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Presidential Update Fall 2004

To Hope College Alumni, Parents and Friends:

Since I last communicated with you through the Presidential Update, we have closed the books on the 2003-04 academic and fiscal years. Each year I identify a theme to both motivate and guide our efforts. Our theme this past year was “Expecting the Exceptional.” Yet, even I did not anticipate the extent of the achievements that would mark this year.

I am now in my twentieth year as a college president, my sixth in the privileged position of president at Hope. While each of these years has been satisfying and fulfilling, I do not believe that any single year has been as positively eventful as this past one. In our programmatic areas of academics, spiritual life, residential life, and co-curricular activities, as well as financially, there were remarkable achievements. Because of these achievements, prospective students and their families tangibly demonstrated, in unprecedented numbers, their attraction to a Hope College education. To be sure, there were outstanding efforts put forth by the entire Hope College community. Yet, transcending these human efforts was God’s grace and goodness to us as an institution. For this we are most grateful.

Yes, this is a very good time in the history of Hope. I am reminded especially of the quote from Mitch Albom’s latest book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven, that reads, “We move through places every day that never would have been if not for those who came before us.” Truly, we are indebted to the members of the Hope constituency who have given so much in the past to ensure the present. May those of us here now do our part to ensure the future.

New Academic Year

One of the special joys of being in education is the cycle of events that occur on an annual basis. There are endings like graduation, which can be filled with very mixed emotions as we say good-bye to students that we may not see again for a long time—perhaps ever. And, of course, there are the wonderful beginnings when we greet new students and their families at the start of a new year. Orientation, Convocation, and the typical events that mark a new college year were invigorating for all of us at the college. Now, halfway through the fall semester, we are experiencing the joys and challenges of living together in a college community of nearly 4,000 people.

The theme for this new year is “Quest for the Best.” Our passion is to be at the pinnacle in providing an exceptional education in a vibrantly Christian environment. Among the 3,500 institutions of higher education in this country, very few are willing and able to forge the path of exceptionality in faith, learning, and living. To this we are unequivocally committed.

Anxiety

As much as we try to reduce the anxiety for students new to Hope and their families, we know that dropping off a son or daughter for the college experience is difficult. Because of their excitement for the wonderful experience and opportunity that awaits them, I suspect that students feel somewhat less anxiety than their parents! Having been through this twice ourselves, Martie and I understand full well the transition that is taking place. This wonderful gift of a son or daughter, whose presence has graced a family for 18 years, is about to change. Things are never quite the same again.

I remember this experience with our son, Matt, as if it were yesterday. First there was the endless packing of the car with more material possessions than I thought we owned as an entire family. Then there was the inevitable saying of good-byes. I remember especially Matt sitting on the retaining wall of our home playing with the dog for what seemed like an undue amount of time. Finally, it was time for Matt to leave. We said our good-byes, and Matt got in the car and drove off to college—two blocks! We could see his dorm room lights from our home. It really didn’t matter, though, whether it was two blocks or 2,000 miles. Matt wouldn’t be putting his feet underneath our kitchen table every night anymore. But, I’ve discovered this over the years in talking with many mothers and fathers—if their son or daughter is happy, 2,000 miles doesn’t seem very far; if they are unhappy, two blocks seems around the globe.

Enrollment

One of the most frequently asked questions of college presidents is, “How is enrollment?” In the good years this is a very enjoyable question to answer; in the lean years, not so enjoyable. Gratefully, this was a superb recruiting year for Hope. This fall, we enrolled 781 first-time freshmen and have a record student body of 3,112. With a full-time equivalent of 3,075, minus the number of students studying off-campus, the net number of 2,966 comes very close to meeting the enrollment cap of 3,000 established by the Board of Trustees. Dr. James Bekkering, vice president for admissions, indicated that absent the enrollment cap we could have admitted another 270 freshmen this fall. Limiting this number posed a new kind of challenge for us; it was uncomfortable denying admission to students we thought could have successfully experienced a Hope College education.

Blue Chippers

Sometimes in athletic circles we refer to certain athletes as “blue chippers.” As a former athlete, I realize that I was not one of them. But, as a former coach I could recognize one when I saw him or her. They were the superior performers—the ones who would make a difference.

There is a parallel in fundraising. The blue chip donors are those who contribute joyfully as they are able—they make a difference. Good friend and former vice president for college advancement Bob De Young taught me that the blue chip donors are those who do three things: 1) they give to the annual fund every year, 2) when there are capital campaigns they support as they are able, and 3) they include the college in their estate plans. Your gifts in each of these areas make a huge difference for Hope.

Worth of a Degree

Several years ago, our good friend Jerry Redeker ’56 shared with me during a group Bible study that he arose each day with these words: “Good morning, God. I love you. How may I be your instrument for good in the world today?” It is a practice I adopted myself. Each day I try to please Him and serve humankind.

Another thought that frequently goes through my mind as I walk to work each day is this: how can I improve the worth of a Hope College degree today? There are so many opportunities likely as apparent to you as they are to me. Together we want the academic experience to be meaningful and challenging. We want students to grow in their faith through praise, worship, and service. We also want students to develop their social skills in ways that will serve them throughout their lifetimes. And, we want students to discipline themselves physically so that they have the energy to engage fully in the tasks at hand. We have wonderfully talented people at the college committed to constant improvement in these areas and enhancing in the process the worth of a Hope College degree.

But, you can help also—even though your degree was perhaps received many years ago. Permit me to share how you can do this. Each year U.S. News & World Report ranks colleges in various categories. Hope is in the very competitive “National Liberal Arts College” category and is currently ranked in the top tier. Colleges are ranked on several criteria, including peer ranking on overall academic reputation, faculty salaries, class size, and financial resources. The percentage of alumni giving is also a criterion, and a declining rate of participation is of concern to us. Typically, our older alumni participate at a higher percentage than younger alumni. Since Hope is graduating much larger classes now than it did many years ago, our percentage has dropped from the mid 40s to the mid 30s and is one factor that brings us perilously close to being out of the top tier—a move that certainly should not happen. Although I am addressing all of our alumni at this point, I especially want to share this message with young alums.

All of us recognize that with college loans, new families, and the general expense of starting out, the amounts that new alumni will be able to give are relatively small. But, I want to urge you today to begin to develop the habit of contributing to your alma mater so that the current generation of students can afford Hope College even as a previous generation made it possible for you. That seems fair enough. Perhaps an example will help.

This year a Hope College education costs about $32,000. The price tag placed on it for tuition, room, and board is $26,738. There is a difference between what a Hope College education actually costs to deliver and the price tag we put on it. Because of the generosity of alumni, parents, and friends, all students — even those who pay the full price — receive a subsidy, mostly from people they do not know and who do not know them. Additionally, the sticker price of a Hope education is reduced for most students by scholarship monies that are awarded on either a need or merit basis and made possible in large part through the generosity of alumni, parents, and friends.

The average institutional gift aid at Hope is currently about $9,500 per student, per year. Given that amount and the difference between cost and price, our students on average pay only about half of the actual cost of a Hope education and receive about $60,000 in financial assistance during their time at the college. Today I am asking you to experience the joy of giving and begin to bear the responsibility of helping current students, as others helped you, by contributing even a small amount of the monies that are entrusted to you. For young alums not to give makes me fear that the discipline of giving will not be exercised with rather disastrous results for the college long-term. And, it is a good investment, too, because it will enhance the reputation of Hope and, therefore, increase the worth of your degree.

Acclaimed education author of Colleges that Change Lives, Loren Pope, says this about the institution we love: “Hope is first rate across the board, attracting students because of the reputation of its programs. Hope raises higher education’s moral and intellectual level.”

Can we count on you for a gift this year?

Dedications

We have had three dedications so far this year. The first was the dedication of the new Science Center during Homecoming weekend. What a marvelous facility this is. Dr. Judith Ramaley, assistant director, education and human resources directorate, of the National Science Foundation was the keynote speaker for this occasion. She said that she had seen most of the nation’s recent new college and university science buildings, and that Hope’s was the best. She stated further that the design of the building allows for the kind of collaborative undergraduate research for which Hope has acquired a national reputation. She also indicated somewhat “tongue in cheek” that she accepted the invitation to Hope because she wanted to see where all her money was going—an obvious reference to the fact that Hope typically receives more NSF grants than any other liberal arts college in the country.

On Homecoming Saturday, the college dedicated a major piece of art titled Wall Relief: Opus A. This Bill Barrett sculpture was unveiled on the north exterior wall of the organ studio of the Nykerk Hall of Music. Given by a donor who wishes to remain anonymous, the sculpture honors Lamont ’50 and Ruth De Graaf ’50 Dirkse, Philip ’50 and Ann Wolters ’50 Fredrickson, and Vernon ’51 and Isla Streur ’50 Schipper for their exceptional service to Hope.

The third dedication this fall was that of the Henri and Eleonore Theil Research Center. This facility is located near the 10th St. and Central Ave. intersection and houses both the Van Raalte Institute and the Joint Archives of Holland. This building was made possible through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Theil, who have been longtime friends of the college. The late Dr. Theil was awarded an honorary doctorate from Hope in 1985.

We fully anticipate that next year will bring two more facility dedications—the Martha Miller Center for Global Communication and the Richard and Helen DeVos Fieldhouse. For those of you unable to observe the daily progress of these buildings, you’ll be pleased to know that the Martha Miller Center is almost enclosed. It is a magnificent structure that is proving to be more attractive than we had even dared imagine. This facility is scheduled for an August 2005 completion.

Not nearly as far along because of some challenges with the erection of the steel girders, the DeVos Fieldhouse is nonetheless an imposing figure on the horizon of the eastern gateway to the city and the campus. The contractors have put on a full court press (an appropriate strategy for a basketball arena!) to meet a fall 2005 construction completion date.

Justifiable Pride

In the relatively recent past, Hope has won several very significant awards. Just this past month, and for the second time in three years, Hope’s Social Activities Committee received the “Excellence in Programming Award” from the Mid-America region of the National Association of Campus Activities. Last year Hope received the “Excellence in Academic Libraries Award” from the Association of College and Research Libraries, emblematic of the single best college division library in the country. Immediately prior to that, in the initial U.S. News & World Report ranking on undergraduate research and creative activity, Hope ranked fourth in the country behind only the University of Michigan, MIT, and Stanford. And, though there isn’t an award for spiritual life programs, we have been told by guest chapel speakers that Hope’s program is unparalleled in higher education.

We have much for which to be grateful—a dedicated faculty and staff, talented students, an affirming community, and a supportive constituency. And, in pursuing this year’s theme, “Quest for the Best,” we have no intention of becoming complacent or resting on our laurels. Our goal is to be better today than yesterday and better still tomorrow. By God’s grace, the diligent work of all of us, and the support of caring alumni and friends, we can indeed achieve the lofty goals we have set for Hope.

James E. Bultman, President