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WestConn at a Glance

Spring 2008 Opening Meeting January 23, 2008

Let me welcome everyone to the Spring Semester.  I hope you all had joyous holidays and were able to revive and recharge yourselves. 

The cover of our written program is symbolic of this semester’s destinations:  May 16 for our graduate commencement in the O’Neill Center with Attorney General Richard Blumenthal as the speaker and May 18 in the Westside Athletic Center for our undergraduate ceremonies with Farooq Kathwari, CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, as our speaker.  You may start pleading for meteorological and/or religious intervention to ensure sunshine at the latter occasion whenever you wish.

The program also lists on the back the new colleagues who’ve joined us since our Fall Opening Meeting.  While some of your may consider yourselves old timers by now, let me formally welcome you once again to WestConn.

As you came in, you received copies of my “State of University” report.  The CSUS Board of Trustees requires such a report every four years, and preparing it was a stimulating exercise.  It chronicles what we’ve all been about since 2004, and I hope you’ll take some time to peruse it.  If you do, you’ll note the terms I use in its introduction:  “Transformation. Momentum. Optimism.”  That’s how I feel about WCSU today. We’ve launched ourselves together on an exciting journey of transformation; the momentum of this change is building; and I am indeed optimistic about the future.  I hope that you share this optimism as well.

The roadmap for our journey, of course, is our Strategic Plan. The video with which we opened this meeting was prepared to describe the plan, give some examples of early progress on its goals, and emphasize its importance to everyone who cares about WestConn. 

What I’d like to do over the next few minutes is to talk with you about two interconnected realities that are affecting WCSU today and that will continue to do so in the future.  I’m not here to suggest solutions or recommendations about how we should confront these two realities, but rather to describe them and indicate how important it is that we, as an academic community, address them.  What I’m talking about is our increasing enrollment and the consequent demands it places on our resources, both human and physical. 

We’re all aware of the growth of our student body — which in the fall numbered 6,211 overall headcount and 4,375 fulltime undergraduates.  These two numbers represent, respectively, increases of 5.6 percent and 13 percent since 2004.  Over just three years, this is significant.  Similarly impressive is the increase we experienced this year over 2006 in first-to- second year retention — 8 percent. And numbers of potential students and parents visiting campus, admissions fairs and other events suggest our appeal continues.  Record numbers attended our Fall Open House in November, and the Admission Office is planning for the first time a similar event in the spring.

We are, and should be, proud of this swelling enrollment.  It affirms the quality of what we do and the appeal of the university community we are creating with our new vision and strategic plan.  The recruitment increases reflect the successful efforts of our Admissions colleagues, who received creative assistance from the Strategic Enrollment Action Team two years ago as well as ongoing support from the Senate’s Admissions Committee.  The retention gains reflect the good thinking and hard work of colleagues across academic departments and vice presidential divisions in addressing student success. 

These increases demonstrate that we are doing our job for the state of Connecticut.  We are providing access to qualified students who are the state’s future workforce and citizenry.  More importantly, we are educating those students.  We ARE changing their lives!  And the increased enrollment is also providing us the financial resources that are enabling us to pursue the strategic priorities of our Plan.

But this increase presents challenges as well, for we are growing faster than we anticipated.  In developing a financial plan to guide the university forward, in securing bonding for projects such as the Fifth Avenue Garage and in the development of our 10-Year Facilities Master Plan, we assumed a steady 2 percent annual increase in fulltime undergraduate enrollment to FY2015, at which time we would be at about 5,000 full-time undergraduates.  Some suggested this might be ambitious, but we are in fact exceeding this pace of growth.  If you do the arithmetic, you’ll see that we are currently at 2012 in that plan, four years ahead of schedule.

This means we need to have some collective conversations and deliberation at a university-wide level about the implications of this growth.  Frankly, I thought we’d be having this conversation and deliberation sometime in three or four years. But our growth has increased urgency.  We need to get ahead of this issue in our thinking and planning.
Fortunately, we have a little time to do so.  I believe we can use the next 18 months or so to define problems and develop strategies. 

Let me give you a sample of some of the interconnected questions our growth poses:

  • What is the correct size for WCSU? 
  • Should we cap enrollment at that level?
  • What will continuing growth mean for our organizational culture? Can we maintain our commitment to student success in the face of continued growth?
  • Given the financial and perceived reputational benefits of growth, might we continue to grow deliberately, managing its pace thoughtfully?
  • What might capping our enrollment mean for our public university mission of access?
  • Should we urge the Connecticut State University System to engage in enrollment management at a system level? 
  • How might funders of public higher education in Hartford react to our capping undergraduate enrollment?
  • The current CSUS financial distribution model is grounded primarily on enrollment growth — it’s a zero-sum game.  We’ve done well in recent years, but this has resulted from our continuing growth relative to CSUS sister institutions.  Assuming no major changes in this model, what impact would capping have on our state support?  Can we sustain expenses associated with current levels of instruction and service without the funding that enrollment increases provide?
  • How will we fund our ambitious future if not through continuing enrollment increases?  To what other realistic sources of revenue might we turn?
  • Is there a difference between enrollment growth through recruitment and growth through retention?
  • Do we have available academic capacity in upper level courses, which have historically been significantly smaller than first and second year offerings? 
  • Might steadier student progress and hence similar sizes for course across all levels of the curriculum enable us to grow with less disruption?

As you can see from these questions, the matter of our future enrollment growth is a complex one.  The vice presidents have begun to have some preliminary conversations and engage in some information gathering to begin to confront this issue, and all members of the university community will be invited to engage with it in the months to come.  We will need wisdom and judgment going forward, and I will look for these qualities from you all.

A related reality that results from this growth is an increasing pressure on our resources, both human and physical.  Let me talk about each of these.

As many of you know, we last year engaged in reallocation, not addition, of non-teaching positions to address strategic plan priorities while maintaining a balanced budget.  This has resulted in new hires in admissions and financial aid and, soon, in international programs and fundraising, among others.  One criterion employed in this reallocation was the impact on given areas and jobs of increasing enrollment.  As we go forward with requests for new positions for next year, this criterion will become even more important.  But it will not deter us from our commitment to add 10 new full-time faculty lines in 2008 and five more in 2009.  Our current enrollment more than justifies these. 

The impact of our growth on our physical facilities is even more immediate.  The hiring of new teaching staff requires we find offices.  The enrolling of more students requires more efficient use of space — or additional space — for instruction and for student services. It also provides challenges with regard to insufficient residence hall capacity and pressures on maintenance and housekeeping of heavily-used facilities.  We have very good academic space such as the Science Building and the Haas Library and solid areas such as Warner Hall, but other areas leave something to be desired. 

We can — and should — be excited about the CSUS 2020 capital bonding program, but the timing of bonding will not be immediate, and our first priority, the new School of Visual and Performing Arts, will take considerable time to complete.  We are, however, now receiving a steady stream of funds to address smaller renovations, such as the $900,000 on this week’s Bond Commission agenda for renovations and new projects such as a new computer classroom for our MIS courses.  This is promising.

Our Facilities Master Plan provides an exciting prospect for the future, but we will not arrive there overnight.  In the interim, we will need to direct renewed and collective attention to the efficiencies we employ in using our existing space, invest in improving some areas we will need to live in for the immediate years ahead, and be assertive in seeking external support for this purpose.  Space, I know is a very personal and often emotional issue in higher education.  But I have confidence that working together, we can come up with creative and collaborative ways to maximize the comfort, the utility and the curb appeal of the two “houses” in which WestConn lives.

So, going forward we will have some serious conversations and deliberation so that we can direct, and not be directed by, these external realities.  What gives me confidence about our ability to accomplish this is the progress we already are seeing in achieving elements of our Strategic Plan.  In just the first nine months of the plan, our work together, both within and across departments and divisions, is paying off.  So I’d like to close our meeting with a celebration of some examples of that progress.

As this slide show demonstrates, we are all responsible for the Transformation, Momentum and Optimism that characterizes WestConn today.  My thanks go again to each and every one of you.  Let’s have another great semester!

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