By Emily Rosenberg
The Board of Trustees discussed enrollment strategy and the implementation of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives at their meeting Sept. 20.
During the Academic Affairs and Strategic Enrollment Management Committee report, Trustee Nancy Budwig reported a 2% increase in new student - first-year and transfer - enrollment since last year.
Budwig noted that while this was not a large increase, it was headed in the right direction and this was “encouraging news.”
She added in comparison to recent years when the overall enrollment decline was 10% or 12%, the rate of decline was only 6%, which was a great improvement.
Budwig referenced recent activities on campus such as the University welcome picnic and said that without the “synergy” of the community, an increase in new enrollment would not be possible.
Chief Enrollment Officer Iris Godes said they are about a month behind on the process of rebranding the marketing strategy. She said the goal is to work on a communication plan that is more personalized, relevant, and “strategic” in the way they interact with prospective students.
“Last year was a very hard year with a lot of negativity. This year is another hard year with a lot of positivity,” Godes said.
Trustee Claire Ramsbottom asked about the public response to the rebranding initiative.
President Nancy Niemi said the response has been “positive,” adding she has received comments about its boldness, freshness, and how it looks forward.
Godes said the admissions staff is “very appreciative” and excited about the rebranding. She said she has heard from the staff that it is much bolder, brighter, “current,” and “active.”
“We are on our way,” Godes said. She noted her team’s collaboration with various departments, saying she has worked in the admissions and enrollment business for 35 years and has never seen faculty and staff so eager to help.
Also during the strategic enrollment report, Budwig discussed demographic decline and the most common reasons why students are choosing not to go to college in general - for example, the pandemic and how some people don't believe they are seeing a return in their investment.
During her report, Chair Beth Casavant asked Budwig, Ramsbottom, and Trustee Diane Finch to share what was learned at a recent DEI summit the three attended on behalf of the Trustees.
Casavant said the purpose of the summit was to evaluate how DEI could be incorporated into the work of their subcommittees.
She added while she originally went into the process believing it would be a one-year initiative, she now believes this is going to be setting the stage for future years. Therefore, especially in the case when the Board may change its members, it is important to build that foundation.
Ramsbottom said one concept she learned is that it is OK to ask questions. “We need to have a space collectively to ask questions, with trust as we ask them, as we are learning as we go here and as we try to strengthen the institution to serve our students better.”
Finch said a main takeaway for her was that DEI needs to be data-driven and it is collaborative. She added all initiatives sought by the committees should be driven by equity. However, another main takeaway is that not all equity conversations are centered around race.
Also in the chair’s report, Casavant allowed time for the trustees to reflect on Niemi’s annual report and goals.
Trustee Kevin Foley commended Niemi for a successful first year as president, adding she “really hit the mark.”
Finch said in regards to the report, Niemi approached her first year as president with “honesty and authenticity” in terms of the challenges the University faced, especially enrollment decline.
Next in the report, Casavant said in June 2023, WDJM, Framingham State’s radio station, started a pause in their terrestrial radio for one calendar year due to a lack of student interest in on-air radio broadcasting.
She said it was explained that “the student interest is in online streaming and podcasting. So if they didn't pause, it would have made it more difficult to have students and faculty use the space to podcast because of FCC regulations.”
As the FCC radio license runs to the Board, the trustees needed to approve the temporary suspension of the use of the license.
Before voting, Trustee Lino Covarrubius asked if there was potential for the frequency to be sold to provide revenue to the school.
Ann McDonald, chief of staff, general counsel, and secretary to the Board of Trustees, said there was a potential for it to be marketable as the coverage reaches about four miles.
The suspension was approved unanimously.
Addressing the two vacancies on the board, Casavant said there has been movement by the state to appoint new trustees. She said the deadline to nominate new trustees is Sept. 25.
She said the vacancies are making it difficult to complete committee work without a full board.
In addition, three trustee terms will be expiring in March.
During the Finance Report, Vice Chair Anthony Hubbard said the board voted to pass its budget during its previous meeting in May 2023 based on a lot of unpredictability in the state budget. He added a lot of this “fell into place” where numbers were expected.
Executive Vice President Dale Hamel said an area of the budget that was underestimated was enrollment. Enrollment was higher than expected.
There was also a resolution to complete an independent audit of the 2023 Financial Statements Delegation, which was passed unanimously.
During the Compliance Audit and Risk report, Mariel Freeve said the implementation of the new multi-factor authentication for students has been going well.
She said the state is going to be conducting an audit on the policies and procedures state employees use related to cybersecurity.
She added the University did a full remote internal assessment. “One of the things that's pretty critical that we had not really covered since COVID-19 was doing a full remote access internal assessment. I think it was important to note that, considering that we have a lot more folks sort of back on campus from both faculty and students.”
During the student experience report, Ramsbottom said almost 25% of students require accommodations from the Center for Academic Success and Achievement (CASA).
She said this is highly reflective of the type of students the University serves and should be seeking to recruit. “It speaks to how diverse we are.”
Ramsbottom added in terms of equity, this may be something the board should consider while shaping the University budget.
During the President’s Report, Vice President of Diversity Equity and Community Engagement Jeffrey Coleman, shared an update on his division. He said Catherine Dignam, professor of chemistry, joined the division as an inclusive excellence research grant coordinator. In addition,Hedda Monaghan, a research and digital pedagogy librarian for the University, joined the division as the inclusive excellence faculty fellow program director.
He said in the past academic year, the inclusive excellence funding committee was able to award $15,190 to diversity initiatives.
He added resident assistants recently received a presentation on why cultural competency is important.
Finch asked how Coleman is including alumni in his initiatives. She also asked whether he anticipates the University will be developing a strategy to express a University-wide pledge to anti-racism.
He said Homecoming and Family Weekend was supposed to include an event with the Alumni of Color Network. However, it was postponed. In regards to the pledge, Coleman said he is working with members in the division to develop an online social media presence to educate members of the community on anti-racism and DEI work.
Eric Gustafson, vice president of development and alumni relations shared an update on events and grants in his division. Gustafson said the division is well ahead of last year in terms of fundraising, beginning the fiscal year with $800,000 as of the time of the meeting. He said the division ended the fiscal year with $4.5 million in grants and sponsored programs and there is still around $5 million pending.
During the student experience report, new University Police Chief Joseph Cecchi was introduced. Cecchi said his goal is to build trust with students on campus. He said before he was even on payroll, he took a walk on campus with the Vice President of SGA Raffi Elkhoury to help become acclimated to campus and learn about student concerns.
During his report, Student Trustee Ryan Mikelis shared his experience as one of the senior orientation leaders over the summer and during Black and Gold Beginnings.
He said students going to events such as the Welcome Picnic or Bingo, or moving in with the assistance of their own University president, shined a light on the small and welcoming Framingham State Community.
Mikelis added as a commuter student, he is excited to represent the student perspective to the Board.
The new student trustee, Mikelis is a senior political science major and is also involved on campus as an Academic Success Peer Tutor and was formerly a Rams Engagement Ambassador as well as the vice president of the Commuter Student group.
During public comment, Covarrubias suggested the board begin each meeting with a reading of a Land Acknowledgement, recognizing that Framingham State was founded on Native American Land.
The student-in-the-spotlight was Jennifer Melara Valle, a senior environment, society, & sustainability major. She was introduced by a professor in that department, Amy Johnston.
Melara Valle is a peer mentor on campus and has participated in summer research programs at both MIT and Princeton.
Melara Valle said her Latin heritage is very important to her, which is why she decided to get involved with student outreach.
She thanked Johnston and Department Chair Larry McKenna for “making her the great scientist she is today.”