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Chancellor Discusses Enrollment, Budget and Leadership Searches in His Remarks to the University Senate
In his remarks to the University Senate today, Chancellor Kent Syverud provided updates on enrollment, budget and leadership searches.
Thank you, Professor Haddix. Thanks for being here before the semester starts. We are halfway through the academic year, which has not been normal in any sense. We all have concerns and challenges at work and at home.
I want to start today by expressing my gratitude to everyone who made last semester possible. This was the hardest semester the University has faced in our lifetime, I believe. We came through it with so much to be proud of, thanks to our faculty, students and staff. The pandemic is not over by any means. The spring semester will test us in new ways. I think we came through it reasonably well and it took all of us listening to each other to do that.
At the same time, we need to make progress on our key strategic goals. So, I’m going to share some information that should give us confidence that we can make progress toward our enrollment, budget and advancement goals. I will also brief you on the spring semester searches.
Undergraduate Enrollment Updates
As you know, we did relatively well last fall in a tough environment for undergraduate enrollment.
The deadline for undergraduate regular decision applications was Jan. 1. However, we anticipate receiving additional applications throughout the spring. It is conceivable that we will surpass 39,000 applications.
At this time, we are up +25 percent (+7,837) in overall undergraduate first year applications for fall 2021. Domestic applications are particularly strong (+33 percent; +8,479). This represents an all-time high for applications received.
Undergraduate early decision applications are down by 11 percent (-232) compared to January 2020. International early decision applications have fallen -36 percent (-191), accounting for most of the decline.
For the Spring 2020 semester, which starts in earnest with some move-ins this weekend with students from outside contiguous states, thanks to the quarantine requirements. Our deposits for new first-year students are substantially ahead of last January (+133 percent). We have 112 deposits for spring ’21 compared to 48 last year. This increase is driven by students deferring from the Fall 2020 semester. Spring transfer deposits are down slightly from last year with 55 deposits on hand compared to 63 last year.
These are really good, confident numbers for this year. This is a result of an aggressive and targeted recruitment strategy, particularly early in the process. It also reflects our fall policy to make test scores optional in light of the pandemic’s impact. We are considering extending the test optional policy for another cycle because testing continues to be highly problematic for high school students in the U.S. and abroad.
These results reflect the efforts of many folks here in the Senate, in the schools and colleges, in enrollment management and in marketing and communications. I also believe it can be significantly attributed to how everyone managed COVID in the fall. I’m grateful to all the sacrifices everyone has had to make so this could happen.
Budget and Endowment
Moving to our budget, we continue to experience the impact of the pandemic on our revenue and expenses. There are still many unknowns. As we have experienced, conditions can shift rapidly. However, we currently remain on track to a manageable deficit in FY21.
This budget assessment does not take into consideration any potential federal relief funds. It also does not account for the possibility that the pandemic makes it impossible to have in-person instruction because of developments we can’t control. But with those caveats, if we can stay on this trajectory, we should be able to move forward without additional major impacts to our people or our programs. That is something that relatively few universities can say. So thank you for that.
Our endowment is the highest it’s ever been by far. It went over $1.5 billion at the end of November. This is partly because of the disconnect between the stock market and assets and economic realities in the world. It is also because we have maintained a very responsible payout rate of our endowment. It has been very tough to do in a pandemic but it is really important to put us in a position of financial strength coming out of the pandemic. A conservative payout keeps the endowment growing, it keeps donors confident in us, and in turn generating growing budget contributions each year, despite the lower payout rate. This has in fact been reflected in the endowment funds that are going to our schools and colleges.
In advancement, we are on track to pass the $1 billion mark in the Forever Orange campaign in late spring or early summer of this year. As a reminder, our goal is $1.5 billion in the campaign and our goal for this fiscal year is $140 million in new business. As of Dec. 31, we have raised $60.47 million in new business. Last year at this time, our total was $106.46 million in new business, but that includes the very large gift from the Newhouse Foundation. We are ahead of where we were last year in terms of cash contributions. As of Dec. 31, the total was $58.5 million, compared to $49.3 million at this time last year.
I thank the entire advancement team as well as our deans and everyone who has worked hard to remain connected to our donors and alumni this year.
In terms of a COVID update, there will be lots of communication on COVID matters affecting students, faculty, staff and parents.
Things are going to get better. While the vaccine has arrived, we need to continue to exercise patience. Even in these early phases, the number of individuals who are eligible to be vaccinated is far higher than the number of doses that are available in New York right now. I am grateful that some of our front-line health care and emergency management staff and some of our faculty teaching in person have been able to get the vaccine and some of our faculty and staff over age 65. Even if you’ve been vaccinated (I haven’t because I am not eligible yet) it’s not time to relax, both in terms of your own vigilance for the sake of others. And because we know that demand outstrips supply and it will take time for those currently eligible to be vaccinated and for eligibility to be expanded by New York State.
I was talking to a doctor this week that the COVID rates in 18- to 24-year-old individuals are reflected in the COVID rates in the elderly two weeks later. So I ask everyone, as the semester starts, to maintain extraordinary vigilance. We have expanded our testing capacity to reduce the time from “test to result.” We anticipate processing three times the number of tests that we did this fall, at a rate of up to 4,000 a day. We are testing every on-campus student every week. We are using a surveillance testing method developed at Yale University that has been adopted by many of our peers. It uses the same highly-accurate saliva PCR process but reduces the time required to process samples. Instead of a mouth swab, you just deposit your saliva into a sterile tube, and many of us have been doing that each week. Students will be required to test every seven days. We will also be asking faculty and staff to test on a routine basis. To make this possible, the Stadium Testing Center has been expanded and transformed for enhanced physical distancing, privacy and efficiency. The team in Enrollment and the Student Experience has updated the Stay Safe pledge to be much more specific about travel and visitors, which we know contributed to outbreaks last fall.
We have also made many adjustments to our academics and student life to be ready for the spring semester. The Schine Student Center will be open in days now. The stadium will be used for classes, activities and open study during the day. We are working on the calendar and on student wellness days and on wellness activities at the request of our students. There will be wellness days for spring semester 2021 and more details will be coming shortly. We are even more prepared for spring, thanks to the hard work of so many.
In terms of leadership searches, the next senior vice president for student experience is progressing well. Cole Smith, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, and Candace Campbell Jackson, senior vice president and chief of staff, are co-chairing the search. The committee includes a broad representation of students, faculty, staff and Trustees.
You may recall that we are partnering with the firm Witt Keiffer to conduct a national search as our search consultant. We completed an extensive listening campaign in October. The consulting team met with more than 25 groups, including students, staff, faculty, alumni and University leaders.
The position description was posted in early November and the response so far has been very positive. The committee is reviewing candidates this week and plans to conduct first round interviews in February. We are on track to announce a new appointment in early spring.
On the provost search, thank you for approving the slate and thank you for all the consultation that went in it. I have met four times with the University Senate Agenda Committee to discuss the search process and the search committee. I think the search committee is appropriate and I thank all of those who put the search committee together.
The provost has to represent all of the faculty and there are many important tasks in front of the new provost.
- First, and to date, we have hired 48 of the 157 faculty lines approved within our cluster hiring initiative. The incoming provost will oversee many of the remaining hires and has the ability to significantly shape our future faculty.
- Second, there are structural funds allocated towards provost priorities as part of Invest Syracuse. The $37 million in structural funds dedicated to strengthening our research enterprise has only just begun to bear fruit. There is a real opportunity to significantly increase our research profile through smart hiring, targeted investment and investments to ensure we stay strong in our niches and build strength in other areas. This is an area where a candidate can show real leadership.
- Third, we are in the process of repositioning our capital improvement program to invest in academic buildings to enhance the academic core. The incoming provost will oversee this initiative, which will change the face of our academic delivery for years to come.
- Fourth, the new leader will be at the forefront of implementing the emerging $40-70 million faculty diversification fund that will help us build a culture at the department level in which faculty from underrepresented minorities want to not only come to Syracuse, but also spend their careers here.
- Fifth, as you know, we currently enjoy relative strength in market position in international education. In the post-pandemic world, we expect to expand our international reach and explore new international opportunities that may come available in the next 24 months.
- And finally, our local footprint in Central New York is strong, but we intend to significantly expand our academic footprint in some of the regional markets. We see growth potential in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.
For all of these reasons, and many more, I expect this search to be highly competitive. I believe the search committee will serve us well.
In closing, I thank all of you. I will take questions after the interim provost’s remarks.