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Henberg gives final State of the College address

College of Idaho President Marv Henberg gave his final State of the College address on Sept. 10, discussing the College’s recent successes and exciting future as the Caldwell liberal arts college prepares to appoint a new president in 2015.

Henberg, who became the College’s 12th president in 2009, will retire in June of next year. His address follows, in its entirety:

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Today marks my sixth and final State of the College Address.  Before I launch into my main message, I emphasize that these past five years have been the highlight of my career.  I thank my wonderful wife Laurie for all she has given to one of the most ill-defined yet important roles in higher education—that of presidential spouse.  I hear all the time from students, faculty, staff, and community members how welcome she has made them feel and how entirely positive her influence has been.  Her calm and lack of pretense have certainly made my job easier and improved greatly on what I could have done alone. 

Yet for all her calm and collectedness, it is possible to make Laurie mad.  The easiest way is for someone to bash the city of Caldwell, speaking as if it is a benighted place badly in need of an elevating lift from our more sophisticated brothers and sisters to the east of us, safely ensconced in enlightened Ada County.  Laurie will quickly chastise anyone whose experience of Caldwell is theoretical rather than real, declaring that she finds it the friendliest city we have lived in, with challenges yes, but full of great hearts working for improvement.  She reminds me always that the State of The College of Idaho and the State of Caldwell are interdependent.  Caldwell’s good fortune is good fortune for us and our good fortune is good fortune for Caldwell. 

With that as background, I am happy to report that relations between the College and the City are stronger and better than at any previous time in my presidency.  Our good relations with Mayor Nancolas and the City Council have facilitated the renovation of Simplot Stadium so that we now have a state-of-the-art synthetic surface for both the return of football and for our men’s and women’s soccer teams.  Our collaboration on Simplot Stadium mirrors our collaboration on Wolfe field, home to our baseball team.  The City is our partner in assisting on fundraising for both facilities, and I am happy to report that the coming years will see substantial improvements to Wolfe Field.  One of our trustees, Graye Wolfe, Sr., heads an initiative to fund permanent bleachers at the field named in honor of his father, Duane Wolfe.  Graye is leading with substantial donations of his own—and both City and College owe him thanks for his generosity and commitment.

Three days from now we will play our first home football game since 1977.  Not incidentally, our players and coaches go into this first home game having recorded an exciting win last week on the road at Pacific University.  Residents of Caldwell and Canyon County have stepped forward with donations and ticket purchases that will make the return of football a success irrespective of wins and losses over the next few years.  We know that Coach Moroski and his staff have recruited for academic ability and for character, and so we know that his players will represent all that is best about The College of Idaho.  In sum, football will be no different from any of our other sports teams, seventeen of which last year earned academic all-scholar status, placing the College third among all schools in the NAIA for number of teams so recognized. 

Scholarship comes first among C of I student-athletes, but we mustn’t forget that success on the field and on the court is likewise a main reason our athletes compete.  Last year’s on-court, on-field record wasn’t half shabby, as the College finished 10th in the Learfield Sports Director’s Cup for best overall performance in national competition.  That is our highest ranking ever.  Among the top ten teams, we were by far the smallest in overall student population.  The average enrollment of the other 9 schools placing ahead of us was 3,700 students—more than three times our size.  We know at the College of Idaho that Small is Beautiful.  We know that quality counts more than quantity and that reputation—well-earned, deep-down-dug reputation—is far more important than prestige.  Let us focus on continuing to deserve our good reputation and the prestige will follow.  Focus on prestige and we will find a thousand reasons we cannot compete.  Other colleges will all too easily outpace us in available resources and we will freeze with envy.  We must always remember it is not the resources themselves but what is done with them that is the ultimate measure of our thriving.   

Those of you returning to campus will notice a number of gratifying changes for the better in addition to the substantial improvements to Simplot Stadium.  Historic Blatchley Hall has undergone a much needed facelift, the 60-year old seats in Jewett Auditorium have been renewed, Boone Hall has undergone a $2.3 million transformation of its teaching laboratories, the former Teaching and Learning Center has been thoroughly renovated into the new West Hall:  Center for Physician Assistant Studies.  We will be dedicating that building and the extension of the program to this campus at noon on Friday, September 12, and I encourage all in the audience to attend.  On July 29 the College formally opened and dedicated the new 22,000 square foot Marty Holly Athletics Center. 

All these improvements to campus have been made possible by the careful allocation of dollars to ongoing capital improvements within the annual budget and by the remarkable generosity of friends, alumni, trustees, foundations, faculty, staff, and students.  Last year, I had the pleasure of reporting a 22% increase over the previous fiscal year to a total of $6.5 million raised in cash receipts, grants and contracts, and dedicated scholarships.  This year’s comparable number is $6.64 million—a gain of 2% over the previous year and another record for a year in which the College did not receive a large grant from the Albertson Foundation.  Vice President Vandervelden and his team did a tremendous job overall, but especially in alumni giving percentage, which rose to 37%—a new record for the College and, once again, second in the Northwest.

With respect to the FY2014 budget, the College again controlled expenditures to allow us to draw less against the endowment than the level approved by the trustees.  Our endowment ended the fiscal year at another record level--$111 million as against $100.2 million the previous year.  Thanks to that endowment growth and the addition of new and remodeled buildings, our net assets grew from $124 million at the end of FY2013 to $140 million at the end of FY2014.  Meanwhile, our total liabilities remained steady at $27 million between the two fiscal years. 

Knowing where we stand in comparison to other colleges and universities is a key part of knowing the State of the College.  We continued in the Forbes ranking of 650 colleges and universities nationwide to be by far the best-ranked college in Idaho.  Our overall ranking nationally improved by over 50 places, rising from #310 last year to #260 this year.  Among private colleges we went from #219 to #190 nationally, and from #60 in the West to #46.  Unlike other rankings, which rely on what I call “vanity measures” such as the perception of the institution by other presidents and provosts, Forbes uses only objective data reported to the federal government.  Its measure of fiscal soundness is particularly worth heeding, and this year Forbes gave the College a B rating.  In assessing this ranking, it is important to compare ourselves to our peer and our aspiration schools.  Among the twenty private colleges we have selected as peers because of similarities in enrollment, endowment size, and mission, only 4 have Forbes financial scores above us.  Six are tied with us, whereas 12 are below, with ratings of B- or worse.  Among our ten aspiration colleges—those with larger endowments and more instructional expenditures per student, only two have Forbes ratings above us, 4 are tied and 4 have ratings of B- or below.  These comparisons are worth pondering.  You will hear later from me some cautionary words about the viability of the financial model for private higher education, and it is easy to focus only on how the vulnerabilities in that model affect us.  That we are in the top third of our peers for fiscal soundness should be borne in mind.  We have more degrees of freedom in responding to uncertainty than do many other private colleges and universities. 

The fiscal health of the College is one important measure of the overall State of the College, but there are other qualitative indices, as well.  The Princeton Review rates 387 out of the 2,500 four-year colleges and universities in America on a number of criteria important for students.  And their methodology is to interview students themselves—not mediating their rankings through boards of adult experts who have a vested interest in a good outcome, as happens with many other college rating agencies.  To be among the 387 colleges rated by the Princeton Review is already to be in the top 15% nationally.  Thereafter, Princeton lets the students speak for themselves.  Our students rated The College of Idaho in the top 20 according to three measures.  We were 12th in the country for “Happiest Students,” 14th in the country for “Best Health Services” and 16th in the country for “Most Accessible Professors.”  I can’t think of a better trio of qualitative measures for a college—happy and healthy students served by faculty members skilled at eliciting from students better results than they ever thought possible.  We have continuing evidence of the magic that results from such close faculty-student interaction in Dannen Wright’s winning a prestigious Goldwater Scholarship last spring—adding to a string of such national awards that puts us among the top private liberal arts colleges in the country. 

So much for recapping and reflecting on a rich and demanding past year.  I now turn to the meat of any State of the College Address—namely, a word or two about how we are positioned to meet the future.  Here my tone changes from sanguine to sober, because for all our present relative fiscal prosperity and for all our effectiveness as a liberal arts college producing keen thinkers and engaged citizens, I am convinced that business as usual will not meet the demands of the rapidly changing landscape for American higher education. 

While the College is presently healthy, the external environment impacting private higher education presents more challenges than the Nile River has crocodiles.  Standing still, resting on our laurels, is not an option—not for us and not for any other modestly endowed private institution of higher education.  We have a compelling institutional saga, but we must keep a forward lean, adding to it in concrete ways. 

I am sometimes asked what keeps me awake at night.  Other than the occasional 2 a.m. phone calls from our Campus Safety or Student Affairs Division—calls that literally awaken me—I am rendered sleepless by a national climate of uncertainty surrounding the well-being of higher education in this country.  Let me provide the national context by citing some statistics that underscore my concern:

  • College enrollment in Fall 2012 dropped by 1.8% from a year earlier, while enrollment at private nonprofit institutions increased 0.5%. (National Student Clearinghouse Research Center, 2012)
  • The number of high school graduates is declining in all but 18 states (Western Interstate Commission on Higher Education (WICHE), 2012).  The Northwest presents a modest exception to this trend.  In Idaho the number of high school graduates in 2014-15 will decline for the first time in five decades, then trend slightly upward thereafter, in concert with a rising number of graduates in Oregon, Washington, and California.  (WICHE, 2012)
  • Presently 60% of college students are under age 25; by 2021 only 57% of college students will be under age 25 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2013)
  • By 2018 non-whites under age 18 will outnumber whites, yet whites have in the past been the demographic that most consistently pursues a private college education.  (WICHE 2012)
  • Real median household income for 2011 fell 1.5% to $50,054, which was 10% lower than in 2009 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2012).   The median net worth of middle income families fell 28% from 2001 to 2010, to $93,150, erasing two decades of gains. (Pew Research Center, 2012)
  • Published tuition and fees at private nonprofit institutions rose 3.9% for 2012-13, while institutional student aid budgets increased 6.2%. (National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, 2012) 

Despite the successes noted earlier, The College of Idaho has been affected by all these trends.  The most worrisome is the loss in purchasing power by the middle class.  For us, that loss is evident in last year’s entering class, whose families’ average income as recorded in the financial aid office declined by another $1000 a year, the third consecutive such decline we have experienced.  Paying for college is harder for all of our students and their families.  Lower cost options abound, and it is hard to fault families for exploring those options. 

Accordingly, there is real concern among many college presidents whether the cost structure of private higher education in 2014 is sustainable.  Nationally, for the next five years at least, we will see continuing declines in the number of traditional-age students available.  In competing against each other for the shrinking pool of 18 year-old students, we either rob each other of students or of net tuition or of both.  This circumstance is a classic case of what game theorists call “The Prisoner’s Dilemma”—colleges acting in their individual self-interest in a way that results in all of us being collectively worse off that if we cooperated.  Unfortunately, cooperation in this case would require us to share price, enrollment application numbers, and financial aid information in advance of recruiting students.  Such “cooperation” is called by the federal government “price collusion” and is strictly prohibited.  So I see the Prisoner’s Dilemma continuing to work against us financially—and in favor of the families we serve.  Reinforcing the Prisoner’s Dilemma in which we are caught is the simple economic law of supply and demand.  With the supply of 18-year olds actually falling, why should we be surprised at their families’ increased power in the market place?

In sum, I see a similar situation, though less dire, to that which befell private colleges in the mid-1960’s when the demographic “Baby Boom Bust” combined with the rise of community colleges to produce the greatest recorded decline in 18-year olds in contemporary history.  A fair number of private colleges closed their doors, and I predict the same will happen nationally over the next several years.

Concerning as these serious demographic and fiscal concerns are, my real nightmare stems from rapid advances in digital learning and digital technology.  This brings me to my final national trend: 

  • The proliferation of massive open online courses (MOOCs) is drawing attention to how college credits are awarded. All types of online and hybrid courses are thriving as the marketplace seeks cost-effective access and convenient delivery, and the American Council on Education is determining whether some MOOCs are similar enough to traditional college courses that they should be eligible for transfer credit.  (Lawlor Group, Ten Trends for 2013)

Until last fall when I viewed a forum at Oxford University on The Future of Higher Education, I had looked at MOOCs with a skeptical eye and benign response.  I had categorized MOOCs in the same class with other supposed revolutionary changes in educational delivery:  videotaping, simulcast of classes, and asynchronous delivery of online courses to motivated place-bound adults.  Each of these technologies has chewed at the edges of traditional residential liberal arts education, but otherwise not proved much of a threat.  I had assumed the same of MOOCs. 

However, I am now convinced that in five years a variant of massive open online courses will be a game changer in higher education.  I call this variant Modest Open Online Courses, or MOOCs1.   Right now MOOCs are in the hands of the big-name players—the Stanfords and MIT’s and Oxfords of the world—universities with Nobel laureates offering classes to the world at large.   What I foresee is a proliferation of colleges and universities offering various versions of MOOCs1—that is local courses directed at local students for a fraction of the cost of a C of I course.  And why do I fear MOOCs1 when I did not fear videotape or TV simulcasts or asynchronous digital courses?  It is because, to borrow from the Oxford presentation of Professor Clay Christensen, a Rhodes Scholar and Professor of Business at Harvard Business School, digital technology may well be a truly disruptive innovation in the business model for higher education in exactly that way that Toyota and Nissan disrupted the business model for GM or that Amazon.com is disrupting the business model for bricks-and-mortar retailers.  MOOCs and MOOCs1 will both thrive on the ubiquity of digital communication devices.  Old-fashioned educational simulcasts required an investment in fixed studios and expensive computer and digital technology that both sender and receiver had to possess for the medium to be viable.  MOOCs can broadcast without such substantial expense to the billions of people worldwide with a smart phone and a desire to improve themselves.

All that, I submit is a good thing.  People of lesser means in India and Ecuador should enjoy opportunities that they could not otherwise access.  That is not the danger to The College of Idaho.  The danger, as I see it, is in the emerging educational efficacy of digital technology.  Unlike traditional adult online education, MOOCs are either synchronous or asynchronous as the case may be.  When synchronous, there can be real interaction between and among students and between students and instructor.  In five years or fewer, this capacity for interaction will in all probability be greatly enhanced, allowing for real and sustained dialogue—and we all know that real and sustained dialogue is a key feature distinguishing genuine learning from mere teaching.  Modest open online courses with smaller enrollments, MOOCs1, will heighten interaction simply because of their smaller class sizes. 

So now that I have introduced a metaphorical chill wind into the cozy comforts of our complacency, let me conclude by saying how the College can successfully contend with these challenges. 

First off, The College of Idaho is blessed by its geographical location, its sense of mission and purpose, and its relatively low cost structure.  We have to thank ourselves for the wisdom of being in the Treasure Valley, for having selected William Judson Boone as our founder, and for the conservative fiscal management by which we are presently guided.  The Treasure Valley, Idaho, and the Northwest in general present an exception to the national trend of declining 18-year olds.  Their numbers in this region are slated to grow modestly over the next ten years of decline nationally.  We can’t take this advantage for grated, but we can exploit it if we are smart.  Our Vice President for Enrollment Lorna Hunter makes much of our not having exhausted our potential for marketing to out-of-state students.  We must continue to focus on the positive things about our college and its Idaho setting that will appeal to those from outside the state. 

Second we are still very much Boone’s college with a clarion call to provide access to those who are capable.  We owe it to the nation at large to assure that our Latino population goes to college in greater and greater numbers, for they are demographically and substantively a huge contributor to our collective future.  I am proud that our entering class has 60 students who claim Latino heritage—triple the number from just two years ago.  Increasingly, our Latino students come to us in family legacies, exactly as so many C of I families have done over the past 120 years.  We are recruiting the able Latino siblings of our graduates of four and five years ago because they know the College will give them every chance to succeed. 

Finally, we are nimble when it comes to moving in new directions so long as we do not suffer the paralysis that comes from ignoring a problem or blaming it on some kind of national conspiracy among those who fail to appreciate the liberal arts.  I invite all members of the community to contribute ideas to a Strategic Growth Task Force led by Vice President Paul Bennion and Trustee Mike Caughlin. We need to think long and hard about opportunities for inter-institutional cooperation such as the joint PA Program with Idaho State University.  By combining forces, ISU and C of I will have a stronger educational program at lower cost than if we had two free-standing programs.  What other such possibilities exist? 

Another example is the desirability of augmenting our global outreach by developing our international and special academic programs in ways that make use of our facilities on a twelve-month basis.  Not only will such efforts assist in internationalizing campus—a good thing given the increasing globalization of trade and the importance of cultural exchange—they will assist in paying for our infrastructure and its upkeep.  If you have not yet met our new Director of International and Special Academic Programs Stephen Barnes, you will shortly.  He is our resident entrepreneur for discovering occasions for cultural enrichment that supply additional resources rather than sap existing ones. 

Further initiatives analogous to the PA Program and building up sister university relationships abroad will be needed.  But they will not be enough.  If MOOCs and MOOCs1 are the disruptive change agents that Professor Christensen foresees, we cannot follow the strategy that hobbled Detroit relative to the Japanese automakers.  We cannot, that is, concede the lower margin options in education in the hope of preserving the higher margins for ourselves.  Detroit tried this tactic in conceding the low-end of the auto market to the Japanese, and what happened?  The Japanese, who had a truly disruptive means of lowering their costs of production, slowly came to dominate the high-end of the market as well. 

To get a fix on one aspect of this challenge, we last year asked a Digital Learning Task Force to take the faculty pulse with respect to digital learning.  Their report emphasized that our faculty members are open to the prospects of employing information technology in the classroom in new and dynamic ways.  Thanks to contacts developed by Vice President for Academic Affairs John Ottenhoff, we shall in this coming academic year commission representatives from the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education to consult with The College of Idaho on making progress in this important area.  I have every confidence that our faculty will be our guides so long as we arrange the right kind of interaction between them and other college and university colleagues who have embraced the potential for digital learning in fruitful ways.   It lies with the present and rising generation of faculty who are educationally wise and more technically savvy than I am to provide the path-finding required in this 21st Century new world. 

We all do well to remember Rev. Boone’s admonition:  “Let them come, let them all come, and we will see what they can do.”  It has served the College in prior challenging times and will serve us tomorrow.  I am, however, convinced that the “all” in Rev. Boone’s formulation cannot be restricted to traditional 18 to 22 year-olds.  With competition as fierce as it is now and will continue to be and with this slice of the college-going population shrinking as a proportion of the total population, simple demographics dictate that we should broaden our educational outreach. 

In spite of the many challenges before us, the State of the College is good, and in good hands. I have every confidence in the abilities of our outstanding faculty and staff to rise to the occasion and overcome the challenges I have enumerated, so that The College of Idaho continues to prosper both financially and as the No. 1 institution of higher education in the great state of Idaho. We will adjust. We will adapt. And we will continue to succeed.