“If Dickinson College were a corporation, Wall Street would view it as a classic turnaround story.” So began a recent feature article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The operational management of colleges and universities is not always headline-grabbing material. But at Dickinson, we have quite a story to tell.
Administrative effectiveness is a critical component for academic excellence. A well-run institution maximizes its assets to attract the very best students and faculty and then allocates available resources to create an on-campus environment that values and stimulates intellectual discovery.
At Dickinson, we have had the good fortune to assemble an administrative team whose recent accomplishments on virtually every front are nothing short of astonishing. Let’s begin with the endowment—the fiscal foundation that feeds our operating budget and secures our future. Eight years ago, our endowment stood at a modest $150 million. Today, it is rapidly approaching $300 million. In fiscal year 2004-2005 alone, the endowment rose by nearly 30 percent, a performance that placed us 16th among 746 higher-education institutions.
Our graduates have played a major role in the endowment’s growth. A select group of alumni financial wizards has worked with our treasurer and the board’s Committee on Investments to broaden our portfolio, realign asset allocation and think strategically about our investment approach. Equally important is the substantial increase in alumni contributions—large and small. While we have celebrated 21 leadership gifts of more than $1 million since 2000, alumni gifts of less than $100 totaled a whopping $174,000 last year—a testament to the hard work of our development staff and a clear indication that many of our alumni are seizing ownership of their college.
The progress on the admissions front is equally impressive. This year applications topped 5,000 for the first time—a benchmark that places us among the most competitive liberal-arts colleges in the country. The quality of our applicants continues to rise, and our list of “overlap” schools—those institutions with which we compete most aggressively for students—reveals that we are seen increasingly by applicants as a top-tier national liberal-arts college.
While our long-standing regional competitors—Gettysburg, Franklin & Marshall and Bucknell—still make the list of our top 10 overlap schools, our roster now includes Hamilton, Colby, Kenyon and Lafayette colleges, and for the first time, Georgetown, a major research university.
Providing our faculty and students with facilities that advance their academic interests has also been a recent priority. In May, we broke ground for the Keystone Phase of the Rector Science Campus—the most ambitious construction project in our history. With occupancy slated for 2008, this state-of-the-art facility will position Dickinson as a leader in undergraduate science pedagogy and research in the 21st century. We also are constructing a new Center for Sustainable Living, among many other campus improvements. It is no small achievement that, in an era of unpredictable and rising construction costs, all projects are coming in on time and on budget.
But there’s more … Earlier this year, Dickinson received solid acknowledgement of its managerial competency when Standard & Poor’s upgraded the college bond rating by two notches—the highest rating in Dickinson’s history.
While we are proud that we are receiving attention for being an exceptionally well-run institution, we know that the real measure of our excellence lies with our academic program and the accomplishments of our faculty, students and alumni.
Just as we can measure the increase in our endowment, we are able to gauge our rising prestige by tracking our media visibility. In 1999-2000, stories about Dickinson reached approximately 1.5 million readers. Last year, media impressions rose to a remarkable 239 million—a testament to the college’s ascending reputation and the effectiveness of our college relations staff in propelling the Dickinson story into the wider world.
Watch those headlines! I am confident that this powerful combination of academic accomplishment and managerial effectiveness will continue to put Dickinson on front pages for years to come.