Statement of Board Activity

Board Meeting: February 22-24, 2018

The Sweet Briar Board of Directors convened its February meeting as the College’s celebration of National Engineers Week (sponsored by Google and attended by students and guests from around the Central Virginia area) drew to a close.

Board Chairwoman Teresa Tomlinson opened by welcoming new board member Liza Lee to her first meeting. After a brief overview of the objectives for this meeting, Tomlinson invited President Meredith Woo to provide her College update.

President Woo focused her comments on the three core objectives of the College’s current strategic plan: 1) implementation of the academic repositioning; 2) implementation of the tuition reset initiative; and 3) making the College operationally sustainable.

She reminded us that the goal of the academic repositioning is to make Sweet Briar unique/distinctive within an increasingly competitive market of higher education choices. Each existing major and minor was assessed for student demand and relation to core liberal arts curriculum. This repositioning is an opportunity to revitalize and strengthen the humanities and foreign languages at Sweet Briar. Not only can the College produce brilliant French and Spanish language programs that are immersive, but it can add immersive programs in other language such as Arabic or Russian. Innovative opportunities for world-class partnerships are being pursued, but our collaborators must remain confidential until we have formal agreements signed.

The tuition reset has now put Sweet Briar on par, cost-wise, with tuition at flagship state university institutions, which will allow for collaborative programming. All steps are taken with the goal of bringing the College’s operation revenues and expenses in line for operational sustainability.

President Woo asked Interim Vice President of Finance Rocky Query to provide a financial update. Mr. Query noted first that the endowment has shown solid performance with a balance of nearly $77 million, while the balance sheet has improved due to the College’s reduction of debt. Some highlights of the report include:

  • Balance Sheet is stronger than in FY16 with total net assets growing by nearly $10.5 million through the combined effects of:
    • Approximately $4 million in pledges to the endowment;
    • Investment returns of more than $7 million above and beyond our spending allocation from the endowment; and
    • Retirement of the 2011 Bonds at a discount of more than $2.5 million.
  • Nearly $970,000 was spent on campus capital improvements.
  • Total debt outstanding declined from $23.7 million to $20.4 million as a result of the buyback of the SunTrust loan by the endowment; publicly held debt was reduced to $14.4 million.
  • Total reported endowment funds grew by nearly $6.3 million.
  • Operating revenues saw an increase in net tuition revenues as full-time equivalent enrollment increased by 54 to a total of 369, however, the College continues to see a net operating loss as it makes progress on right-sizing its campus resources with the current size of the student body.
  • A series of revenue enhancement opportunities are being explored, including maximizing the College’s farm management potential consistent with the new Center for Human and Environmental Sustainability.

Melissa Richards, vice president of communications and enrollment management, then provided an update:

  • In order to combat persisting rumors that Sweet Briar closed, and to build confidence with our constituents — prospective students as well as influencers such as parents, teachers and counselors — the College has invested in a comprehensive advertising campaign at strategic locations and through particular media in key markets, including online digital, print media, radio and digital billboards at regional airports and malls. Positive impact data, as well as anecdotal responses, have been received.
  • Applications are up 25 percent, and the College is cautiously optimistic that it will meet its goal for incoming students for the fall of 2018.
  • 272 fairs have been attended by College staff, plus 136 additional fairs covered by admissions ambassadors (alumnae and parents).
  • Nearly 2,500 inquiry cards have been received, plus more than 1,500 additional inquiry cards generated by admissions ambassadors.
  • 78 high school students have attended Explore events since the fall. We’ve hosted 174 individual campus visits and organized multiple open houses with 140 attendees so far this year.
  • Nearly 70 students competed for this year’s Presidential Scholarships — more than ever before.
  • Tuition reset data shows us now competing for students beyond the pool of single-sex educational institutions, though numerous college profile websites and reporting agencies will not update our tuition reset until this spring.
  • We are pursuing targeted international recruitment in Asia and South America and have seen a good response from those activities.

Academic Dean Lynn Rainville reported that the new course catalog would be published at the end of March and that the faculty was making great strides in creating exciting courses under the new Center of Excellence model.

The board had a working lunch where various business items were discussed and voted on. Given the need to adjust the agenda for efficient time management, the Finance Committee provided its report during the working lunch. The board approved the 2017 single audit of federal expenditures; reviewed and approved rates and charges for the upcoming academic year, and approved the endowment distribution formula for FY19.

Per the College bylaws, the board received annual reports from the Alumnae Alliance, the Student Government Association and the faculty:

  • The Alumnae Alliance presented a comprehensive report of their organizational structure, engagement efforts and accomplishments. By accepted valuation criteria, Sweet Briar alumnae have provided $13.8 million per year in professional and other volunteer services.
  • Student representatives presented observations and accomplishments related to student life, including student organizations, tap clubs, social events, student support services such as resident advisors, the new food service and clinic service, and other milestones of the past year.
  • Faculty representatives reporting included both the chair of the Faculty Executive Committee, Hank Yochum, and the directors of the three centers of excellence. An overview was provided of the progress being made in the refinement of the centers of excellence, including course development and the faculty progress related to the academic repositioning.

On Friday evening, Feb. 23, the board dinner was held at the Vixen Den, with honored guests Mary Pope Hutson (vice president for alumnae relations and development) and Sarah von Rosenberg and Debra Elkins (co-chairs of the Alumnae Alliance). Tomlinson presented board resolutions to Ms. Hutson, Ms. Von Rosenberg and Ms. Elkins for distinguished professional achievement and extraordinary service to Sweet Briar College.

On Saturday morning, Feb. 24, the board reconvened. Committee reports were presented.

The Advancement Committee presented an update on the General Fund on fundraising efforts for FY2018 and beyond. A five-year projection of alumnae pledges was provided. A report was given of the president’s 28-city tour to meet with alumnae across the country. The College saw a solid year-end giving response in December 2017, and expects a strong giving response, particularly in regard to participation, in March 2018, May/June Reunion giving and fiscal year-end giving. The College is on track to meet its Annual Fund fundraising goal.

The Directors Committee recommended three new members for the board:

  • Claude Wasserstein ’82, of New York, New York, is a French-American investor, former news producer and philanthropist. In 2017, she received the Chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest order of merit for military and civil merits. Claude’s daughter, Lucy, will be an incoming first-year in the fall of 2018.
  • Karen Jackson of Richmond is the former secretary of technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia and is a passionate advocate for women in technology sectors. Karen was born in Newport News. She attended Christopher Newport University and received an MBA from the College of William and Mary.
  • John Alford of Lynchburg is a graduate of Virginia Episcopal School, the University of Virginia and Washington and Lee School of Law. He has served on numerous boards in the Lynchburg community. His wife, Courtney Banton Alford, is a graduate of Sweet Briar College, Class of 1987.

All three candidates were unanimously approved. The Directors Committee will present three additional names for board membership consideration at the next meeting. The Committee will also send board self-assessment surveys for all members to complete.

The Governance Committee presented a recommended amendment to the bylaws to add an Audit Committee, separate and apart from the Finance Committee. The recommendation was unanimously approved.

The Building and Grounds Committee reported on a number of current projects, including a review of a report that prioritizes capital improvements to support the curricular repositioning, an examination of approaches to improve our HVAC and other energy needs, with an emphasis on sustainable energy sources. Plans also include providing more livestream and YouTube video of campus events to offer content to alumnae, prospective students and their parents and others. In addition, various efforts related to the Sustainability Center, such as a revival of the farm, farm-to-table and other initiatives were presented.

The Alumnae Committee also reported on their alumnae outreach and the online alumnae idea submission results. The online idea submission effort assigns submissions into categories for follow-up. Examples of ideas submitted and the status of each include:

Complete

  • Make admissions materials more career-focused
  • Put a suggestion box out at Reunion

In Process

  • Continue to engage and include young alumnae in the
    Alumnae Alliance Council
  • Continue developing suggestions for admissions staff and volunteers to visit specific schools

Hold for Future Consideration

  • Establish an integrative nutrition program
  • Get StoryCorps to come to SBC to record alumnae stories (adopted with slight variation)

Infeasible

  • Sell bricks from Tusculum at Reunion (not part of plans for Tusculum)
  • Move Reunion to early May

Other plans for alumnae engagement were presented, including an alumnae survey.

The board meeting was adjourned at 11:30 a.m., and the board members and executive staff moved to Prothro for lunch with students, faculty and alumnae. At 12:15, the board hosted a panel discussion regarding current issues and initiatives of the College. The panel consisted of President Woo, Vice Chair of the Board Georgene Vairo, Melissa Richards and Interim Dean of Students Marcia Thom-Kaley. The panel discussion was moderated by Tomlinson and was broadcast via livestream on the College’s website. Click here for more information about the panel discussion and to watch the video.