The Griffin Editorial: Steve K's first 100 days
Tomorrow is President Stoute’s 100th day in office. We have already analyzed his subjective qualities as a leader, concluding that he sees himself as an educator-in-chief. But, based on the State of the College he gave this past Tuesday, we are now better able to glean his concrete plans for the college.
Context is key, and the best context for considering the current president is comparison to the former one. The Griffin noticed a few policy differences between this and the past administration about these issues in particular: target student demographics, tuition, branding, and merging.
Demographics: Former President Hurley also gave a State of the College address in his first year. In it, he said that “parents need a reason to go the extra mile to send their kids to Canisius. We need to present a strong case for the value of a Canisius College education.” Stoute, in contrast, said that “we cannot continue to rely on 17- and 18-year-olds coming to Canisius and sustaining everything we can do.” With an ambitious goal of 510 undergraduates in next year’s freshman class, Stoute is obviously not looking to downplay the full-time student population. But the most consistent message in his address was that Canisius should do more to accommodate older, part-time learners—a definite demarcation from the former president.
Tuition: The Griffin asked Stoute if he would try something like President Hurley’s “Excellence Within Reach” program which cut tuition in an effort to boost enrollment. Stoute answered that “cutting tuition hasn’t worked for us in the past, and the institutions that have done it, the results have been mixed, so I’m not sure it will work in the future for us.” His projections have “some tuition increase baked into the model,” though he would like to “moderate” the increases. His gentle repudiation of the former president’s policy in this area is not necessarily welcome news to current students, but is probably wiser for the college in the long term.
Branding: Unlike other local college presidents, Stoute is waiting to change our name to “university.” According to an official summary of their recent meeting, the Board of Trustees “endorsed” Stoute’s projected “timeline and anticipated costs” and “authorized the administration to continue with its plans and preparations” for the change. But Stoute emphasized in Tuesday’s State of the College address that Canisius would have to “adapt and adjust” around the change or else “the name change would not make a difference.” Hurley, a long-time advocate of the name change, was much less hesitant in saying earlier this year that “the competitive landscape is going to dictate that we” make the change. It’s a risky choice to defy the tide, but The Griffin must admit that risks are necessary, especially if we are to follow Stoute’s policy on …
Merging: Hurley said in his final interview with this paper that “everything needs to be on the table” in regards to potentially merging with another institution. While Stoute acknowledged “anything is possible,” he made clear that, “if we pursue a strategic transaction [a merger], Canisius will be the institution on the other side.” And Stoute indicated that the college must be financially stable before even considering a merger. These two conditions—that revenues exceed expenses and that Canisius is the institution which must survive a merger—make a “strategic transaction,” for good or bad, very unlikely.
Stoute has accumulated a lot of goodwill over his first three months. It is too early to tell if he can convert that political capital into financial capital for the college. It’s not too early, though, to take what he says seriously. Stoute laid out some pretty ambitious goals, some of which strike us as improbable, such as a 90% first-year retention rate. Nobody could possibly disagree that keeping another 10% of first year students would be good for everyone involved, but depending on doing so is downright dangerous for our expectations—and for our budget. In the spirit of dialogue, though, read our the next column for our take on how to work towards that particular goal.-PH
Giving some attention to retention
President Stoute says that improving our retention rate to 90% would require further investment in support services including the Griff Center. While The Griffin would like to congratulate Jen Herrmann, Tracy Callaghan, and company on their apparently incredible job security, we are not sure that adding to their ranks would rocket retention.
It is The Griffin’s position that the problem is not a lack of resources for the Griff Center. Five Griffin editors are peer mentors for First Year Experience classes; while we obviously see the benefits of the program, it seems unlikely that it is as effective as the retention “data,” which Stoute continues to tout, seems to show. (The retention rate for students who chose to take the optional course is higher than that of students who do not, but the type of student who enrolls in this voluntary class is presumably less likely to drop out than the type that does not, regardless of what actually happens in the class.)
Instead, we suggest that the problem could very well be a disconnect between applying to Canisius and actually attending Canisius. For one, the employees that students see in each phase are almost totally different. Student tour guides provide a link to student life, but tour guides are not exactly representative of the average students and they are paid precisely to be peppy.
President Stoute suggested as a presidential candidate in February that alumni could be involved in admissions interviews, because they know what Canisius students need to succeed. How about faculty instead? Faculty know best what students need to succeed at Canisius, and just by interacting with faculty, students can get a feel for the seriousness of college.
Maybe faculty interviews are left for only those students on the fringes of admittance, both because faculty can better determine whether the student could possibly succeed in college than an admissions employee could and because these are the students who need to better feel that they are valued, even if they are not at the top of their class.
The admissions employees are the first ones students see, but faculty are the ones who the students will actually interact with during their time in college. The former is like the front office of a football team, who puts the team/class together, and the latter is like the coaching staff, who develop the players/students. Does Brandon Beane not seek the input of Sean McDermott in drafting new Bills players?
Prospective students get a chance to talk with student tour guides, who can elaborate on student life and their perspective on what academics are like. If it makes sense to expose current students to student life in the form of tour guides, it makes just as much sense to expose them to academic life in the form of faculty.
They could also play a more indirect role in the admissions process by playing a bigger role in shaping standards for admissions. As summarized by Assistant to the President Erica Sammarco, the Board of Trustees’s Enrollment Management Committee “had a detailed discussion on a proposal to move to test-free undergraduate admissions beginning in 2024.”
Whether or not the test-free proposal is implemented, admissions should be less alienated from the actual, academic experience of Canisius. Most faculty have been, and will be, here a lot longer than most admissions staff. Let them shape the class, if not directly by interacting with prospective students, then indirectly by setting more of the standards for what kind of attributes they see, not necessarily in the students who do the best, but in those who improve the most by virtue of the education at Canisius.-PH