED. This objective was understood to be aspirational when it was first included in this Plan, and it fit with the tenor of our thinking at the time. We have, indeed, increased the number of faculty members over the first five years of the Plan. Between 2015 and 2019, the faculty FTE rose from 304 to 324 and the student-faculty ratio declined from 8.2 to 7.7. Current realities relating to the long-term financial sustainability of the College (especially in light of the sharply increased demand for financial aid noted above) mandate a reversal of this trend; specifically, we need to seek a reduction in the overall size of the faculty over the coming years and a re-alignment of our employee-to-student ratios more in keeping with our peer and aspirant schools and with the capacity of our endowment to sustain. In the 2019-20 academic year, goals for increasing the student:faculty ratio were discussed by the Dean of Faculty with IPPC, the Board and the faculty, indicating that continued expansion of the faculty size is not the direction the College will pursue.
- Expand faculty development resources and initiatives through the Faculty Development Committee; the Center for Leadership, Teaching and Learning; and the Dean of the Faculty’s Office. IN-PROCESS. We have seen some enhancement of these resources, though not on a dramatic scale. This will remain an ongoing need. A number of programs have been initiated, including two programs funded by a Mellon grant: the Teaching Support Network and Pedagogy Clusters (for developing Bridge Experience and Applied Quantitative Reasoning courses). In response to the pandemic, the directors of the Center for Leadership, Teaching and Learning, Learning Experience Design and Digital Scholarship Support (LEDS), the Lucy Scribner Library and the IdeaLab, joined forces with the Office of the Dean of the Faculty to form a Summer Faculty Development Leadership Team; its charge was to enhance faculty skills in preparation for hybrid and remote course delivery during the 2020-21 academic year. A total of 216 Skidmore faculty members participated in one or more of 126 separately scheduled events.
- Explore the desirability and evaluate the feasibility (both curricular and financial) of implementing an alternating 2-2, 3–2 (18 to 15 credits) teaching load aimed at increasing teaching effectiveness and supporting even stronger connections between students and faculty. COMPLETED. Financial realities preclude making this change in the standard faculty teaching load. However, considerable effort and resources have been devoted to develop and implement the HELIOS Program, which factors into individual teaching loads and the work of faculty members who direct independent studies, etc. – work that has increased in recent years.
- Interrogate the criteria for faculty promotion. Consider how to re-evaluate the traditional emphasis on — and balance among — teaching, research/creative work and college citizenship. IN-PROCESS. Some efforts were made in this area, leading to a revision of Faculty Handbook language regarding promotion to associate professor and permitting the counting of prior service at other institutions. A proposal to revise the criteria for promotion to full professor was developed but ultimately rejected by the faculty. We expect to return to this topic in the future.
- Support new faculty development opportunities pertaining to the implementation of new curricular initiatives linked to the general education curriculum. IN-PROCESS. With the support of a Mellon grant, we have launched two programs: the Teaching Support Network and Pedagogy Clusters for developing Bridge Experience and Applied Quantitative Reasoning courses.
- Evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Center for Humanistic Inquiry. DEFERRED / IN- PROCESS. Funding to create a Center has not been available. Moreover, questions remain about how establishing a Center would fit in with other institutional strategic priorities. Nevertheless, with faculty leadership and the use of Presidential Discretionary Funds, several well-received humanities symposia and events have been sponsored: Metamorphosis (March 23-24, 2018); Wonder (March 23-30, 2019); and Generations (November 9, 2019). An additional symposium, Mistakes and Discovery, was planned for March 27-28, 2020; unfortunately, the pandemic forced its postponement. Such projects indicate ways to support vibrant interdisciplinary humanistic projects without formalizing the structure of a new “Center.”
- Partner with other New York Six colleges to form faculty collaborations and leverage resources to enhance teaching and learning. IN-PROCESS. Results have not been dramatic, in part due to the geographical separation of the schools. But several effective collaborations have occurred, some funded by external grants, including a number of successful faculty development conferences and workshops.
- Provide digital/IT resources for the development of new approaches to integrative
learning and enhancing connectivity.
- Continue the process of renovating and refreshing classrooms to better support pedagogy and technology. IN-PROCESS. The Learning Experience Design and Digital Scholarship Support (LEDS) team has worked to renovate and refresh classrooms to better address technology needs. Considerable effort and additional resources were required last spring and over the summer to support remote learning during the pandemic, and LEDS was quite active in this work. Additional resources also have been necessary to upgrade classrooms and facilitate instruction in tents for fall 2020. Centralizing technological support has become even more important as we have implemented remote learning during the pandemic.
- Enhance resources of the Center for Leadership, Teaching and Learning (CLTL) to assist faculty members in understanding, evaluating and, where appropriate, adopting new technologies and best practices in their teaching and research. IN-PROCESS. The CLTL has continued to be an effective vehicle for enhancing pedagogy on campus. One result of work by faculty leadership of the CLTL has been a series of improvements to our annual orientation program for new faculty, making that program more effective and helpful to our new colleagues. In response to the pandemic, the CLTL also has considerably increased the number of opportunities available to faculty members to support teaching and learning in the new environment (see above).
- Build stronger and more coherent curricular and co-curricular programs to enhance civic engagement, social responsibility and the connection between liberal education and responsible citizenship. IN-PROCESS. The Institutional Policy and Planning Committee (IPPC) established the Subcommittee on Responsible Citizenship. The College also became an institutional member of Project Pericles. More work has been done to support co-curricular learning – e.g., service learning experiences in selected courses (with courses designated as Applied Civic Engagement courses), volunteer community civic engagement opportunities for students, etc. – than in other potential programmatic areas. This remains an area for further development.
- Identify specific ways to further enhance connections between the curricular and co-curricular lives of our students. IN-PROCESS. Peer academic coaching has provided a bridge between curricular and co-curricular learning. This remains an area for further development.
GOAL II: Access — To Ensure Access for All Our Students to an Extraordinary Educational Experience: Students will have full access to opportunities for educational excellence across all three phases of their Skidmore careers — at admission, as undergraduate learners and in transitioning to their post-college lives.
Goal II begins with the traditional notion of access – continuing the work of attracting and supporting an increasingly diverse student body (racially, ethnically, internationally, socio-economically, etc.). But it expands that concept to include two additional areas of the student experience. First, it envisions identifying and reducing internal barriers that, in the past, have prevented some students from accessing the full range of educational opportunities during their Skidmore careers. Second, it acknowledges the need to continue to enhance the ways we assist our students and graduates in gaining access to professional opportunities during their post-Skidmore lives.
The College’s continuing support for financial aid is demonstrated by increases in that area of the annual budget. In FY 2015, the financial aid budget was $41.626 million; in FY 2021, that number had increased to $53.937 million – an overall increase of 30%. From FY 2020 to FY 2021, that budget line increased by 11.6% – partially in response to the pandemic. To cite just one other indicator, during this period, the number of Davis United World College Scholars increased from 32 to 55.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL II: Access
- Strengthen financial aid and outreach programs that enable the broadest range of students
from across the country and around the world to attend Skidmore.
- Increase endowment support for the financial aid budget by $2 million through successful completion of the Creating Our Future campaign [requires increasing endowment by $40 million]. IN-PROCESS. Though it has been highly successful overall and $26,913,373 had been raised, as of mid-July 2020, in support of financial aid, the Creating Our Future campaign has not yet achieved its $50 million goal for this area. Fundraising efforts will continue. Historically, Skidmore’s donor community has been highly supportive of financial aid and we expect that support to continue in the future.
- Explore an alternative admissions pathway that foregrounds creativity and evaluate other admissions practices (e.g., use of standardized tests) that may serve to limit applicant pools. COMPLETED / DEFERRED. Skidmore adopted a test-optional admissions policy for the Class of 2021 (admitted fall 2016). The immediate effect was an increase of approximately 1,000 applications, and if anything, this policy has strengthened our applicant pool. Consideration of an alternative admissions pathway is currently on hold, subject to re-evaluation in the future.
- Develop a Creativity Scholarship Program of need-based aid targeting highly creative students interested in all areas of the curriculum [requires increasing endowment by $10 million to support $125,000 in new awards to each class]. DEFERRED.
- Develop ways to recruit in new secondary schools in targeted areas (e.g., southern cities with substantial populations of professionals originally from other parts of the country). IN-PROCESS. Some progress has been made, with resulting modest increases in enrolled students from these areas. This remains an area for further exploration and development.
- Explore ways to expand participation by all entering students in pre-orientation programs. [Additional funding required in annual budget: approximately $220,000.] DEFERRED. Budgetary constraints have precluded moving forward on this initiative.
- Strengthen programs that enhance access to academic opportunities for all students.
- Expand the Summer Educational Experiences — Beyond the Campus (SEE-Beyond), SSFIAP (Skidmore Summer Funded Internship Award Program) and collaborative research programs — to ensure that all students engage in at least one such experience prior to graduation. Establish fundraising goals to support these initiatives [requires increasing endowment by $50 million]. IN-PROCESS. We have made progress in this area, and fundraising to support these activities is still in process. But we have not yet been able to require that all students participate in one of these experiences. The Subcommittee for Institutional Effectiveness (SIE) recommends centralizing the tracking of these metrics.
- Increase our commitment to open educational resources (OER) in order to ensure that Skidmore students have access to sources without needing to pay out of pocket. DEFERRED. The OER effort has been paused due to staffing turnover and the disruption of the pandemic. However, the pandemic has also highlighted the acute need for open-access educational resources, and the library will return to this work when possible. OER will be key to creating a more equitable learning environment for Skidmore students.
- Develop new creative ways to position Skidmore graduates to take their initial steps
into their post-college lives and enhance ongoing career support for all graduates.
- Assist students in establishing goals for their first year out of college, while encouraging them to work with the Career Development Center beyond graduation to make continuing and effective progress along their unique career paths. Establish metrics to track outcomes. Use that information to further enhance programs to assist students in making the transition from their undergraduate careers to their later lives. IN-PROCESS. Good progress has been made, as engagement metrics reflect. Enhanced reporting of first-year-out and five-year outcomes has provided important tracking data.
- Set and achieve targets for percentage of students in each graduating class who make use of the Career Development Center; identify and track outcome targets associated with this activity. COMPLETED.
- Archive high-quality student research in Skidmore’s institutional repository, Creative Matter, so it will be preserved and made available to scholars from around the world far into the future, and so it can be used by our graduates to demonstrate past accomplishments. COMPLETED. Appointed a staff member to oversee Creative Matter. The repository has been overhauled and made much easier to navigate and contribute to. Outreach to departments is being expanded.
- Strengthen affinity networks (e.g., SkidBiz, Visual Arts) and establish new ones to further engage alumni and parents creatively in positioning our graduates to achieve their professional goals. IN-PROCESS. Robust networks have been established. New networks for science and the visual and performing arts have been established. Work to strengthen these networks will always be ongoing.
GOAL III: Well-Being — To Strengthen the Inclusiveness, Health and Well-Being of Our Community: We will create new opportunities for developing the skills that will make Skidmore a more healthful, inclusive and creative community.
This Goal, which focuses on fostering a “creative, inclusive and safe” community, is arguably the most innovative one in the current Plan. It speaks to our longtime emphasis on community and our intention to
collectively strive to create a community that lives by higher standards than are seen in the world at large. By insisting upon those standards and expecting members of the community to comport themselves accordingly, we are providing an image of the possible — an image we hope all of us can look to as we do our part to influence an imperfect world for the better. (P. 19)
First of all, Goal III addresses issues of inclusiveness for our populations, which have increased in compositional diversity over this period (most especially in our student body, faculty and senior administration). We want all members of our community to experience a full sense of belonging. We want our campus to be a welcoming and safe place – physically safe (including safety from sexual- and gender-based misconduct) and safe from personal, verbal assault. Though, decidedly, the College must not be a place in which people are “safe” from having their ideas and opinions interrogated and challenged in the course of respectful but vigorous critical discourse. We reaffirm a rigorous commitment to free speech.
Over the past five years, we have made continued progress in increasing the compositional diversity of our student body – most notably in our population of African American students. Beginning in 2016, under the auspices of the President’s Office and the vice president for Strategic Planning and Institutional Diversity, we initiated the In It program of community dialogues that have continued each year (each year with a different theme). We have sponsored anti-unconscious bias trainings with various campus and administrative groups (including Admissions, the President’s Cabinet, Campus Safety and the Board of Trustees) and we offered numerous sessions of the “Factuality” game created by Natalie Gillard (including sessions with the entire entering class in fall 2019), among other initiatives. Since 2018-19, under the auspices of Student Affairs, the “Skidmore Speaks” series has sponsored various events dealing with free speech and hate speech on campus. We also have improved the anti-harassment training provided by Human Resources for all Skidmore employees. Not all issues in this area have been eliminated, but we have made progress.
We implemented a new First-Year Student Orientation Program. We have benefitted from increased leadership by the Committee on Intercultural and Global Understanding (CIGU), and after a period of dormancy, we have reinvigorated the Bias Response Group. A new “Center for Social Justice” (this is the working title; we are seeking donor sponsorship to name this center) is scheduled to open in Case Center in fall 2021, and plans call for the co-location of staff members with responsibility for diversity and inclusion programming in the former Intercultural Lounge. A budget has been set aside to hire a director for the “Center for Social Justice.”
Under the leadership of CIGU, in spring 2019 we administered the Higher Education Data Sharing (HEDS) campus climate survey across all campus populations, with notably high response levels. Since this survey is used across a large and diverse array of institutions, it gives us access to comparative data, not just information pertaining to Skidmore. The survey provided important information to use in developing next steps to enhance diversity and inclusion on campus, especially in light of new calls for anti-racism efforts relating to the Black Lives Matter movement and increased student activism around this topic. Dissemination and discussion of the results of this survey were interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, but plans call for this process to resume as soon as possible.
Goal III also anticipated the increased attention we are seeing across all colleges and universities in this country on student mental health – prompted by substantial increases in the numbers of students reporting troubling levels of anxiety, depression and other psychological issues, accompanied by significant growth in demands for on-campus psychological services. In response, we have implemented a new “step” program in managing student access to on-campus counseling services. We also have partnered with the Mary Christie Foundation. In spring 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, we developed additional resources to help students access counseling and health services remotely.
Finally, work was completed in summer 2020 to assess and, where necessary, revise College policies and procedures relating to new federal Title IX regulations that took effect in August 2020.
PRIORITY INITIATIVES in support of GOAL III: Well-Being
- Develop additional institutional capacity and programming to make Skidmore a truly
creative and inclusive community, such that other schools look to Skidmore as a model.
- Develop an institutional Diversity and Inclusion Plan to guide college-wide work toward achieving inclusive excellence. IN-PROCESS. Scheduled to be developed in the 2020-21 academic year under the leadership of CIGU and the Chief Diversity Officer.
- Enhance professional development opportunities for members of the College staff. IN-PROCESS. Workshops on unconscious bias and interactive diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) areas have been provided through Human Resources and other offices (as noted above). The CLTL also has sponsored programming for faculty members in this area. Community meetings, consistent updates via the Skidmore Weekly Bulletin, etc., have been used to strengthen communications with the community. This work will always be ongoing.
- Increase communitywide opportunities for all members of the College community to engage in meaningful dialogue and explore different frameworks of analysis with the goal of achieving mutual understanding. IN-PROCESS. Notable work includes the annual In It series and “Skidmore Speaks” referenced above, both of which have offered workshops, keynote speakers and other educational opportunities to the campus community.
- Continue to support the Pilot Staff Advisory Group (SAG); review the structure and effectiveness of the group in spring 2017. IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. We have continued to support the work of this group, but the review of structure and effectiveness was deferred. This group’s efforts shifted to target some specific social events for staff, as well as serving as a consultative group for the administration in general, and Human Resources in particular. In the 2019-20 academic year, this group was less active.
- Create new opportunities to foster practices that enhance the wellness and well-being
of all community members.
- Monitor and, as needed, make changes to ensure that the College’s employee benefits package makes health and wellness a more prominent objective; incorporate wellness assistance and incentives into health insurance. IN-PROCESS.
- To promote strategic alignment of well-being initiatives across College divisions, convene a group of campus leaders to form a well-being collaborative to plan, seek funding for and implement a comprehensive plan to promote campuswide well-being (e.g. explore ways to increase effectiveness of the campus Smoking Policy and determine whether to make Skidmore a smoke-free environment). Enhance opportunities for members of the campus community — most especially students, but also members of the faculty and staff — to pursue activities relating to physical fitness and overall health. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. The Smoke-Free Skidmore policy was implemented, effective January 1, 2019. Other work is ongoing. Formation of a dedicated working group has been deferred.
- Holistically address sexual and gender-based misconduct through implementation of an inclusive public health approach that involves all campus constituencies. IN-PROCESS. Major work has been done over the summer of 2020 in collaboration between the Title IX Coordinator and Student Affairs to review and, where necessary, revise our systems, procedures and programming in response to the new federal Title IX regulations.
- Develop new ways to leverage the relationship between campus athletic facilities, the health of students and employees and the success of our student–athletes who participate in intercollegiate athletics. Continue fundraising to implement initial stages of the Athletics Facilities Plan, including the boathouse for the crew program and expanded locker rooms, weightlifting area, cardio-fitness center and tennis facility. Additional fundraising is required to reach a target of approximately $15 million. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. The new Valentine Boathouse had been completed. Plans for funding and execution of Phase I of the athletics facilities expansion – the fitness and tennis facility – have been developed. Though this project is currently on hold because of COVID-19, fundraising continues.
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.
Goal IV begins by affirming that 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. (P. 23.)
We have continued to prioritize balanced annual operating budgets and avoiding long-term projected unsustainable budget deficits. The challenges in doing so became exacerbated as a result of the above-noted pronounced increases in required allocations for financial aid and, more recently, the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is now clear that Skidmore must have a smaller workforce in the future – both faculty and staff – and the College is currently developing plans to achieve those objectives. As we pursue this objective, however, we will need to increase our efforts to support all our employees as they continue to do the essential work of the institution.
We have continued our emphasis on environmental sustainability, as we have undertaken new construction. But we also have been in dialogue with the campus community and governance committees to ensure that everyone understands the trade-offs and cost-benefit determinations that inevitably accompany such decision-making.
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
- Through effective portfolio management and fundraising, increase the College endowment to at least $500 million by 2025. IN-PROCESS. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, our total endowment was approaching $450 million. This growth occurred through a combination of effective stewardship by the Investment Committee and fundraising. With the onset of the economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the endowment initially lost approximately 12% of its previous value. Fortunately, the markets’ recovery has restored a portion of that value; as of June 30, the overall endowment had reached approximately $420 million.
- 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% to 5% of our resources annually through reallocation, cost-containment, cost-reduction and new sources of revenue. IN-PROCESS. We have achieved reductions in Services and Supplies budgets in various fiscal years. Work to contain rising health insurance costs is ongoing. In 2019-20, the IPPC and President’s Cabinet collaborated to retain Cambridge Hill Partners to assist in engaging the campus community in dialogue regarding the need for cost containment. Those efforts were temporarily put on hold due to the pandemic. We have realized some savings by partnering with the NY6 schools in areas such as purchasing, library support, legal reviews (e.g., of the new Title IX regulations), computer security, etc.
- Complete fundraising and construct the Center for Integrated Sciences (CIS) [$100 million; additional funding required: $60 million]. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. As noted above, the initial fundraising goal of $50 million has been achieved. Funding and revised construction plans are in place and the project remains on track for completion in 2024. Fundraising continues to create a $10 million operating endowment.
- Complete funding and construct the new Admissions and Financial Aid building on the main campus [$5 to $7 million]. DEFERRED. Admissions relocated to a renovated building on North Broadway.
- Complete funding and construction for the new Boathouse for Crew program. [Additional fundraising required: $250,000.] COMPLETED.
- Complete funding plan and implement Phase I of the Athletic Facilities Master Plan. [Additional fundraising required: approximately $15 million.] COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. Plans have been completed and the funding plan developed, with forward-funding using available College reserves. But the project is currently on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The final design for Phase I of this facility includes relocation of the Greenberg Childcare Center; those plans also have been placed on hold because of the pandemic. Considerable additional fundraising will be required for both Phases I and II; those efforts continue.
- Complete the current comprehensive fundraising campaign, Creating Our Future: The Campaign for Skidmore. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. The stated goal of $200 million has been achieved. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the campaign’s conclusion was pushed back from May 31, 2020, to December 31, 2020, and we established a new target of surpassing the total of the previous campaign($16.5 million). As of early December, $224.1 million had been raised.
- Explore the desirability and feasibility of decreasing our reliance on short-term and part-time, non-tenure-track facultyby 10% (not included in this initiative are artists-in-residence, writers-in-residence, teaching professors and other long-term, non-tenure-line positions). IN-PROCESS. The growth in faculty size over the past several years has included non-tenure track faculty as well. The institutional need to align faculty size more appropriately with our student body size and endowment capacity will make this goal difficult to achieve.
- Explore making an explicit commitment to open access in various venues. IN-PROCESS.
- 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. IN-PROCESS.
- Enhance communication across campus, especially between the administration and other
segments of our community, and across groups (work to minimize experience of disconnection
across different areas and divisions). IN-PROCESS. Considerable progress has been made to date. With the development of enhanced capacity
in the division of Communications and Marketing, we have increased the frequency,
attractiveness (format, presentation, etc.) and information content of campus communications.
The Skidmore Weekly Bulletin has been positioned to be the primary vehicle of ongoing communication with the campus
community. The COVID-19 crisis has brought new emphasis upon effective communication,
to be supplemented by additional communications as needed. We have increased both
the number and frequency of Community Meetings, communications from the president
and other members of the senior leadership team, along with other forms of communication.
Going forward, these communication efforts will continue.
At an appropriate time, we should survey the campus community to determine the extent to which different populations regard our communications as effective and to solicit additional suggestions for continuing improvement.
- Managing our Physical and Natural Resources — Campus Sustainability
- Implement the Campus Sustainability Plan. Assess progress in meeting benchmarks identified in the Sustainability Plan and re-evaluate on an ongoing basis. IN-PROCESS.The IPPC Campus Sustainability Subcommittee (CSS) reports annually to the IPPC, the
President’s Cabinet and the community regarding progress toward achieving the stated
environmental sustainability goals. Work was begun in the 2019-20 academic year to
develop a sustainable building policy that would realign the function of the CSS in
relation to campus construction projects – proposing guidelines for future building
projects, as opposed to having the Committee review the details of individual projects.
Based on community conversations – especially with the CSS – the design of the Annex was changed to make it a two-story structure, thus reducing its geographical footprint and enhancing its sustainability. Bringing the CIS fully online will substantially increase the amount of campus square footage that is geothermally heated and cooled. The CIS will be LEED-certified. The College is also participating in the New York State Higher Education Large-Scale Renewable Energy consortium and expects to significantly exceed its goals for electrical consumption from renewable sources. Information regarding progress in campus environmental sustainability has been added to Admissions promotional materials.
- Review and, if necessary, revise the Campus Plan. IN-PROCESS. It was announced in December 2020 that Skidmore is embarking on a new Campus Master Planning project to determine how future changes to the physical structure of campus can best support the College’s strategic priorities, needs and aspirations.
- Implement the Campus Sustainability Plan. Assess progress in meeting benchmarks identified in the Sustainability Plan and re-evaluate on an ongoing basis. IN-PROCESS.The IPPC Campus Sustainability Subcommittee (CSS) reports annually to the IPPC, the President’s Cabinet and the community regarding progress toward achieving the stated environmental sustainability goals. Work was begun in the 2019-20 academic year to develop a sustainable building policy that would realign the function of the CSS in relation to campus construction projects – proposing guidelines for future building projects, as opposed to having the Committee review the details of individual projects.
- Strengthen 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. COMPLETED: The Communications and Marketing team is now a highly responsive, innovative and proactive division that consistently tracks data and industry and popular trends to inform decision-making. Building on strong collaboration with the Office of Admissions, Office of Advancement, Office of the President and other divisions, academic departments and offices across campus, the highly agile and adaptable team routinely generates innovative and creative solutions and offers expedited responses. The urgent and extensive responses required of the team in 2020 benefited from and underlined the advantage of eliminating office structure silos in favor of working as rapid-response units formed or reconfigured as needed to focus on specific tasks, projects or issues.
- Update and fortify digital communications and the College’s 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. IN-PROCESS / DEFERRED. Considerable progress has been made to date. The internal web portal was evaluated and rejected as both cost-prohibitive and unnecessary. Web presence and overall communications for alumni could use a unified approach and coordination to avoid duplication, contradiction and uneven standards.
- Increase and strengthen digital content and social media interactions with members of the media; focus on increasing national news coverage of the College. IN-PROCESS. Social media, online engagement and paid digital advertising are a crucial part of Skidmore’s overall work. Social media content development and deployment is a richer, joint effort from different areas of expertise within and beyond the Office of Communications and Marketing. The distinctive in-house paid digital capacity and expertise is a significant advantage over other institutions that have to spend a lot more on specialized external resources for the same work. In year-to-date comparison over 2019, the College’s flagship channels in 2020 saw as much as 100% in engagement across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Work continues in tracking and responding to social media trends, user preferences and algorithm changes.
- 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. COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. The database has been created and is operational. The online experts database has grown and there is ongoing work to expand it and promote it as a resource for news media. Related work includes tracking news developments and cycles to determine if there are promotion opportunities, and incorporating experts in Skidmore news stories on the news site, Scope and social media. Examples include a wide range of work featured in news and feature stories throughout the year and highlights of innovative approaches in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Work to support this objective is ongoing.
- Design and implement a new Admissions marketing program and related web presence with
an emphasis on academic strengths and creativity. Continuously refresh Admissions
materials, webpages and digital communications to reach “digital natives” more effectively.COMPLETED / IN-PROCESS. A new marketing and outreach program is now in place and continues to grow and evolve
as circumstances change. Strong collaboration between the Office of Communications
and Marketing and the Office of Admissions includes integrated marketing efforts,
such as segmented “drip” email newsletters, search engine marketing, paid social media
promotion and print and digital ads placed in publications and prominent locations
throughout the region and selected areas in multiple states. The two offices have
partnered in external visibility initiatives, including the first-ever digital display
ad at Albany International airport and Skidmore banners along Broadway in Saratoga
Extensive and consistent collaboration in response to the COVID-19 pandemic helped yield admissions results that bucked the trend at other colleges and brought in a larger class than projected. The efforts included virtual group information sessions and updated websites. New Virtual Open House events over the summer and early fall drew audiences as large as 600 viewers at a time. The efforts include using data tracking and analysis as a basis for the overall marketing and outreach strategy.
- Develop new ways to advance fundraising and campaign efforts using digital resources.IN-PROCESS. Considerable progress has been made to date.
Overall Assessment and Future Prospects
This Strategic Plan includes 60 separate action agenda items, which become a total of 77 items when the multiple parts of some items are counted. As indicated above, some action items have components that have been COMPLETED and others that have been DEFERRED or remain IN-PROCESS. Compiling the preceding evaluations of progress yields the following chart:
17/77 action items have been COMPLETED = 22%
45/77 action items remain IN-PROCESS = 58%
15/77 action items have been DEFERRED = 19%
62/77 action items are either COMPLETED or IN-PROCESS = 80%
Together, these figures tell a story of considerable progress toward realizing the objectives of this Plan. But these numbers do not tell the entire story. We can anticipate that some of the items listed as IN-PROCESS will be COMPLETED in time (e.g., those associated with specific fundraising targets, construction projects, or programs to be implemented – such as the new General Education curriculum). Others represent ongoing strategic commitments that can never be fully COMPLETED (e.g., continuing to develop resources to support faculty work, refreshing classrooms with upgraded IT capacity, or enhancing student academic engagement – as in the SEE-BEYOND program). The DEFERRED action items in some cases reflect current realities (e.g., the deferral of construction projects due to the pandemic, the deferral of the Creativity Scholarship for lack of funding); in other cases, deferral represents the strategic decision that a course of action envisioned when the Plan was first developed is no longer viable or necessary.
Overall, it is accurate to say that we have made very good progress so far. Academically, we have developed a new General Education curriculum and are on course to complete the Center for Integrated Sciences in 2024 – capping a series of investments in academic spaces that began with the Zankel Music Center and included refurbishing the Scribner Library and substantial renovations to the Saisselin Art Center, along with many smaller projects in classrooms, laboratories and other instructional spaces. The Annex provides a flexible surge space that will be useful for years to come. It goes without saying that the need for further renovations and development of new spaces will continue in the future.
We have made substantial progress in addressing issues of Access – in all of the dimensions identified under Goal II. That work, too, will always continue.
There still remains much to be done to continue improving the health and wellness of the community, as is called for in Goal III, and we need to retain our focus on realizing the innovative vision this Goal represents. Over the past five years, we have continued to diversify our student, faculty and staff populations. We have made progress, but that work will always be ongoing, as will efforts to enhance the inclusiveness of our community and to work for racial justice.
Sustainability – Goal IV – will also remain an ongoing challenge, for Skidmore and for every other college in the nation. Completing the Creating Our Future campaign and addressing the factors that underlie our current structural deficit will be essential to maintaining our ability not just to function but to thrive into the future. Here, too, this report identifies areas of substantial progress.
We have acknowledged some of the ways the COVID-19 pandemic already has radically altered the planning horizon – creating intense challenges to health and safety, teaching and learning, and our finances. Skidmore has made extraordinary efforts to address those challenges. The College was able to successfully reopen for in-person learning in the fall, so the signs are encouraging. But the College is hardly alone in facing these challenges, and the outcomes of our efforts will be influenced not only by what we do but also by what happens in the larger social context in which we operate. For example, what will be the impact of an effective vaccine? Will our economy continue to recover, or will a “second wave” of the infection reverse the gains we have realized so far?
The success of health and safety provisions implemented this fall, continuing experience with various teaching and learning modalities (in-person, remote, hybrid) and the larger trajectory of the pandemic will strongly influence planning over the 2020-21 and 2021-22 academic years. Given the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, we must be prepared to remain flexible, as we implement the plans we already have decided upon, with the understanding that changing circumstances could force us to alter course in short order.
As has been the case throughout the past nine months, communication with all sectors of the College population – including alumni and parents – will remain crucial to future success. It will be essential to keep everyone as informed as possible regarding ongoing planning and decision-making, both administrative planning and the work accomplished through the shared governance system. The expectation of continuing enhanced communication will no doubt be one of the persistent effects of the pandemic.
But even in the midst of our pandemic-related, short-term planning, we must remain mindful of the long-term objective of positioning the College solidly for the future, as envisioned in our current Strategic Plan. If we continue to plan well and execute our plans effectively, we will emerge from these troubled times with the capacity to provide even better educational opportunities for our students than in the past, along with an enhanced reputation and more efficient operations, all of which will serve us very well going forward.
Against the backdrop of everything that has occurred – both in the preceding five years and, especially, in 2019-20 – this also is an appropriate moment to pause and reassess the entire Strategic Plan, to identify any changes that need to be made to guide the College effectively over the next five years. It is up to the College’s leadership to determine just when and how this review should occur. If it does, the president, other members of the senior leadership team, the Board of Trustees, appropriate governance committees and ultimately all members of the College community will need to be engaged in this work. It is likely that such a review would be best timed following the pandemic period, whenever that concludes.
In recent years, Skidmore has benefited from both strategic planning and intentional efforts to execute those plans. As we go forward, it will be important to remember that a strategic plan is not just the projection of a set of actions to be undertaken. Ideally, it also provides a frame of discourse for the entire community, one that focuses our collective thoughts and actions upon a shared vision of the future.
Completed 15 December 2020.