Good morning! What a difference 70 years makes, yes? The 1950s pit-stop method worked at the time. I was particularly impressed by the banging on the tires. It was the best they had, and most likely they had no thought that in 70 years, the same activities would take only two seconds. What did they have to do to change? What is the process through which we make changes to institutions when they seem to be working perfectly fine? Maybe we see others changing. Maybe we learn of a system that is working “over there.” The moral of this story: the times change, and we change with them or we are left behind in the pit stop while others are back on the race track speeding toward the checkered flag.
I am delighted to be here with you today, eight months into the presidency. I have three goals for today’s talk with you:
It was my great pleasure to meet with so many different groups during the fall 2018 semester. I listened to and talked with members of the William Paterson community in 40 different sessions, including over 1,000 people. I was impressed by the thoughtfulness you put into the process. I was delighted to hear so many statements of appreciation for all the good work that is done at William Paterson by colleagues in other offices and by our outstanding faculty. Many people expressed great regard for their co-workers—that is something to be proud of.
At each session, I asked four questions: What are the opportunities for your area? What are the challenges for your area? What are two things that we could do to take your unit to the next level? Who are we as a University?
Let me tell you that the answers to the last question indicated that we don’t yet have a collectively understood clear statement of who we are. This is not to say that people don’t have answers. For example, I heard that we offer many outstanding academic programs. I heard that we are a well-kept secret. I heard that we help students find their strengths. I heard we are the place that gives students a chance. I heard, and quoted it in September, “I don’t know who we are, but we are necessary.” All of these statements are true, of course. I hope that our reputation will increasingly grow to include this important statement: “We teach students how to do college while doing college.”
When I first joined the University in July, I’ll confess that the lack of a clear brand bothered me, that we didn’t have a shared statement that describes what makes us distinctive. Now I’m less worried about it, because a statement like that doesn’t just magically appear in a balloon over our heads. We need to work together, we need to find ourselves, we need to talk about it and be who we are, and improve who we are, and that statement will come to us. Maybe not in some dramatic moment, but one day one of you will say to someone, “Hey, you know what you just said about William Paterson? That’s who we are.” And I want you to send me that thought immediately. Email will work just fine.
One of our many points of pride is our diversity. During the listening tour, I heard various statements about the importance of diversity at the University. We have a wide range of student backgrounds at William Paterson. Our students deserve to learn in the most inclusive and welcoming educational setting. They should learn to view difference as a plus, as a strength among us. Sadly, many people learn that difference is to be feared and resented. Some believe that differences among us mark some of us as “less than.”
For example, while attending the annual meeting of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, I was blown away by a keynote given by Soledad O’Brien. She gave a talk to University presidents on how mass media presents our students to the American public. She used her series, Who is Black in America, to illustrate her point. In the segment she was referencing. she was telling the story of a young African American mother of two small children. This powerful, determined woman took the subway two hours every day, with her children, to LaGuardia Community College and was about to complete her associate’s degree AND had a job lined up. When the producers came to Ms. O’Brien with the copy for the segment, the lead-in read, “She is the product of a drug-addicted mother and an alcoholic father.” Ms. O’Brien refused to read it.
She pointed out that often higher education and mass media talk about the challenges of these students without thinking, leading with, or even acknowledging their strengths or successes. This gets translated into the culture of mainstream media and continues the oppression, in this case racism, through a definition by deficit. We must continue to examine and be thoughtful about how we talk about our students—mindful of their challenges that we seek to help them overcome and BOASTFUL about their power, their strength, and their grit. And that begins to flip the narrative.
You see, William Paterson exists as a place of learning to teach that we are all ultimately the same in our right to be treated with respect and understanding. It was relayed to me that a student in a discussion about the multicultural center said that the entire University should be a multicultural center where all students feel safe to be who they are. And of course, that’s what I want for our students. I’m confident you do too.
There have been discussions at William Paterson that started last spring about safe or identity spaces. This is part of a national conversation. Many of the opinions we read are either totally in favor of, or totally against, the idea of safe spaces. I don’t believe that creating universities that are totally safe spaces truly prepares one for life’s difficult moments. I mean, if we are not challenging our students, and ourselves, to work with, learn about, and learn from those who are not like us, or to tackle issues that are difficult for us personally, are we meeting our social justice mission? Are we really about diversity and inclusion? For if we totally negated our educational responsibility to affirm, push, expose, or change value sets or long-held beliefs, it would be the equivalent of saying to students, “Now don’t go and get ideas while you are here!” And ideas are sort of our thing.
And, at the same time, I also recognize that from time to time we need spaces that are free from judgment and the constant feeling of “otherness.” As a gay male, I like gay spaces. I like to hold my partner Robbie’s hand without the fear of negative judgment or that we will be the victims of name-calling or, even worse, a hate crime. I am also aware that as a white male the chances of this happening to me versus the chances of this happening to a black lesbian are vastly different.
I also know as a gay university president people expect me to be a pioneer, and push those societal limits and perceptions every day. I have been told, “You have a position of privilege and power, you have an obligation to be out in straight and unwelcoming places.” Many days I can (and like it), but some days I just need to be with my tribe. And let’s face it, we naturally do that in real life. Our homes, our circle of friends, our families, often create these safe spaces. Whether they are physically like us or like-minded—we at times seek sameness for affirmation or to just be. So, I see safe or identity spaces as an “and” rather than an “or.”
I remember a great story told by Beverly Daniel Tatum, president emerita of Spelman College. She was discussing a stressful time in her own successful presidency when she decided to move away from athletics and focus the college’s effort on women’s health issues. Now, she told us that we would all be surprised about one of the biggest pushbacks. It was not about losing athletics as much as it was about food. The Spelman community was very concerned that with this new focus on health, Fried Chicken Fridays would no longer take place. She smiled and said of course we will continue this tradition AND we will add a healthier grilled chicken option. She reminded us to think of our presidencies as “and” and not “or.” I am reminded of her lesson as I think about this issue.
None of this work is easy, thanks to all of the pressures and feelings around race and ethnicity we deal with on a daily basis. And despite the work’s challenges, how wonderful it is to experience our students becoming engaged and connected to the University and more importantly advocating for their needs and identity spaces. It should be a point of pride that we taught them to do this, and we have an obligation to listen. I have not found our students to be unreasonable. They are careful thinkers—they are indeed figuring it out. In their original request to Dr. Waldron, students requested a Multicultural Center. Through their engagement in our University-wide dialogue, they figured out what they were really seeking was an identity space. And that is what a college education does, folks: it helps you figure it out.
So, thank you to all of you who strive in your daily lives to ensure that all of our students feel welcomed and included. This includes people working in Student Development and in Academic Affairs, as well as in Institutional Advancement and Administration and Finance. Faculty and staff provide Café con Leche open sessions for Latinx students. Faculty and staff provide gathering opportunities for African American and Latinx men to come together. A group of African American students is working with faculty and staff to determine what their needs are to be more successful at William Paterson. Another group of faculty and staff talked with me about their work providing support and guidance to undocumented students. And a hard-working task force including administrators, faculty, staff, and students worked during the fall semester to consider what a Multicultural Center could be at William Paterson.
The task force has completed their work and have recommended that William Paterson University create a Center for Diversity and Inclusion, with a number of specific steps to take. Let’s thank Vice President of Student Development Miki Cammarata and Associate Dean Jean Fuller-Stanley for their leadership, and the entire committee for their thoughtful and careful work in crafting a set of recommendations. Please stand to be recognized.
Their report with recommendations was linked to my announcement sent out on Monday so the entire community will have access to their good work. And related to this work, I have asked Vice President Cammarata and Vice President Steve Bolyai to locate spaces for the fall for both the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and for a Black Cultural Center.
The next phase of this work will focus on our Latinx and LGBTQA students as we seek to understand their needs and identify the resources that they feel they need to be successful. It is my hope that through the work with the Latinx faculty and staff group we can begin to hone our own meaning about what it means to be a Hispanic-Serving Institution for William Paterson University and the metrics we will use to measure our success.
Back to the listening sessions: Here are some other lessons:
From staff, I learned that many are frustrated by the lack of a position to which they can advance. There are few opportunities for promotions. Some job classifications that were used in the past that would provide promotional opportunities are no longer being used at the University.
From students, I heard that many feel they get the run around when they are looking for advising and other services. For example, students complained that they cannot find faculty advisors during summer and over breaks when the faculty are not obligated by contract to be on campus.
From faculty, some expressed the feeling that there is inadequate transparency from the administration in decisions that are made.
I understand that these are real concerns and I will respond to them. At the same time, I also have to tell you, as I tell the office staff and the Cabinet, “one miracle at a time.” There is only so much we can accomplish in a year. I am aware of your concerns and will continue to think about them, and address them over time. I know it’s frustrating to hear that I can’t fix everything this first year. I get that. My focus now has to be on improving the student life experience. In a word, retention. We as a University need to focus on retaining our students so that we can guide them through to their careers in a timely fashion while minimizing their debt. As I’ve said and will repeat again and again, this is our primary goal.
This goal has many subsets, of course, and one of them is the care of our excellent faculty and staff. I know that we will not be successful as a University if the folks who make it work are not happy in their jobs. Please know that increasing the retention of our students will be beneficial to all of us, as well.
Over the last year, our retention rate dropped from 77 percent to 70 percent, fall 2017 to fall 2018. Understand that the retention of students results in more course sections needed, which means we need more faculty. An increase in the retention of students means we are better serving them as they came here to meet their goals. An increase in retention also adds to the University’s resources, which can result in more promotional opportunities for staff to progress in their careers. Think of this: a one percent increase in the amount of students results in approximately $1 million added to our budget. Conversely, the reverse is true as well. So, this fall, with a seven percent drop in students, we lost $7 million from our budget. And more tragically, our students left us without a credential and with debt.
As we reach the student census date, there will be more information about the budget forthcoming in the next week or two, but understand that the loss of seven percent in retention from first to second year this past fall hurt our overall operating budget. Money that we counted on when we created the budget did not come in. This has a real financial effect. We made budget adjustments in the fall, and with the lower number of students who continued from fall to spring, we are facing a shortfall this semester of about $1 million.
When we improve our retention rate, and we budget conservatively, we may be able to allocate extra money to grow programs and hire new faculty and other necessary staff like advisors. Moreover, as retention numbers and graduation rates increase, our reputation grows and our brand strengthens with high school counselors, parents, and other influencers that impact college choice decisions.
Bottom line: You may be thinking that the listening tour filled me with angst, hearing of people’s concerns and problems. And yes, there was some of that. There were also many good ideas discussed, and positive reflections on the work we all are doing. Overall, the listening tour excited me with all of the possibilities at our University. I want you to share that excitement; in fact, I need you to share that excitement. To build this University into a leading comprehensive institution in North Jersey, we need to work together. I want enthusiastic and energized partners as we move forward. I got the impression from the listening tour that people were glad that there might be changes that accompany a new president’s arrival on campus. And this is not to say that things were bad. It said to me that over the past years of employment and engagement at William Paterson University, you have had ideas for how to improve the place. I was glad to get some sense of your ideas during the listening tour, and I want to keep hearing them.
This is why I have open office hours each month, why I invite the students to Pizza with the President each month, why I hold a monthly First Thursday open house, and why, when I’m walking on campus, I say hello to just about everyone I see. I can tell you that I’ve interrupted many students as they are typing away on their phones. I have gotten very skilled at saying hello with my head sideways as I seek eye contact. And you know what happens, almost every time I say hello? There is a smile. A recognition of care, a recognition that someone saw them and validated their presence. That is easy and it costs us nothing. It is why I hope you will keep coming to First Thursdays in the Manor and attend office hours. And while all of these are opportunities to share ideas, it is also an opportunity to get to know one another. Yes, I am talking about strengthening community.
And while I was out on tour listening, we got a lot of other good work done too. The Board of Trustees adopted new Key Performance Indicators, we hired a new general counsel, we are hiring a new provost, we started faculty searches for next year, we approved new academic programs in disability studies and the MS in Finance and Financial Planning, we negotiated a “transition to retirement” policy and a “tenure upon hire” policy with the AFT—thank you to Sue Tardi for your leadership. Please stand to be recognized. We began discussions with the Faculty Senate on promotion and tenure guidelines to make the process more transparent. Thank you to Arlene Scala and the Executive Committee for your leadership. Please stand to be recognized. We have begun discussion of a redesign of the first-year experience unique to the University that I will talk more on a bit later. We established the Cannabis Research Institute, gaining statewide and national recognition. We laid the groundwork for Propel Paterson, a working symposium that matches William Paterson faculty with the City of Paterson revitalization efforts—thanks to Vince Parrillo and members of the research consortium for their support. That is a very productive first semester.
So, that’s a good part of what I learned on the listening tour. Let me move to talking about my second topic: why we need to prepare for change in higher education.
Remember the pit crews of the 1950s? We saw how Indianapolis 500 pit stops have changed. What did higher education look like in the 1950s? How have we changed since 1950? In the 1950s, approximately 7.8 percent of the U.S. population had a college degree, with the majority of those degrees awarded to white men. Rutgers, New Jersey’s flagship university, did not even start admitting women until 1970! 1970! This isn’t surprising since our institutions of higher education historically are grounded in white male privilege.
Of course, the percentage for African American graduates in the 1950s was less: 2.2 percent. Numbers for Latinx are not available for 1950. When those statistics become available in 1980, the percentages for African Americans and Latinx were similar at 7.9 and 7.6 percent, with 18.4 percent of whites holding a bachelor’s degree. In 2017, 34.1 percent of people in the U.S. had college degrees, with women (yeah!) holding approximately one percent more than men.
And yet, when we instead factor in race and ethnicity, we have a different picture: As of 2015, only approximately 23 percent of African Americans and 16 percent of Latinx people in the U.S. had college degrees, while 36 percent of whites, and 54 percent of Asians had degrees. There is no other reason for this than racism and classism. Whether policies and practices are deliberately racist or unintentionally racist, we know that education, health care, and environmental quality all vary with race, ethnicity, and income. While the number of baccalaureate degrees has increased since the 1950s, we need to do much better to increase equity in education. And here is where I think we can have a competitive advantage.
Campuses nationwide will be getting browner over the next decade. We are a Minority-Serving Institution, an MSI, and a majority of our students are of color. As we work on our retention and graduation rates to close the achievement gap, I believe our brand will strengthen, leading to stronger enrollments over some of our competitors as the number of people of color in higher ed increases.
So, let’s look into the Magic 8 ball and see what it foretells about the future of higher education. And by the way, I use the 8 ball and not a crystal ball because I am the eighth president of William Paterson University. To do this, I want to return to a subject that I introduced in my address last fall: the changing demographics over the next ten years of traditional-aged college students. Professor Nathan Grawe in his book, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, shows us that over the next ten years, the number of high school graduates in the U.S. will drop by 4.4 percent. Well, that doesn’t sound too bad, does it? We’ve seen reductions like this before. However, as in this next slide, when you zoom in on the Northeast region, which includes New Jersey, we see a 5.9 percent decrease. A little more worrisome. But let’s not stop there; let’s look specifically at New Jersey. Over the ten years between 2018 through 2028, because of reduced birth rates, New Jersey’s percentage of potential college students is predicted to drop by 9 percent. Nine percent, folks. More troubling is that of the total number of high school graduates in New Jersey, 30 percent do not seek post-secondary education. Of the remaining 70 percent, 50 percent of those leave the state. The numbers needed to sustain our traditional-aged student population will become more challenging.
Other universities are responding quickly to the approaching changes in demographic shifts. I assure you that we need to be among them! Princeton, in its attempt to attract a more diverse student body, changed its policy to begin accepting transfer students, reversing a policy they have embraced since 1990. Montclair State created the University College, which is intended to attract non-traditional Montclair students (academically underprepared). The legislature has approved 3+1 programs at community colleges. And yes, a community college was just given authority to offer a bachelor’s degree. These are all examples of some of the actions our competitors are taking to respond to a more challenging recruitment environment for our traditional-aged population.
Now that you’ve seen the EAB graphs I hope you understand the gravity of the situation going forward. Just as my opening pointed to the change in the Indy pit stop, we too must pivot a bit, or other institutions will be out on the race track while we are still banging on the tires in the pit stop. But we can do it, from listening to all of you in the fall, I know we can. It will be scary, it will be exciting, but our very existence depends upon it.
I want to bring our attention to five areas in which I believe we can make important progress that will help us attract untapped populations to William Paterson, while retaining the fewer number of traditional-aged students of the future. It is important that you know that there are steps we can take; we are not powerless as we watch the demographic changes that will be occurring around us. But if we remain entrenched in our traditional mode, we will render ourselves powerless to meet the shift in the demographics.
The five areas in which studies have shown we can make a real difference to both attracting new students, and retaining those who start with us in their first year are:
I have asked the deans to provide opportunities for faculty to discuss these; I’ll get back to that process later on.
Let’s consider them in order. The first three are intended to attract new students to William Paterson University. Again, as the number of traditional-aged undergraduates shrinks over the next ten years, we want to reach out to others who have an interest in higher education.
As the Provost mentioned, in the past year, the University has created and strengthened several graduate programs. I am impressed by the good work of the faculty groups who designed these programs and by the Senate’s input as the programs moved through governance. At the same time, I need to note that based on the number of curriculum proposals I see other institutions putting forward for approval at the New Jersey President’s Council, William Paterson University has not been aggressive in adding new and/or modified graduate programs. Over the next ten years, these other schools will continue to be our direct competitors. And the competition will be fierce for the available students. Are there other graduate programs linked to work force need that faculty have wanted to propose? I look forward to your input on this.
Because the number of traditionally aged first-year students will be limited, we need to ensure that we can provide a college degree to two different groups of working adults: those who decide to acquire a college degree as a first time student, and those who already have some college credits but never completed. The Department of Labor and Workforce Development reports that as of 2017, 20.7 percent of all people over age 25 in New Jersey have some college credits. Specifically, the largest group among this number are African Americans over 25 of whom 27.7 percent have college credits. We understand that in Passaic County alone, 20 percent of its residents have some college credits but not a college degree. As more and more jobs and careers require the baccalaureate, we need to be in a position to better serve these students. As the majority of our undergraduate courses are offered between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., we do not at the present time provide meaningful access to college for working adults.
Online teaching has been growing over the past several years, but online course sections are still a small percentage of all sections. We have two fully online master’s programs in the College of Education, and students can enroll in online liberal studies programs. We must acknowledge that there is demand for such courses and programs. Returning adults as well as traditionally aged students appreciate online programs and courses. Many prefer hybrid offerings that reduce face time on campus and provide course credits that will help students attain their degrees. These are decisions to be made by the faculty. No one should feel forced to teach online. At the same time, this is a direction that has helped other schools better serve their students and attract populations that otherwise would be lost to them. Again, I look forward to the faculty’s input.
These next two are intended to improve retention of the students we have attracted over the past few years. The retention of students first to second year, as I’ve said so many times, dropped this year from the previous 77 percent to 70 percent. We understand that students have choices for their education, and that they encounter financial barriers, and run into other family issues that preclude their continued education. However, we are also aware that we lose students because they don’t know that assistance is available with these kinds of problems. They don’t know who to ask, and sometimes they believe that no one cares about their progress. We know, here as a dedicated group of professionals, that this isn’t true. We do care. We do want all of our students to be successful. If we do not express that clearly, though, it’s not surprising that they stop out. We have failed them. Additionally, we know that economically for the University, it’s more expensive to attract a new student than it is to retain a student. Retaining our students thus helps both them and their lives, and the University’s bottom line and our reputation.
We have been working this past semester toward creating a new block schedule of courses for our first-year students starting this next fall. Why? During my listening tour, one of the messages that I heard repeated was that the Pioneer Success Seminar wasn’t working. Very few defended its value or worth. We are looking at a format that is modeled after the Georgia State University first-year experience; it has been very successful in retaining students from first to second year. Of course, we are adapting it to fit the William Paterson overall experience.
This model cohorts the first-year students in blocks of five classes on three or more days a week. This allows students to balance their home and work lives with their University requirements. And it contains in the middle of the block a Success Hour that will meet three times a week that will function like a mandatory study hall, and it will also allow us to concierge programming such as FAFSA preparation and other skill building into this block of time that will help our students be more successful. We will be teaching them to do college while they are doing college!
The Success Hour will have an assigned professional staff for each group of students who will help determine with the cohort faculty the skills that are necessary for that particular group. For example, one of the faculty members in the cohort might tell the staff person that the students have an exam coming up, and that it would be useful if the students would study together. They could look at their notes together and discuss the materials. While reviewing the notes, approaches to strengthen note-taking skills can be enforced as well. It will also build affinity, or a sense of belonging, for our commuter students by being in the same classes together for their first year. Remember what I said earlier about building community. And we know that cohorting works with our students given data produced by some of our own programming.
In this last area for discussion, we are asking that all divisions, all departments and offices, examine their practices and see how they may, unintentionally be creating roadblocks. For example, one of the lessons I learned during the listening tour was the awareness that some of our student services are not open at the hours that students require. Students mentioned that the first office they had to go to solve a problem was open until 7 p.m., but the next office they were required to go to closed at 4:30 p.m. Of course we’re looking at the hours various offices are open, making it more convenient for students to register, to pay their bills, to get advice. We have to accept that our faculty contract does not always align with when students are seeking advisement. How do we better address the advisement needs of our students? And while we can say they “should” know when faculty are and are not on campus, the fact is they do not, and their parents, many of whom may not have a collegiate experience, cannot help them. So they stop out or, worse yet, drop out, or find other institutions that will help them.
What opportunities do we have for improving retention? Much of the conversation with the Cabinet has centered on policy changes, cohort development, and other meta changes like that. The question I ask though is what can we each do on a micro scale to encourage our students to continue with their education?
As I mentioned earlier, a major step that the University has taken already is the creation of Key Performance Indicators, or KPIs. These, briefly stated, are goals that the vice presidents have set for each of their areas in terms of retention, enrollment, and the financial health of the University. This will give us a way of determining which of our efforts are helping us retain students, and which haven’t helped us move the needle forward. I hope that your supervisors, deans, or chairs have already discussed these new KPIs with you. If they have not, ask them about them.
I have asked the college deans to provide one or more forums for their faculty to discuss these five areas. Similarly, I have asked the Faculty Senate to consider leading a conversation about them. I have also asked the vice presidents of the other divisions to determine a way for their staff members to offer their input into these areas. As I have said every time I get a microphone in front of me, and every time I get in front of any group, retention and attracting new students is all of our concern. It’s not just for the Enrollment Management folks although they certainly provide leadership in this area. We should all view ourselves as enrollment managers. When I met with the staff in Administration and Finance, I was pleased to hear of their concern for the students, and some of the struggles they have getting the required paperwork in on time to get students paid.
There are many Student Development staff members who on a day-to-day basis, as part of their specific jobs, work with our students to help them negotiate barriers that students run up against. As you may recall, I myself was assisted by the women I worked with as a student aide in the olden days when I was an undergraduate. Those are the students who seek out our help; we know how to assist them. Our faculty, our hard-working faculty, you are more likely to see students each week who are in need of guidance and support and who haven’t approached a Student Development professional. As a faculty member, there are five actions you can do to help our students decide to stay at William Paterson University:
And here’s another thing you can do: participate in Commencement. You might say, “Well, those students have succeeded, they don’t need me.” Not true. They will be pleased and proud to see you as will their siblings and parents, all potential William Paterson students. And I guarantee this: you will be moved by the joy on their faces and the tears in their eyes, and you will talk about it with your future students and they will realize that graduation is possible and will start looking forward to it. You’ll see changes at this year’s Commencement that will make you more a part of the ceremony and celebrate all that you’ve done to guide our students to that big day.
I told you about the five things you can do to help retain our students during my fall talk, and again, on other occasions. I guess I do repeat myself a bit. I would love to hear from you if you took them to heart and watched the students’ engagement in the course improve over the term. I have had faculty report that to me in the past: “I never knew that taking attendance would make a difference, but it totally did. Students are more engaged, and feel like I know them. They are doing better on assignments.”
I realize that these changes may require some of you to make changes in your personal calendars and perhaps with your pedagogy, and I am sorry that this can be disruptive. But we are here for the students and because of the students which is something that we have to remember every day. Our jobs are to help students. We’re lucky in that way. Could there be a better job?
So, let me now offer my thanks. First of all, thank you to the fine professionals in Marketing and Public Relations, and Broadcast and Production Services, who applied their considerable talents to the production of this speech today.
To all of you who have developed KPIs, who have worked on the Success Hour, who have reached out to a floundering student and helped her or him stay in school, I say thank you. To all of you who have worked on these and other projects, I say thank you. I know that for many of you, some of the new projects may feel rushed. And I agree. And I know that while I have asked a great deal of you, I knew from the first day that I stepped on this campus that you would be able to handle it. And that you would embrace additional opportunities to help our students succeed. Again, our retention percentage dropped last year from 77 to 70 percent. It is imperative that we turn that around: it’s important for our students who deserve our best, and it’s critical for our fiscal health.
Finally, I want to share this story that I heard recently about one of our alumni. Eric, a management major, attended the four-day COIN workshop administered by the Cotsakos College of Business in the summer of 2016. Students who attend are entered in a raffle for scholarships, and on the last day, Eric was selected to receive a $1,000 scholarship. He pulled Dean Shojai aside to say he wasn’t registered for the fall because his fiancé and the mother of their young child was closer to graduation at our university and he had decided to drop out and let her finish. Instead, the dean introduced him to Pam Ferguson in Institutional Advancement, who identified some available emergency support from the Foundation that would allow him to attend part-time. Our assistance spurred Eric to find a way to instead attend full-time, asking others for financial assistance in addition to also working. He said that if the University believed in him, he had to find a way to finish on time. Through COIN, Eric also worked hard to network with Enterprise, landing an internship and, after his graduation in May 2017, a full-time job there.
I don’t know about you, but that is why I get up every day. I know it can be done! And I know you have the intellect, the heart, and the commitment to social justice and equity to make it happen.
I leave you today with a musical selection from The Wiz, “Can’t You Feel a Brand New Day.” Just as with the changes in the Indy pit stop, Dorothy sings, “Hello World, it’s a different way of living now!” I ask for all of your help as we move forward and change together. Dorothy later reminds us that, “You owe it to yourself to check it out. We can live differently with the changes facing us.” We challenge our students to change, think, and rejoice in their success. We should ask no less of ourselves. So, I ask you William Paterson, can’t you feel a brand new day? I can. Let’s head down that yellow brick road together.
William Paterson University
300 Pompton Road
Wayne, New Jersey 07470