Mid-Term Update, January 2011

January 26, 2011

To Members of the Trinity College Community:

As has been my custom in recent years, I am writing to provide a mid-term update on our present academic year.  This report comes with my continuing gratitude to our faculty and staff for the abundant ways in which you enrich our community.  On a daily basis, you help nurture Trinity’s excellence and its vitality.  As I hope my narrative will demonstrate, your contributions and efforts are yielding remarkable dividends.

The Board of Trustees met in New York on January 21, with its principal focus on discussing and approving the College’s budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins July 1, 2011.  Before I offer highlights on that budget, I want to express my appreciation, and that of the Board, to the Planning and Budget Council (PBC) that prepared next year’s budget proposal for presentation first to me, then for review by the Trustee Finance Committee, and ultimately, the full Board.  The PBC has played a critical role in the budget process, has sought and welcomed constructive opinions from other standing faculty and staff committees, and has worked diligently, not just to produce a balanced budget proposal but also to weigh carefully the balance of ambitions and needs that characterize each new budget preparation.  Rena Fraden, Paul Mutone, and I are grateful to the members of the PBC for their professionalism.

The Trustees approved the proposed balanced operation budget of $115.65 million for fiscal year 2012.  This is a 3.01% increase over the fiscal year 2011 budget.  Included in this 2012 budget is a comprehensive fee increase of 3.88%, which will set next year’s charges for tuition, room, board, and fees at $55,450.  At the same time, the Board approved a financial aid budget of $34.3 million, an addition of $2.8 million, so that we can continue to sustain a level of 36% of the student body receiving need-based aid from Trinity.  I will comment later on our financial aid issues.

The approved budget includes a compensation increase of 3.5%.  One half of one percent of this increase will be used to restore the College’s contribution rate to employee pension accounts to 9% of base salary.  The remaining 3% of the compensation increase will be used to increase the salaries and wages of all employees except for those covered under a collective bargaining unit.  As noted during the fall enrollment period, health insurance premiums will rise just under 10%.  The premium cost sharing between the College and employees will remain unchanged.

I am especially grateful to our faculty and staff for your understanding and acceptance of this current year’s freeze in compensation.  I am pleased that we are now able to restore next year’s compensation increase at a rate significantly higher than was originally modeled for fiscal year 2011 in last January’s 5-year budget proposal.

Beyond this important budget information, I also have other news to report.  At the Trustee meeting, Larry Dow, our dean of admissions and financial aid, told the Board that the applicant pool for the Class of 2015 has risen nearly 45% to a record level of almost 7,000 young women and men.  This is stunning news, indeed, and a compliment to the hard work of our admissions team, as well as a testament to Trinity’s national reputation.  While we are aware of other peer colleges reporting increases in their applicant pools (and some others reporting declines), we are not aware of any other institution whose application increase is of this magnitude.  This is extraordinary, to say the least.  When you see Larry and his staff, please thank them for their effective promotion of the College, and share your sympathetic understanding of the work that must now ensue to evaluate this year’s applicant pool while building the Class of 2015.  Nearly 200 early decision candidates have already been accepted.  Our class target for next fall is 590 students, comparable to the 591 students who enrolled in the Class of 2014.

Encouraged as I am by these unprecedented admissions results, I am similarly pleased that the Cornerstone and Legacy campaigns continue to make progress.  The Cornerstone Campaign has now exceeded $220 million in gifts and pledges, towards a June 30, 2012 target of $300 million.  The period from September to December 2010 was the fourth highest quarter for gifts and pledges since we launched this campaign in 2006.  This recent progress reflects, we believe, an improved philanthropic attitude among prospective donors, as well as an increased level of solicitation activity by volunteers and staff now that the national economic climate seems to be improving.  We have $80 million more to raise in the next 17 months, and we remain optimistic about closing on time and on target.

The Legacy Campaign, encouraging donors to include Trinity in their estate plans, is now over $58 million towards its current goal of $60 million.  We will surely exceed that goal (which was initially $50 million).  Indeed, it is my long-term hope that we can record $100 million or more in these future estate gifts by 2015.  This is a future pipeline of enormous value to Trinity in the decades ahead.

Earlier I referred to our financial aid budget for fiscal year 2012, targeting 36% of our students on need-based aid.  While it is too early to know specifically the financial aid profiles of our nearly 7,000 applicants this year, I think we can safely anticipate a high demand for our limited resources.  As I have indicated regularly, improving the level of financial aid resources must be one of Trinity’s highest priorities.  Among a peer college list of 25 institutions, Trinity is near the bottom for the percentage of students receiving institutional aid.  Many of our peers have rates of 50% or higher.  We are losing excellent students with demonstrated need to some of those institutions with richer resources for scholarships.

I am pleased that three current Trustees, Emily Bogle ’79, Jeff Kelter ’76, and Tim Walsh ’85, have agreed to lead a focused campaign to raise $100 million more in financial aid endowments by 2015.  Approximately half of that ambition is already part of the Cornerstone Campaign goal by 2012.  When we are successful with this initiative, we hope that we can support up to 45% of each class on Trinity aid.  Achieving that outcome is essential for our excellence and our competitiveness, at the highest levels, in student recruitment.  While financial aid is a key priority, so, too, is continued attention to academic excellence.  I have several pieces of news to report in this very important area.

Dean Xiangming Chen and I have just returned from a visit to China, where I met with growing constituencies of alumni in Hong Kong and Shanghai.  Most importantly, I met with the President of Fudan University in Shanghai and came to the agreement in principle that our respective institutions would exchange faculty and students beginning in 2012.  Fudan is China’s second most prestigious university.  At present, it has educational relationships with just four distinguished American research universities: Yale, Penn, Washington University, and Georgetown.  We can now add Trinity to that impressive list.  I invited President Yang to visit Trinity in April as we continue our planning conversations.  I look forward to introducing him to the Trinity community at that time.

As another commitment to academic excellence, I am pleased to report that a donor, at present anonymous, has stepped forward to endow completely the College’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL), so ably headed by Professors Dina Anselmi and Gary Reger.  You may recall that the Mellon Foundation provided seed money to launch the CTL, while we made a promise to find the resources to endow it permanently.  The donor’s $1.5 million gift commitment is especially generous and a very encouraging investment in the centrality of teaching and learning to our community.  This is a very satisfying development.

As you know, we have welcomed 24 new faculty colleagues in the past three years, and have active searches for three more in anticipation of hiring for fiscal year 2011.  Our new faculty have brought impressive credentials and new intellectual vitality to our academic community.  They have come to us at a time when other colleges and universities have been freezing searches.  I have been impressed by our new faculty and their intellectual and professional vigor, just as I have been heartened by the genuine welcome offered by our senior faculty to their new colleagues.  Further, it was pleasing to read the November article in the Chronicle of Higher Education that included Trinity College among a list of only 30 institutions saluted for being especially supportive of recent faculty hires.  We will continue to do everything in our power to create a nurturing environment to help launch new faculty for successful careers at Trinity.

I will close with two additional reports, and a brief expression about a hopeful future.

At last week’s Board meeting, Paul Mutone reported that the December 31, 2010, value of the endowment had risen to approximately $386 million in market value.  This is more than a $110 million increase from our nadir of $275 million, in March, 2009.  But it is still below our highest value of over $441 million on June 30, 2007.  While we can take some comfort in the growth I just referenced, we continue to trail all but two NESCAC peers in this category.  Even as the financial markets seem to be showing positive signs, we must continue to press hard in fundraising and stay disciplined with a prudent level of spending from our endowment.  We are not in a race we can win in surpassing NESCAC rivals in endowment values.  Our true race is against our own ambitions, for endowed chairs, in financial aid resources, and for other key areas of the College.  We need to expand our endowment to meet our aspirations for excellence in academics and for greater access for students of promise, as two primary examples.

Just as we are focused on growing that endowment, we are equally intent on ways to improve the campus and its facilities.  We have recently completed a renovation and expansion to the Sculpture Studio on campus, a $500,000 project funded by the College’s operating budget allocation for strategic initiatives. Work is under way, with completion expected shortly, to develop our first dedicated neurosciences teaching laboratory in Jacobs.  Funded by a generous gift from Trustee Michael Loberg ’69, P’00 and his wife, Melinda, this new lab is phase I of providing modern science facilities for this growing discipline.  Phase II involves a second suite of labs and offices for neuroscience and psychology, projected to cost approximately $3.5 million, to be built as an addition to Jacobs.  Michael Loberg will chair this new fundraising initiative just being launched.

Even more progress has been made on a new music performance and rehearsal center that will be co-located with the proposed new neurosciences suite.  A very generous donor, who for the present wishes to remain anonymous, has committed $2.5 million towards this $5 million project.  Another donor has committed $250,000.  Fundraising will continue until the full amount is secured.

An additional donor has come forward with a strong interest in improving the landscaping and other features of the Mather Quad.  Plans are in the development stage to enhance the lighting, the walkways, and the landscaping in that part of campus, while improving exterior features of the Cave and creating a small, natural outdoor amphitheatre for performances from the front of Austin.  We will offer a public opportunity to see and discuss those plans in either February or March.

Finally, speaking of Austin, that building has been receiving considerable attention since this summer.  A new roof has been installed.  Issues of mold have received remedial work, and moldy costumes and art have been sent out for cleaning and restoration.  At the same time, now that Austin has seen several areas of improvement, we are in the early stages of contemplating how philanthropic dollars could expand and improve Austin for greater use by those interested in the visual and performing arts.  I will report further as new ideas and plans become more defined.

I hope you will agree there is success and progress at Trinity on many fronts.  I am encouraged by this year’s admissions results, not just because they offer a highly competitive selection process but also because they signal a strong national interest in Trinity and its programs.  Alumni, parents, and others continue to invest in Trinity because of their commitment to our core mission and their acknowledgement of how we have carefully stewarded our resources during these past two challenging economic years.  These donors share our vision for Trinity and our pursuit of excellence.

Our physical plant continues to offer challenges and opportunities.  We are not standing still.  Our budgeting for plant renewal has increased.  Dialogues with donors are leading to some real improvements.  We have a better sense of our needs than at any time in my presidency.  The renovation and restoration of the Long Walk was a major first step.  The new steps I have outlined will make a qualitative difference, too.

Our u

nassailed strength is you, our faculty and staff.  I will never be able to thank you adequately for the countless (and often unrecognized) ways you manifest our educational mission.  As I travel the nation and world for Trinity, I hear story after story about how a faculty member, or a coach, or a staff member has mentored and supported our students.  Your impact is truly legendary.  You are the face of Trinity.

Together, we have survived troubling times with grace and a sense of purpose.  Trinity’s future is bright, both because its mission is noble and because people on and off this campus care deeply about its health and vitality.

I am proud to serve as your President and even prouder to share in our service to Trinity together.

Thank you.

Yours very truly,          

James F. Jones, Jr.
President and Trinity College
Professor in the Humanities                

P.S.  I have learned in the past 24 hours that five Trinity students have reached the finalist level for possible Fulbright awards. While the ultimate decisions on their candidacies still remain, this encouraging opportunity is yet another reflection on the talent of our students and the influences of their Trinity mentors.