By Sophia Harris
The Board of Trustees discussed anti-racist strategic plans, enrollment, and fundraising at its Nov. 16 meeting.
The meeting featured an array of guest speakers, including Carlos Santiago, senior advisor to the commissioner of the Department for Higher Education (DHE), who spoke about initiatives for the Strategic Plan for Racial Equity the board has prioritized.
Santiago discussed Massachusetts’ public schools' Strategic Plan for Racial Equity and how it relates to Framingham State.
He emphasized the importance of treating students equitably instead of equally.
“When we do academic policy and educational policy, we assume that we are treating students equally, but that does not mean that we're treating students equitably,” he said.
Santiago said, “You cannot do racial equity work without changing the underlying culture in our institutions. You simply can't.”
He added the DHE is in the early stages of creating a 10-year strategic plan for Massachusetts public colleges and universities focusing on the new undergraduate experience and the strategic plans for support services and racial equity.
“The strategic plan for racial equity I believe is what is essential if we're going to see long-term success in our enrollment, in our admissions and our retention, our graduation, and social mobility in Massachusetts,” he said.
Chair Kevin Foley asked how the trustees can further these goals on racial equity for Framingham State and how the board can support the University.
Santiago said Framingham State is in “good hands” with President Nancy Niemi because she has a “broad experience in this area.”
He said, “I think you will have the resources to do some of this [racial equity] work in a major way. So we'll see. I'm very optimistic about the future for you.”
Mark Nicholas, assistant vice president for institutional strategic planning and the chair of the accreditation team, gave an update on the progress of the New England Commission for Higher Education [NECHE] accreditation process.
The NECHE accreditation review for Framingham State is due in the spring of 2024.
According to the NECHE accreditation website, NECHE is a voluntary, non-governmental membership association that serves as an institutional accreditor and promotes educational excellence and quality assurance to its member institutions.
NECHE accreditation determines institutional quality, according to the NECHE website.
Nicholas said it is important the Board of Trustees is actively engaged and informed during the NECHE accreditation process.
He highlighted the “synergy” between the work being done by Lorretta Holloway, vice president of Academic Enhancement, with the University's strategic rebranding and marketing initiatives, and Niemi’s work assessing FSU’s enrollment and retention strategies.
He said they will be meeting in December to continue to work on the “description phase” and then the “appraisal phase,” with an aim to complete the first draft of the 100-page self study by March 15, 2023.
“We'll edit the document in the summer and do a vertical integration across the standards to ensure the narrative and the storyline is built across them,” he added.
“That's where we will be hoping that over the summer, we'll do work and then fall of 2023, we will go on the road across campus and have open houses to give feedback to various governance committees and student bodies,” Nicholas said.
He said there will be an opportunity to involve students in the NECHE accreditation process.
Nicholas said SGA will select a representative to join the Standard 5 Committee, which is the student standard.
There are nine standards, which include missions and purposes; planning and evaluation; organization and governance; academic programs; students; teaching, learning, and scholarship; institutional resources; educational effectiveness; and integrity, transparency, and public disclosure, according to the NECHE website.
He said the accreditation team is running a qualitative study with four “important” questions to obtain students' feedback.
Nicholas said the questions are, “How did you define success before you came to campus? How do you define success when you are on campus? What is FSU doing well with regard to your definition of success? What can we do better?”
These questions will help lay the framework for what students’ opinions are of the University.
Nicholas said so far, there has been 15% participation in the survey from undergraduate students and 15% from graduate students.
He said there will also be a job opportunity for a student to design the NECHE report cover.
Nicholas said when the NECHE accreditation team comes in 2024, some of the questions they will be asking the Board of Trustees are, “Does the board have a clear understanding of the institution's mission? Are they well-versed in the areas we identify as needing improvement through the self-study process?”
He said the accreditation team will also be looking at the composition of the trustees to see if their diversity is a representation of the public.
They will also be assessing the trustees’ bylaws, ensuring there are regular meetings scheduled, and reviewing the orientation process for new board members.
Nicholas said the accreditation team will also ask how the board evaluates its own effectiveness as a board and how well the trustees understand their roles as fiduciaries keeping the best interests of the University in mind.
Niemi discussed an update to the University's strategic plan in her report.
She said the University will be “embarking” on the strategic planning initiative in the fall of 2023.
It was originally delayed to focus on the NECHE accreditation process.
She said in regard to the funding of the University, four “big-picture” factors that contribute to the financial stability of Framingham State are the Fair Share Amendment that was approved the previous week, repurposing unused residence halls, filling vacant staff positions, and continuing to assess FSU’s enrollment numbers.
Regarding the Fair Share Amendment, she said, “It is not clear that higher education will receive that money and if so, how much, and so we need to build a case with not just ourselves, but with our collective universities to make a case for us to get our fair share of the Fair Share. So that's one piece that will affect our financial health.”
She said FSU will be discussing ideas with the Massachusetts State College Building Authority (MSCBA) to find additional ways to use the residence halls.
Niemi said, “We also are working to find qualified people to fill vacant staff positions. And while that might seem an odd piece for a financial health outlook, it is the case that you have to spend resources in order to make resources. You have to spend money to make money. And we have lots of areas where we are probably running at skeletal levels to the point where we might hurt our chances of getting financially healthier.”
She said the last aspect will be to continue to assess Framingham State’s enrollment numbers strategically.
Niemi said, “FSU has seen a 26% decline between fall 2018 and 2022 with a 24% decline in traditional undergraduate enrollment and 30% decline in our graduate and continuing education programs. We intend to stop this and reverse it strategically.”
During the Student Development Committee’s report, Trustee Claire Ramsbottom said 117 students registered to vote on campus.
She said, “It’s important to know that institutions of higher ed - Framingham State - are engaged in really helping students understand the importance of voting.”
Ramsbottom said the number of students visiting the Counseling Center is similar to last year, with 676 visits, including “a slight increase in male and Hispanic” students.
She said there were 140 fewer cases of COVID-19 reported this year than during the Fall 2021 Semester, but added, “It’s always hard to tell” what the actual infection rate is due to self testing.
Ramsbottom said there have been two vaccination clinics on campus, which have administered 119 COVID-19 vaccines over the past six months.
Concerning the decline in residence hall occupancy, Ramsbottom said there are 34 students from MassBay Community College staying on campus as part of a “partnership.”
She said it’s something “to be explored” regarding “alternative uses for housing space.”
Ramsbottom said she and Holloway discussed identifying the “roadblocks” encountered by students.
She said Holloway has been meeting with student groups to discuss “their perspective around the roadblocks to graduation,” adding, “I think hearing that student voice - how are they experiencing the institution - is important.”
Ramsbottom turned her report over to Jess Mireles, president of JM Partner Solutions, for the University’s strategic enrollment management report.
Mireles gave a presentation detailing the recommendations she and Mike Marston, executive consultant for JM Partner Solutions, generated during their visit in October.
She said the University has had approximately 4,800 inquiries about the institution, which is 400 more than last year, but added it still is not enough.
She said most of the people inquiring about FSU “already have affinity and already know about the institution, and we need to talk to more people.”
She added as of Nov. 16, 1,206 students have submitted applications, which “is less than it was last year.”
However, Mireles said her team “feels fairly confident” in their ability to “impact and influence that number for the fall 2023 class.”
She said she and her team have worked to “remove barriers” and streamline the process of admitting students, adding 150 students were admitted so far this semester, whereas at this time last year, only 10 students had been admitted.
“We've changed processes pretty dramatically to be able to move that needle much farther along the way earlier and faster,” she said.
Mireles said the first focus is to generate and nurture demand for Framingham State, which is “typically an 18-month to two-year process.”
She explained usually, institutions work with senior high school students regarding “financial aid workshops and college planning and things like that.”
She said the goal should be to shift to focusing on junior high school students. “We’re driving applications. We’re driving them to complete and send us all their information. We’re trying to get them admitted. … We're continuing to nurture them to get them to deposit.”
Mireles said her team is “still recruiting” up to four weeks into the semester, adding most institutions start ignoring students once a deposit is put down. She explained many students put in deposits to multiple institutions usually “to hold a spot” or “because they genuinely don't know where they want to go.
“It's our job as college admissions officers to continue recruiting them all the way through on the right side,” she said.
Mireles said she would rather see a much higher inquiry rate than application rate, explaining most institutions “trying to recruit a class of 700-ish” typically receive 30,000 to 40,000 inquiries.
She added, “It's a highly competitive market that we're in, especially in the northeast. We have not only a declining demographic and a declining population of high school graduates, but we have significant competition here.”
She said one area FSU is doing “phenomenal work” is the “admitted pool” and completion rate. “The team works really hard when somebody applies. They get highly personalized attention. And that is above industry norm.”
However, Mireles said FSU is understaffed in admissions. “Admissions are typically the hardest-working people on almost every campus I've been to, and you are no exception. You have admissions counselors at events around the clock every single day of the week, practically working evenings. They are working hard, and we don't have enough bandwidth to do everything that needs to get done.
“That's a pretty common theme amongst most institutions,” she added.
Mireles said contract employees have been hired to help lessen the admissions staff’s workload.
She added her team suggests developing a “proactive yield and melt strategy.” Yield refers to the number of new students who enroll and attend a university, as opposed to melt, which is students who enroll, but do not attend.
Mireles said early financial aid awarding and parent engagement “go hand in hand” with this strategy, as well as moving up the timeline for admitting students.
She said FSU is holding its second open house event Saturday Nov. 19, adding about 600 students and parents are expected to attend.
“The campus visit is one of the most predictive analytics - the more students we can get here on campus, the better we will do year over year,” she said.
Mireles added her team is “working with an outside partner” to create “personalized financial aid videos” to students and their parents, which walks through and explains all the details regarding their financial aid packages.
She said they are also planning to make them in Spanish, and make Portuguese language videos by next year.
“In an ideal world, the admissions counselor would call and have a wonderful conversation with every student and parent and walk through that process and help explain the payments and all of their different options,” she said. “We don't have the bandwidth to do that. Nor could we ever have the bandwidth when you're working at a larger institution like this.”
Mireles added, “But this is a way for us to have that personalization to scale.”
She said she also met with Eric Gustafson, vice president of Development and Alumni Relations, to discuss alumni relations and engagement.
During the board’s finance report, Trustee Anthony Hubbard said the Finance Committee held a joint session Oct. 11, at which “outside auditors for the University” presented an audited financial report for Fiscal Year 2022, which was approved and submitted to the state.
Hubbard said the committee also met Nov. 9, when Executive Vice President Dale Hamel “reviewed the management discussion and analysis that accompany the last year's financial statements.”
He added his “takeaway” from the meeting was that as one-time funds which “were used to sustain the University over the last couple of years” run out, the board “will have some interesting, challenging decisions to make.”
Hamel said the University has “been fortunate in terms of funding that has been received,” adding, “Now we have to figure it out from here.”
He added since the Finance Committee was looking at the possibility of the Fair Share Amendment passing Nov. 8, it built a “base case” on the assumption that it wouldn’t pass, but will make alterations based on “what might flow from” the new amendment.
Hubbard put forth a motion to the board to approve a tuition and fee waiver for students in the AmeriCorps program.
AmeriCorps is an independent government organization which “is a network of local, state, and national service programs that connects over 70,000 Americans each year in intensive service to meet community needs in education, the environment, public safety, health, and homeland security,” according to the organization’s website.
Hamel said there are an estimated 20 students participating in the program. The waiver would be for $725 covering two “practical courses” the students are required to take.
He added the motion was brought to the board because the waiver would be factored into the annual budgeting process.
The motion was passed unanimously.
As part of Niemi’s report, Gustafson said the University received “notable gifts,” including $60,000 in “unrestricted gifts,” $50,000 for student scholarships, a $30,000 endowment scholarship for the Danforth Art Museum, and $25,000 for endowment scholarship funds.
Gustafson said the Commonwealth Endowment Incentive Program is in effect until June 30, 2023.
He said the state will match 50% of any gifts made to endowment funds.
Gustafson said FSU has “had a really busy fall with lots of successful events,” including the Swiacki Children’s Literature Festival and Homecoming Weekend, which featured the 50th anniversary of FSU football.
He added upcoming events include the annual Alumni and Friends Winter Celebration Dec. 2 and “a lot of athletics events,” including an alumni basketball game.
Gustafson said the Alumni Association Board of Directors held its first meeting of the year Oct. 25. One of its main goals is to support enrollment and work with admissions staff.
He said, “We've identified tasks that they can undertake that are meaningful and will be helpful to the admissions team, with more to come.”
Gustafson said grants and sponsorship programs “to date” have received $2.174 million in funding for grants with $1.5 million in “applications pending.”
Regarding the Danforth Art Museum, Gustafson said there is a new corporate membership program which will “help build more revenue,” as well as “tie into the local business community.”
He said the museum has a “great core group of supporters and patrons,” adding, “We need to expand that” and “get more people from the MetroWest community to come and see what the Danforth has to offer.”
Gustafson added the museum is also looking to grow its art school programs.
He said the school “is having a very successful fall,” with 15 classes for adults and 11 for children and teens.
He added the school now has a permanent endowment scholarship fund. “We won’t have to turn anyone away, hopefully, because of an inability to pay,” he said.
The Student-in-the-Spotlight was Joanne Brown. She was nominated by Claudine Guild, who is a visiting lecturer for the Master of Healthcare Administration program.
She is in her second-to-last semester in the Master’s of Healthcare Administration Program.
Brown said she decided to sign up for the strategic planning course with Stephen Lemire and “within the first few minutes, I was hooked. It brought to life the things that I was experiencing in the real world in the workforce. Things started to align. They started to make sense.”
She said, “I've been able to take some of the things that I've learned in my coursework and apply them, especially [when] looking at the flow of patients from our emergency center through the hospital,” Brown said.
“It's just been a phenomenal experience here,” Brown said.