By Laken Franchetti, Editor-in-Chief
On Wednesday, an optional student leader meeting was held with President Bob Iuliano, Provost Jamila Bookwala and Vice President for College Life Anne Ehrlich. Last week, an email from Ehrlich was forwarded to student leaders on campus inviting them to attend the meeting in order to discuss important topics regarding Gettysburg College.
“At the beginning of the semester, President Iuliano sent a message to faculty and staff letting us know that, on October 4, we would meet as an employee community to discuss important topics including national trends in enrollment, the College’s budget, and the opportunities and challenges that lie before us as an institution,” the email said. “While the October 4 meetings are for faculty and staff only, we want to make sure you as student leaders also have an opportunity to hear directly from President Iuliano on these topics.”
The Current State of the College
The meeting began with Ehrlich listing numerous facts about the current state of the college: the college is not in danger of closing, faculty and staff salaries and benefits are not being cut, student worker wages have not decreased, the college is not making money from the new international student insurance plan, the college is not abandoning their commitment to access and inclusion and the course enrollment caps are not growing substantially.
Iuliano then spoke about the college’s budget. Iuliano said that the student financial aid commitment has increased b y 30 million dollars since he has come to college, which is nearly a 50% growth over five years. In the fiscal year 2019, 33% of the budget was spent on financial aid, 41% on faculty and staff salaries and benefits and 26% on other expenses. Iuliano shared that today, 46% of the budget is spent on student financial aid, 36% on faculty and staff salaries and benefits and 18% on other expenses.
“Here’s a factor you can find striking,” Iuliano said. “In the first year class, the class that just came in, the average student for tuition is paying $17,800. The last time students paid $17,800 to attend Gettysburg College was 2004. So, we have done a lot to make this affordable, right? An enormous amount to make this affordable.”
Iuliano said that the administration has made significant progress on the issue of student wages. Two charts were shown to illustrate the increase in wages.
“The bar on the right actually may be more interesting because it shows that student wages have outpaced, as a percentage matter, what we’re paying our faculty and staff. That is, even in the context of wages, students are receiving a higher percentage of wages than our faculty and staff are at this time,” Iuliano said.
Ehrlich then spoke on the current student experience and the changes that have been made in the past year to accommodate student feedback and requests. Multiple offices were consolidated to form the Center for Student Success. In a survey sent to all students who went to that office last year, student satisfaction with the center was rated four out of five. Ehrlich also mentioned the new position that the college filled last year: the Assistant Dean for Student Accessibility Theresa Hoover. Hoover has supported over 200 students in her first year, and in a survey sent to all of the students who interacted with her, her service was rated four out of five.
Ehrlich also mentioned that both International Student Services and the Center for Career Engagement have received additional staff. Counseling and Wellness has also received more staff, clinical hours and drop-in hours. Ehrlich reported that overall usage of Counseling and Wellness increased from 23% to 25% of the student body, and drop-in usage increased from 5% to 10% of the student body. Ehrlich also commented on the decision to renovate Plank Basement into a more social space.
“Bob and I both support Greek life. Since we both arrived here, though, we have wanted to solve a problem that we have heard about recently, which is a lack of social space available for students who aren’t into the Greek scene,” Ehrlich said. “The Plank Basement improvements are entirely student driven. There is not one single thing down there that is not at the request of the student taskforce that Jon Allen and Andy Hileman convened.”
Ehrlich also shared that retention investments at Gettysburg College are higher than the average of peer schools. Retention rates have increased since last year with 90% of the first-year class returning, 95% of the sophomore class and 97% of the junior class.
The Student Experience of the Future
Iuliano addressed the national trend that higher education is experiencing: the combination of fewer college-aged Americans and skepticism about the value of higher education has created a significantly heightened competition for students.
“Some things we’re going to stop, like the Gettysburg Review, are powerful, impactful things, but they’re cost against other priorities that we’re trying to do or something that we have to judge,” Iuliano said. “We are all in the business of trying to figure out, ‘Where can we devote our resources to have the maximum impact on the student experience?’”
Iuliano reiterated the college’s commitment, and he shared a statistic stating that the average student graduating today will change jobs 17 times and change industries five times.
“It’s making sure that every student graduates with a breadth and depth of knowledge and a set of skills—leadership, intercultural fluency, communication—that will prepare you to navigate those seventeen jobs and five career changes effectively. That’s our commitment. The response so far from what we have seen is powerful,” Iuliano said.
Bookwala spoke on how the college is forming the student experience of the future. The priorities of the administration are experiential learning, cost/financial aid, wellness programs and teaching quality. Bookwala said that there is an intent to have tenure-track faculty teach more 100 and 200 level courses, and the incoming class size will be reduced to 550 students. There will also be more investment in the physical plant of the college, such as improving first-year residence halls.
Bookwala then addressed the budgetary pressures at the college, and she spoke on the awareness that the administration is holding over the usage of teaching resources. She said that tenure-stream faculty will be protected, yet the college may rely less on non-full-time faculty members. Bookwala also addressed the topic of course caps.
“So it is true what you’re hearing that we are going to be looking at some increases in what we call ‘course caps,’ or the capacity of the course… and what we want to do is make sure that our tenure-stream faculty are teaching those courses, and in order for us to do that, to protect them, there is another side to this equation, which is we are going to have to rely less on our visiting adjunct faculty,” Bookwala said.
Ehrlich shared that a survey would be sent out to the student body in order for administration to learn what they can improve or clarify upon.
Questions and Feedback from Students in Attendance
A concern was raised about the graphs that Iuliano utilized to explain the raise in student wages. The student claimed the graphs were deceptive in their illustration of student wages versus faculty and staff wages. Ehrlich said that they would fix the graphs, and she addressed the concern about student wages.
“Wages are a problem,” Ehrlich said. “We actually are going to be convening a taskforce. We will be putting students on that to try and address it [the issues with wages].”
Another student expressed concern over the changes in class sizes and caps, and he had the belief that the number of science labs would be cut, eliminated or merged with other sections. The student also heard from professors that funding for the STEM departments was depleting.
Bookwala answered that labs are not being cut, yet the teaching credits for labs could count differently for faculty. She shared that nothing has been finalized, and she is waiting to hear back from department chairs and faculty members to evaluate decisions.
A student then raised concern over course offerings, and Bookwala answered that some courses may become less frequent in order to build demand and interest for them. Bookwala also mentioned that visiting and adjunct faculty are switching to a semester-by-semester appointment.
“At the college, in the past, it used to be five courses a year that you [visiting faculty] could teach. We now are going to a semester-by-semester appointment so that we can be more nimble about what our needs are,” Bookwala said. “So, in some sense, it is not a layoff for a visiting faculty member who is here only for a short period of time. We are keeping them, they are honoring their contract, and then they will move on, we will hope, to a tenure faculty position.”
Another student asked for clarification on the curriculum changes as he felt that faculty in the language departments were being marginalized by the changes. Bookwala said that the faculty are responsible for their own curriculum, and she addressed the possibility of combining the languages into one department for administrative reasons.
“In terms of languages, we are thinking of combining them, more for administrative reasons. So we would have a single Languages and Literary Studies Department that would have different languages. Again, no decisions have been made, but we have had some earlier discussions.”
Bookwala reiterated that the administration will have opportunities for professors and departments to voice their concern over the proposed ideas. She shared that next semester, administration members will go to faculty members in order to discuss and brainstorm innovative ways to combine departments. Bookwala reiterated that there is no plan to shut down any one or all of the language departments.
The last student concern was raised over the abrupt nature that decisions have been made in. The student expressed that decisions have been made without understanding or prior communication, such as the decisions with the international student insurance and the Gettysburg Review. Ehrlich shared that this is why Bookwala did not have all the answers for students at the meeting and why further decisions have not been solidified.
“We can’t make abrupt decisions anymore,” Ehrlich said. “This is why Jamila does not have all the answers that you want about what is going to happen on the academic side. The tradeoff of inclusive decision making, which we’ve learned some lessons about, is that we have to have more process.”
Bookwala was not going to be available for the second scheduled meeting with student leaders, so Ehrlich announced that the meeting will be rescheduled for a later time in order to allow for her attendance.
Ehrlich additionally announced that this information will also be shared at the Student Senate meeting on Monday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in CUB 260.