State of the University Address, February 2, 2023

President Richard J. Helldobler

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Hello, William Paterson! Let’s keep the applause going for our wonderful student performers under the direction of Professor David Philp. Thank you! What a terrific rendition of that classic Johnny Nash song with its wonderful message for today’s talk as well as for the new semester and the year ahead. It is a song filled with the kind of clear-eyed optimism that I share for William Paterson, and I hope you do, too.

Before I continue, I also want recognize the IRT team and everyone here in Shea for producing and hosting today’s event. Thank you all so much! Let’s give them a round of applause!

I want to begin by quickly sharing one of the many reasons for my optimism—some encouraging enrollment news. As of yesterday morning, we are almost one percent ahead of our spring enrollment goal, with WP Online Session 2 registrations still to come. We expect that approximately 300 students will register for WP Online Session 2 classes, which will help us to exceed our enrollment goal for the first time in many, many semesters. Additionally, we have exceeded our revenue goal by a little more than half a million dollars.

I want to thank everyone who had a role to play in this effort, including Enrollment Management, led by Vice President Guillermo de Veyga, Associate Vice President Stephen Quinn and his team; Johanna Torres and Enrollment Management Services; Carmen Ortiz and Linda Refsland and the professional staff advising team; Michael Corso and the Financial Aid team; Becky Baird and the Residence Life staff; Sandra Bembry and the Student Payment Services team; all of the deans, associate deans, department chairs, and faculty who made this all happen. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Give yourselves a round of applause. And I have more good news to share later.

Now, I know that many of you are anxious about the State budget, as am I. But we are simply in a wait-and-see period until the Governor’s budget address at the end of the month and the release of the budget details in mid-March. I’m aware that there is a rumor out there that we know what’s in store, but we don’t, and there would be nothing to gain by withholding that information, if we had it. So, please, know that as soon as I know or the AFT knows, you will know. We continue to communicate with the Governor’s staff, and they have assured us that they have all the information they need from us to make a decision. I want to thank Sue Tardi and the AFT for their continued partnership on this front.

So, back to that great song. If you listened closely to the student singers, you heard the lyrics, “I can see clearly now the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.” I think that’s especially meaningful because we are beginning to see some relief from the impacts caused by the pandemic, as well as the consequences of many years of not making tough choices.

Notice that the song doesn’t say there are NO obstacles ahead. Instead, it’s saying that we can see them clearly. That’s important, because if we can see the obstacles, we can navigate around them…or over them…or through them. We’ve already been doing that for more than four years. Thanks to astute planning, strategy, and execution, we have accomplished a lot—before, during, and since the pandemic, and I want to reflect on some of our most significant accomplishments and what they mean for the future of our University. Now, with the clouds of the pandemic lifting and the skies clearing, I know that we will achieve so much more. So, most of all today, I want to focus on what’s ahead for William Paterson.

Having said that, I want you to know that no one is under any illusion that the pandemic is behind us in terms of its impact on what we do. One big example is the generation of students who had their K-12 schooling upended by the pandemic, beginning with the high school graduating class of 2020. They are now a majority on college campuses. The disruption to their education and their personal development is something that we will continue to deal with for many years to come—and that’s for the students who make it here. Too many others were knocked off a course that would have or could have led to college. And they may have been knocked off course permanently.  

I am convinced that these challenges lend even greater urgency to the work we are doing both in branding and identity and the newly implemented Strategic Plan. Together, these and other achievements across the University will pave our path forward. Now—at the midway point of the first in three years with no significant COVID restrictions—we have endured the pandemic storm, which means we can shift more of our energy toward the areas that will best strengthen the institution.

Along with the new year and new semester, there are other new beginnings on campus. Speaking of which, I’d like to take a moment to welcome Kirsten Loewrigkeit as our new Vice President for Finance and Administration and Chief Financial Officer. Kirsten joins us in this critical senior leadership position after a distinguished tenure at Ramapo College, and she comes with many William Paterson connections, including family who are alumni and employees of the University. We are glad that she is now a member of our community, and we are fortunate to have her here at William Paterson.

I am also pleased to have with us today Dr. George Kacenga, who, as I announced just this morning, will be joining William Paterson later this month as our new Vice President for Enrollment Management. He has more than 20 years of experience across top institutions like the University of Colorado, Purdue University Northwest, and, most recently, the educational services firm M Square Media, where he is Assistant Vice President of University Relations. He will be a great asset to William Paterson in this critical leadership role. Please welcome Kirsten and George!

So, this is my ninth address to kick off a semester at William Paterson. I’ve been reflecting back on some of them, and I was reminded of our past discussions of the work of higher education researcher and author Nathan Grawe. He is professor of economics at Minnesota’s Carleton College, and as you’ll recall, I talked about his book, Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education, and the hard truths that it contained for the entire sector, but particularly for regional publics and especially those in the Northeast.

I’ve been thinking about those hard truths in the context of Grawe’s newest book, The Agile College. If Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education was full of warning signs, then I can see in The Agile College signs of hope and progress, because many of its prescriptions and examples of success are things that we are already doing or preparing to do. Things like:

  • Pursuing new markets: We are growing adult completer programs, expanding graduate programs, and developing options for alternative credentials, while ALSO reinvigorating our efforts to attract and retain more traditional undergraduates.
  • Bringing an ever-greater focus to student success: We are making student success the collective responsibility of EVERYONE on campus, while supporting diverse students and creating more points of engagement to produce a greater sense of belonging.
  • Integrating experiential learning: We are expanding these opportunities and being more intentional about preparing students BEFORE graduation for career success AFTER graduation.

We’ve done so much over the past four years to anticipate and react to both the expected—like demographic challenges—and the unexpected, like a global pandemic. We should be very, very proud. More importantly, we should be encouraged by our initiative and our willingness to embrace change—our AGILITY, as Grawe calls it—all of which are promising signs for the future of William Paterson.       

The most prominent example of this right now is our ongoing Branding and identity work, which we launched here in Shea with real-time polling during my Fall 2020 address. Since then, thanks to the good work of so many in our community, we have chosen a path forward and drawn the outline of what that approach will look like. Now, the really exciting work is underway as we partner with our agency, Ologie, to color in the lines of that picture.

As it turns out, there’s an interesting parallel between “I Can See Clearly Now” and the song’s writer and performer, Johnny Nash, and what we’re trying to accomplish with our new branding and identity work. As the story goes, Nash in 1972 had just performed his hit song on an episode of the great TV show, Soul Train—How many of you are old enough to have watched it? Raise your hand.  During an audience Q & A, a young woman asked, “How would you describe yourself as a singer, and what image are you trying to put across to your audiences?” A version of the very question that we’ve been asking ourselves for the past couple of years.

Accounts of the interaction described Nash as somewhat taken aback. At 32, he had already spent more than half his life in show business, yet it seemed as if he was considering this fundamental question for the very first time. He replied, “Hmm, that’s a good question. I don’t really have anything in mind, anything special, other than just me and what I do.”

Nash was obviously a talented and successful performer and businessman. “I Can See Clearly Now” was a platinum-selling song. Some credit him with discovering Bob Marley and introducing reggae into the mainstream. And yet, the consensus among industry observers and fans was that his overall career success never quite matched his talent and potential. Nash’s refusal to claim any one genre may have been an admirable display of versatility, but it was also widely acknowledged to have kept him from achieving even greater success.

Some of you have heard me tell the story of my preparations for my interview here at William Paterson. As you can imagine, I spoke to a lot of people around New Jersey to get their take on the University. And while I heard many great things, none of them could say exactly who we were or what we did. Instead, they defined us by who we weren’t and by comparing us with institutions who had chosen their brand identity earlier. So, like Nash, who sang a little of this and a little of that, we, too, did a little of this and a little of that, which does not result in a strong brand statement.   

We can learn from stories like this, and that’s why we’ve settled on branding and identity elements that support our “HOW” approach and that will allow us to tell a clear and compelling story—one that better reflects who we are, what we excel at, and the value proposition we are making to students and families.

Again, I want to be crystal clear about this. This is not just about applying a layer of marketing buzzwords to what we do. We’ve all seen examples of that across every sector, including higher ed, and people can see right through it. Rather, we are making organizational changes to better align people, departments, and operations to build out a truly comprehensive system of student support.

I will talk more about some of these most recent changes in a bit. But for now, I want to outline what this model—built on the Student Success Team concept—looks like and how it formalizes our approach to creating a comprehensive network of student support. That’s what our new marketing strategy will reflect—accurately and authentically.

Now, I’ve shared this before, but as a reminder to some and an introduction to others, here’s the statement that the Branding and Identity Working Group came up with last spring, and which has since been approved. It demonstrates HOW we deliver on our mission:

“William Paterson University understands what students need to succeed and how to guide them to successful careers and lives. We have built an innovative and comprehensive system of support focused on academics, career development and campus life, customized to meet students’ individual needs.”

We are building upon eight fundamental elements. I know those of you who have looked over the source materials on my website will be familiar with these, but for the purpose of today’s discussion, let’s refresh our memories:

  • First and foremost is the Student Success Team. This is the organizing principal for our approach, consisting of a professional staff advisor, faculty mentor, financial aid advisor, a career development professional, an academic support coach, and potentially others, like athletic coaches, student club advisors, and residence life staff;
  • A four-year financial aid plan for every newly admitted student;
  • Career planning that is embedded into academic programs;
  • Career communities;
  • Experiential learning;
  • The establishment of an Office of Parent and Family Relations;
  • Academic advisement built on a collaborative, proactive model that combines professional staff advisors and faculty mentors; and, finally
  • Offering a full range of options for course duration, including seven-week courses, 15-week semesters, summer and winter sessions, and the addition of more hybrid and upper-level online course options.

Since this approach was finalized and approved, Provost Josh Powers, Vice President Miki Cammarata, and Vice President Will de Veyga have been overseeing the work of implementation teams both within and across divisions. I am pleased to say that things are already in motion on this front with the goal of having Success Teams in place for each new incoming undergraduate student beginning in Fall 2023. We are already communicating with prospective students and families about the Success Team concept and how it will benefit them and their students.

Meanwhile, Vice President Stuart Goldstein and his marketing team are leading our work with our partner agency which will help us tell the story of William Paterson through these distinctive elements. Vice President de Veyga and Associate Vice President Quinn are closely involved in the process, providing a seamless and crucial integration between marketing and admissions strategies. 

Earlier, I mentioned Ologie, which is the firm we chose to work with to develop and implement the marketing strategy that communicates these branding and identity elements to the students and families who we want to reach. We’ve been working with the Ologie team since October, and we’ve so far been impressed with their grasp of who William Paterson and our students are, their appreciation of our mission and our strengths, and their insights into how best to connect with prospective students and families.

Before we launch a new integrated marketing campaign in the fall of this year, we wanted to get a sense of how target audiences would respond to the branding and identity plan elements that we are putting in place, which we just reviewed.  It’s critical that we learn this before crafting specific marketing strategies that will highlight these elements as the distinctive components of the William Paterson experience. The Ologie team did this through both qualitative and quantitative testing of a sample of current and prospective students, parents of prospective students, and school counselors.

The results will inform strategic and creative decisions, helping us—along with our agency partner—determine how to best position our new elements through marketing communications. This planning work is underway. As I mentioned, it will lead to a full launch next fall, once all the new and upgraded programs are in place under the Student Success Team umbrella. It’s also important to keep in mind that this is the first time we’ve undertaken such a study. So what did it reveal?

The Student Success Team concept resonates well with our target audiences. It also prompted a lot of questions, which drives home how important it is that our strategy and creative materials effectively engage prospects as they proceed through the admissions funnel. And, not surprisingly, people responded well to experiential learning and career development as key components of the Student Success Team. Our job now is to keep fine-tuning the messaging and discover what will best engage audiences, meaning what will get them to take action—complete an application, put down a deposit, or submit a residence hall contract.

As we move toward the fall launch, we are already working with Ologie on a fresh approach to our advertising, with a soft launch this winter and spring. The message testing that I described, along with results of that soft launch, will inform development of the full advertising and marketing campaign, and produce a more powerful impact. So, stay tuned!

Meanwhile, I want to share with you for the first time some of the early advertising work that debuted in recent weeks. The initial focus with this work is on those students who have already been accepted by William Paterson for enrollment in Fall 2023.

The goal here is to keep William Paterson top-of-mind for these prospective students—undergraduate, graduate, and adult learners—as they consider their options. We are doing this with calls-to-action designed to remind them why we are the right choice. This initial campaign, which is underway right now, is tightly integrated with the Slate customer relationship management—or CRM—system that our Admissions Office uses. This allows us to take full advantage of everything we already know about these prospective students in terms of how they want to engage with us, as well as demographic information which allows us to show ads in places where they will be most effective.

At the heart of the campaign are digital ads that reach prospective students where they are—whether that’s on their phones, their computers, or their televisions. These ads engage prospects through bold design, including motion graphics, abundant use of our signature orange and black, and a strong statement of the word EMPOWERED—the next branch of the Will. Power. “tree.” Let’s take a look at a few examples of these attention-grabbing ads.

I’m showing you what these ads look like here because, unless you’re the parent or guardian of a prospective student or one yourself, you won’t see them. At least, you shouldn’t if everything is working properly, and that is because we have the ability to really match our message with a receptive audience of people who are looking for a place to pursue an education. And no offense, but you work in education and are not pursuing it—hence we are not marketing to you.   

These ads are contributing to some very promising results with our current pool of prospects. As of yesterday, year-over-year, total applications are up 13.1 percent; completed applications are up 25.5 percent; and accepted students are up 29 percent, although of course it’s still early in the admission cycle.

As this campaign continues rolling out, we are closely tracking a wide range of metrics that tell us how these ads are performing, including their impact on applications and deposits.

Here’s a snapshot of the analytic screens to give you a sense of what kinds of data our agency and marketing team reviews on an ongoing basis as they measure results and refine strategies. The metrics include:

  • The percentage of viewers who watch the video ads through to the end;
  • The number of impressions—in other words, the number of people who view our ads;
  • Click-through rates from the individual digital advertisements; and, finally
  • The percentage of visitors who click on a call to action from our web landing pages.

This is all just a start, and as I’ve said, I am confident that the full upcoming campaign will be successful because it will be an authentic expression of the real work that is happening here on campus to build a truly distinctive student experience around the Student Success Team model.

So, let’s talk about some of the structural changes being implemented to support that model and ensure that we are able to deliver on the promise that we are making in our advertising and marketing.

I want to recognize the good work being done by the Faculty Senate on developing the “Faculty as Mentor” component. There’s fairly uniform consensus across higher education that mentorship is a powerful means of connecting with students and positioning them for academic and career success. Data from our own Pesce Family Mentoring Institute speaks to the power of mentoring.  Keep in mind that 96 percent of Pesce Mentees from the class of 2021 indicated that they are working or are going to graduate school compared to 79 percent of graduates not involved in the mentoring program.

While there is broad agreement on the effectiveness of mentoring, the consensus ends there. There seem to be as many varieties of mentoring models as there are colleges and universities. However, we have experience with many different configurations, and so we have a high degree of confidence in the professional advisor/faculty mentor model as the best one to provide our students with the comprehensive support they need.

As I have said many times, there is faculty expertise that cannot be replaced by a professional staff advisor. Things like career opportunities within a discipline, elective selection, internship opportunities, and graduate school programs, to name a few. Working with the Senate, we will seek a model that will keep critical faculty expertise central to the student’s educational experience. So, I am looking forward to the outcome of their work on this.

The Faculty Senate is also working on a frame work to determine teaching effectiveness. This framework will outline pedagogical methods that we will then define as the hallmarks—or key experiences—that students should encounter in their classes. For example, it will likely include making sure that students have micro- and macro-assessments throughout the semester. Also, that they are provided feedback in a timely manner with the opportunity to reflect on their work with a faculty member, as well as how they might improve going forward.   

Elsewhere on campus, as I communicated before the semester break, the Office of Academic Achievement and the Office of Academic Success and Student Transitions moved last month to the Division of Student Development, under the leadership of Vice President Cammarata. This reorganization will better align these offices with divisional strengths and, in turn, allow those divisions to better focus on their respective missions. This really grew from a greater appreciation of the fact that when students aren’t IN class or are having trouble IN class, it’s often because of things that are happening outside of class. A more holistic approach to student support is central to our strategy moving forward.

The strategic reorganization of  Enrollment Management also includes having the team who advise undergraduate WP Online students now report up through the School of Continuing and Professional Education. These advisors will report to Associate Provost for Academic Initiatives Kara Rabbitt in her added role as Interim Executive Director of the School of Continuing and Professional Education. Associate Provost Rabbitt already oversees adult-learner initiatives under the fast-growing WP Online Undergraduate Program, so she has a close working relationship with this team of advisors. We believe that this move will further strengthen our efforts to be leaders in the adult-learner market and will enhance these students’ success at William Paterson.    

So, even before our work with Ologie started in earnest, we began developing our own messaging around many of these key elements. For example, as I’ve shared before, the websites of our Career Development Center and all academic department web pages have been revised and updated to include outcomes and career prospect data and reflect the integration of career planning into our students’ academic experience.

Last fall, I recorded a brief video for Admissions to share with prospective families in which I discussed the Student Success Team model and how it will support their student’s path through college, to earn a degree, and launch their career. Let’s look at a short clip.

This was just the first in a planned series of brief explanatory videos that we will produce, which will cover topics like the value of a college degree, career readiness, and affordability.

Our new advertising campaigns will continue to capture our Pioneer spirit—a spirit that is on display every day all across campus. There are examples everywhere we look—rays of sunlight emerging from the clouds. Just a few examples:

  • The rapid, continued success and expansion of WP Online. We’ve talked about the growth, which is a testament to the demand for the quality programs that William Paterson offers. We shouldn’t lose sight of just how significant this is. The decline in traditional undergraduate students has serious implications for us financially and otherwise, but it can paint a false picture. Overall, interest in William Paterson credentials isn’t decreasing, but it IS shifting. That is why we need to shift with it to enroll more different kinds of students in the programs they want, leading to a variety of credentials, and delivered in the way that works for them.

    We are doing this by adding new programs in ways that show how nimble and responsive we can be. That bodes well for us as an institution.

    As these graphs will show, we are experiencing continued steady growth in both the graduate and adult undergraduate WP Online student populations, as well as in the number and variety of programs that we offer.

    Less than three years ago, we launched with 134 students in 10 graduate programs. Today, we have more than 13 times the students—1,809—in 32 programs. In just over a year, adult undergraduate students have gone from 114 in 8 programs to 667 students in 14 programs—a nearly six-fold increase in students. And there’s more to come. 

    This tremendous growth in students and programs has also given us greater leverage in our relationship with Academic Partnerships, and I’m pleased to report that we have a tentative agreement—pending approval by our Board of Trustees—that will bring a greater revenue share to the University.

    The new agreement would also make room for an expanded portfolio of offerings and move the floor for participation in the undergraduate program from a minimum of two years out of high school to a minimum of four years. As I’ll talk about in a moment, cannibalization of our traditional undergraduate market is not really an issue right now, and this change will protect against that possibility as the program grows.
  • So, more on the adult completer market, which is a really promising one. It’s worth noting something that New Jersey Secretary of Higher Education Brian Bridges said in a recent address. He stated that, during the pandemic, the highest rate of unemployment in the State was among adults with some college credit but no degree—the very people we are now serving through WP Online! By putting more degrees into the hands of this population, we are helping make New Jerseyans more economically resilient.

    Demographically, we know that the average age of our adult students in these select programs is 35. And while that is an average, we aren’t really seeing students who should be part of our campus population trying to shift to WP Online, but the new agreement, with its four-year threshold, will help guard against that possibility as we grow.

    Interestingly, while the racial and ethnic makeup of the adult population is pretty consistent with our campus-based undergraduate population, the WP Online adult learners skew heavily female. Three-quarters of adult-learner students in WP Online are women, compared to just over half of undergraduates on campus. These are some of the very people I am thinking of when I talk about the power of a William Paterson degree to change the lives of students, their families, and their communities. Serving this population through the expansion of WP Online really does change the social fabric of New Jersey. Remember that the educational attainment of a child is linked most closely to the mother’s own education, so think about what these students are doing for themselves and their children and what that change means over time.

    In recent years, we have also forged several new international agreements with:
    • Birzeit University of the West Bank for music, business, Middle Eastern studies, and Arabic language programs;
    • Kongju National University of South Korea for Korean language and culture, education, and business programs; and
    • Multiple universities in China to provide their students access to our MBA program, and we are currently exploring adding IT and education tracks.
  • We have seen tremendous growth in new dual enrollment agreements. Since 2019, we’ve expanded the number of dual enrollment programs offered through regional high schools seven-fold, from 4 to 28 and increased the population served by more than 500 percent, to 552 students.
  • We’ve also seen expanded agreements with community colleges across the state, including 24 new 2+2 agreements since 2020, with another 23 agreements projected this year, and 16 new 3+1 agreements over the past four years.

Thanks to Patrick Noonan and his team in the Office of Transfer Programs and Special Sessions for all their great work! Let’s give them a round of applause.

When we consider all of these accomplishments, it’s clear that William Paterson has significantly expanded our presence online, our presence internationally, and our presence locally as the result of a lot of good work all across campus in the course of just a few years, so I want to thank all of you!

As important as the growth of WP Online is to reach the graduate and adult student market, we remain—at heart—a place where traditional age college students come to learn, live, and work in the kind of supportive environment that best thrives on a physical college campus. We are very good at this. And while the decline in this core market has very real implications for us, it doesn’t stop thousands of students from getting a life-changing education and earning their degree or credential.

Other “obstacles”—recalling the Johnny Nash song—do get in the way, and we are making progress in removing these obstacles for our students. For example, we are making gains in retention by reconsidering the way we advise and the way we teach. Here’s an encouraging new data point: As of today, fall-to-spring retention of first-time, full-time students is up almost one percent over this time last year.

That’s progress, and it indicates that the professional staff advisor model is starting to pay off! I want to recognize all the professional advisors, as well as the faculty and deans, and everyone in Student Enrollment Services and Financial Aid who is making this happen—thank you for all of your great work!

Another example of a new way to teach is the College of Science and Health’s supplemental instruction initiative, which saw the retention rate of its majors increase more than 4 points in the program’s first year. Supplemental instruction is non-remedial academic support provided by faculty and peer mentors to students in high-risk classes.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of those in science and health—like biology, chemistry, and math. The approach integrates the “how to learn”—there’s that how—with the “what to learn,” and is yielding great results. Thanks to Provost Josh Powers, Dean Venkat Sharma, Associate Dean Mel Zeleke, and everyone in the college for this good work, and thanks as well to everyone working to support supplemental instruction or peer mentoring initiatives in the other colleges.

Pulling back to a University-wide lens, we are continuing to perform near the top of the social mobility rankings. We are providing students with the kind of recognition and support that can prevent them from stopping out. Our success here is in things like our own diversity work, which is also being recognized externally, such as our  distinctions as both an LGBTQ- and veteran-friendly campus. The shift of some student support functions to Student Development from Enrollment Management should further help us here.

You’ll recall that the other major work of strategy and planning is, of course, our new Strategic Plan. We’ve talked already about some of the progress being made on three of the five pillars—Adult Learning, Alternative Credentials, and Attrition—so let me also mention where we are in terms of the remaining two—Decolonization and Revising the Mission Statement.

On the Decolonization pillar, the implementation team has begun its work focusing on the year one goals. The team has met as a whole, and the co-chairs are connecting with each subgroup. I'll have additional updates as the spring semester moves forward. 

On the Mission Statement, the Committee has completed its charge and provided me with a recommended revision to the Mission Statement, which was informed by extensive input from our campus community. I am consulting internally with key stakeholders and look forward to presenting a new Mission Statement soon.

Before I continue, I want to clarify an important point about our efforts to reduce attrition. I’ve talked in the past about “the 2,500”—the number of students we were losing each year. Closer inspection of the data shows that some of these students only ever intended to enroll for short periods and not to matriculate toward a degree—meaning they were here for a certificate, were dual-enrolled, or for some other purpose.

That still leaves us with about 1,600 students who we lose every year from the degree path, and we must continue working to reduce that number. So, going forward, you’ll hear me talk about “the 1,600” rather than “the 2,500.”

We will continue returning to these pillars for updates in this and other forums, and you can always find the foundational documents and updates as they become available on the Strategic Planning page, which you can find through my office’s website.

I said at the start of my talk here today that I wanted to focus clearly on what’s ahead, and I have talked about a lot of the promising moves we are making to build a stronger William Paterson and better serve more students. And I’ve shared some data to demonstrate that success.

In closing, I want to take a moment to reflect back a bit. I’d like us all to take stock of everything that we’ve accomplished together over these past four years. It’s an impressive list—even more so when we consider that over half of that period was during a pandemic.

Individually and as an institution, we have embraced a growth mindset, which has allowed us to confront hard truths and take tough but necessary action. We have focused on retention and seen gains in this key metric, even during the most disruptive period that higher education and the world have experienced for decades. In an ever-more global and interconnected world, we have expanded our reach—through WP Online most obviously—but also through new dual enrollment partnerships and new 2+2 and 3+1 agreements at home, and new university partnerships abroad.  

But most importantly, when I think back on these successes, I think of you—the people here in this theater and across campus—who made it all happen. The people who are MAKING it happen, day in and day out. I think of the hard work that went into these accomplishments, along with the very difficult decisions and actions that we had to take. I also think of the resulting pride and satisfaction that comes from doing this often challenging and yet most rewarding work.

I’ve talked a lot today about marketing but what I want to emphasize is that our distinctiveness, our differentiation, our EXCELLENCE, will come from the work that WE do TOGETHER to build a powerful and meaningful William Paterson experience.  Your work in creating and implementing our Student Success Teams and all of the other elements of the branding and identity plan will make us stand out.  THAT is what will distinguish us among our competitors. Marketing strategy and execution are very important, but let’s always remember that marketing builds on what you do. It communicates what we achieve together every day in support of our students.

When I look around at where we are today, what I see is in many ways a very different University than it was when I arrived four-and-a-half years ago. What hasn’t changed—and, most critically, what has fueled this progress—is the talent and dedication of a faculty and staff that truly cares about our students and their success. The changes we have made and that we are making allow us to enhance the power of our collective dedication, and I—for one—am filled with hope that it all points to “bright sunshiny days” ahead for William Paterson.

Thank you, and have a great semester!