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Presidential Update Summer 2011
To Hope College Alumni, Parents, and Friends:
In a few short weeks, Hope will welcome students to campus for the 2011-12 academic year. All of us here at the college are looking forward to their arrival, but before we become immersed completely in the journey ahead I would like to take the opportunity to reflect with you upon the year recently concluded. This year, like so many others, our faculty, staff, and students have brought honor to themselves and the college with their many achievements. It is so inspiring to be at Hope every day!
For the 40th consecutive year, Hope finished its fiscal year in the black. We are very grateful for a strong enrollment, generous gifts from alumni and friends, and a concerted stewardship effort by our employees to spend cautiously. I can say with integrity that, in the more than half a century of my familiarity with Hope, it has never been as strong financially, as excellent educationally (both curricular and co-curricular), and as vibrant spiritually as it is today. That’s the way it should be. Those of us here now stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before and are fortunate to be able to build on the sure foundation they provided. We acknowledge their good work and God’s grace and favor on the college.
Summer Campus Activity
The summer at Hope is filled with activity. Among others, the college hosts regular classes, of course, in May, June, and July; conferences of all kinds; summer theatre; the Midwest Brain and Learning Institute for area teachers; the Hope Entrepreneurship Initiative for innovative students; and Hope science research for budding high school and college scientists. All told, about 20,000 “learners” will have been on Hope’s campus this summer. This is a significant revenue stream for the college and makes year-round use of our excellent facilities.
The tranquility of Hope’s beautiful campus, which is especially picturesque during the summer months, was abruptly interrupted on July 11th when a storm with winds estimated to surpass 100 miles per hour uprooted or damaged approximately 30 large trees, including several in the historic Pine Grove and along 10th Street near Voorhees Hall and the President’s Home. Fortunately, no one was injured nor were any buildings damaged. Hope’s tree management program, coordinated by a very capable Grounds Department staff, is being put to the test as we remain committed to having trees be a signature part of the Hope campus for generations to come.
The campus grounds look fantastic, as do our buildings. There is no deferred maintenance. When I arrived at Hope 12 years ago, I made a simple comment to our grounds and maintenance teams: When guests visit campus and employees arrive for work, I do not want them to say, “Too bad this didn’t get the college’s attention.” Rather, I want them to say, “Doesn’t that look great.” They took it to heart and take pride in their work. They own their responsibilities. I hope you can visit soon to see for yourself what an attractive campus we enjoy every day!
Hope has engaged an outside consulting firm to assist us with an integrated marketing initiative. For as long as I can remember, Hope colleagues have said, “We’re a lot better than people think we are.” My response now as then has been to say, “That’s great, and better by far than to think we’re more than we really are.”
We are trying to strike an appropriate balance between humility and word-of-mouth promotion of the college and a more proactive approach. Beginning with perhaps the most extensive market survey ever at Hope, Atlanta-based EM2 identified brand attributes and brand promises for the Hope experience. They are now assisting our Admissions Department with recruiting materials and will be helping with our web design and content. We anticipate that this counsel, combined with the efforts of Hope personnel, will enable us to tell the Hope story in compelling ways to alumni, friends, prospective students, and donors. Our initial observation of their efforts confirms rather conclusively why the vast majority of students choose Hope, remain at Hope, and, along with friends of the college, support Hope: academic excellence, a vibrant Christian faith, and a caring environment. These are exactly the distinctives of Hope that have captured our passion and our emphasis during Hope’s storied history.
For the 11th consecutive year and a league-leading 33rd time (Albion and Kalamazoo are next with 14 each), Hope captured the Commissioner’s Cup for supremacy in intercollegiate sport in the MIAA. As late as Alumni Weekend in May, I prepared Hope’s athletic faithful for the almost certainty that we would relinquish this cup to . . . Calvin. But, an unbelievably strong showing in spring sports kept the title at Hope—where it belongs!
At the May meeting of the Board of Trustees, I shared with them the following statement:
I've heard it said a thousand times in hundreds of different situations. You’ll know when it’s time—you’ll just know. With very mixed emotions I share with you now that this coming year will be my last as president of Hope College. My heart, of course, says I’d like to stay forever; my head says it’s time.
The ‘appropriate time’ has been discussed with the officers of the Board for almost two years. This decision was shared with the Executive Committee at their March meeting.
I am deeply grateful for a supportive Board of Trustees, a dedicated administrative team, a talented faculty, a resourceful staff, diligent students, and engaged alumni and friends. A president could not ask for more. By God’s grace and goodness, much has been accomplished together.
I will have been a college president for 27 consecutive years—close to five times the national average. There is little doubt that this is a privileged position. And, it is a special joy to be president of one’s alma mater. This is a responsibility I do not take lightly. Indeed, I can say with the psalmist, ‘The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places.’
As for Hope, I can only predict a very bright future as one of our nation’s leading Christian liberal arts institutions. My personal passion, shared by so many, is that Hope will continue to provide an exceptional undergraduate experience in a caring and vibrantly Christian environment. Few colleges aspire to this; fewer are able to achieve it. Gratefully, Hope is one of these.
You’ve given me a rare and privileged opportunity to lead the college I love. Martie and I will treasure your trust in us forever. So, let us savor this next year, waking each morning as we have in the past, with this prayer on our lips: Help us, O Lord, to do what is right and pleasing in Your sight.
A Noble Mission
As Martie and I enter our last year in this privileged, leadership position, we are reminded daily of the strengths of Hope as well as the challenges, both internal and external, we face as an institution. Make no mistake about it: Hope is a very special place, quite unique in the world of higher education. Manifested yet again in my recent meetings with other college presidents is the record of history, in which an often reputable college loses its Christian character and becomes yet another secular institution absent from any real Christian identity. Not so at Hope. We are plotting a different course—a road not often traveled in higher education—where our identity is found in a dual emphasis on academic exceptionality and a vibrant Christian faith. And, Hope does it dynamically with talented faculty, staff, and students; relevant and winsome academic and co-curricular programs; outstanding facilities; and generous support from alumni and friends. It does so without requirements but, rather, with opportunities in ways that are not indoctrinating, parochial, or suffocating. Quite frankly, delivering the Hope experience in this manner is infinitely more difficult to administer than a more dictated style—but, also infinitely better. Required is a continued commitment and vigilance by the human spirit to ensure that the noble mission of Hope is implemented throughout the entire campus experience.
Apparently prospective students and their families appreciate and desire this Hope experience. Despite severe economic challenges and demographic shifts in Michigan, Hope received a record number of applications (3,572) and will enroll the largest freshman class in its history (868), with the number of international and domestic minority students continuing to increase as well. As a person associated with teams for almost my entire life, I can honestly say that recruiting this freshman class was one of the most inspiring team efforts with which I’ve ever been associated. Led by our Admissions staff, virtually every member of the campus community was involved either directly or indirectly in an effort to avert a growing trend for enrollment challenges in private higher education. This was achieved without “buying” students with unsustainable financial aid packages like so many of our peers but, rather, by promoting the “value” dimensions of an “investment” in the Hope experience. Further, even as Hope has enjoyed the strongest interest ever among incoming students, the historically strong average high school GPA (3.78) and ACT (26.5) of our incoming students remain strong. We are blessed!
I would like to encourage you to continue to be ambassadors for Hope, especially with prospective students and their families. You are invited to share with our Admissions office the names of those students you feel would benefit from the Hope College experience. A postage-paid postcard is enclosed for your convenience.
Also of importance is Hope’s continued emphasis on stewardship. While our student-faculty ratio of 12.1:1 compares favorably with our most reputable peers and indicates our primary emphasis on the very best possible learning environment, our student-staff ratio (12.3:1) is considerably higher than our Great Lakes Colleges Association comparison group (7.6:1). This lean staff (including administration) and other cost-saving measures have once again enabled Hope to have one of the smallest tuition increases in the country (1.9 percent versus a national average of 4.6 percent for private colleges).
Hope is good—really, very good—but our passion is to be the best. Required to achieve that lofty status are diligent students, talented faculty, dedicated staff, supportive alumni and friends, and a visionary Board of Trustees. Present are all the necessary elements and the “package” of experiences—intellectual, spiritual, social, and physical—that make Hope stand tall relative to other institutions. To this quest for excellence we remain unequivocally committed. Thank you for your part in helping Hope achieve its mission with distinction!