Board Meeting: Sept. 27-28, 2019
The meeting began with Chair Georgene Vairo welcoming the Board’s newest members, Lendon Gray, SBC ’71, who is well known to the Sweet Briar community as well as in the global equestrian world, and Stephen P. “Steve” Smiley, the managing partner of Madison Lane Partners, LLC, a private advisory firm in Dallas, Texas. She then announced that the meeting focus would be on enrollment, retention and finances. She then turned the meeting over to President Woo for her Update on enrollment strategies.
President Meredith Woo began by stating that 116 new on-campus students enrolled for the Fall of 2019: 103 true first year students and 13 transfer students. She discussed some of the reasons for falling short on our enrollment for this class: the likely effect of Virginia Tech’s over-enrollment by approximately 1500 new students cost us because many of our applicants cross-applied to Virginia Tech; the detrimental effect of Virginia’s support for public institutions rather than to private colleges, on Sweet Briar and other small private colleges in the state; the emerging trend of large public universities in other states targeting Virginia students; among other things. President Woo predicted that these and other factors are likely to result in continued enrollment volatility for private colleges. She said that by strategically positioning Sweet Briar as a niche school, with expertise in areas of our excellence, should allow the College to withstand these challenges.
President Woo additionally shared her three-pronged strategy for growing enrollment and increasing student retention: 1) Pipeline, 2) Alumnae Ambassadors, and, 3) Fly-In program.
Pipelines: Three of the College’s strongest areas, with capacity for increased numbers of students, are being targeted with the pipeline approach: Athletics/Equestrian, STEM/engineering and international students. Pipelines involve a team of staff, faculty and others strategizing, planning outreach, and seeking out and recruiting students in their particular pipeline. The pipeline efforts do not replace, but are in addition to the work of the regular Admissions office teams. The key to the pipeline approach is to make Vice Presidents and cabinet members accountable for results within their pipelines of responsibility. Other pipeline teams are working on areas such as sustainability, business, Girl Scouts, arts and creativity, and more.
Alumnae Admissions Ambassadors: Ambassadors will be trained and deployed in previously untried ways. Alumnae volunteers will initially recruit and work with prospective students during the application process and encourage admitted students to matriculate.
Fly-In Program: A special donor is sponsoring a “fly-in” program which supports bringing prospective students to campus and giving them the best experience possible during their campus visits. History teaches us that when prospective students visit the Sweet Briar campus, a large percentage submit applications and matriculate.
Finally, President Woo reported on enrollment efforts she is working on including possible collaborations with Virginia Tech, Amazon, and the Rockefeller Foundation.
President Woo then turned a discussion of plans to enhance college-wide collaboration in improving student retention. She pointed to our success in retaining student/athletes as a model for all students.
Chair Vairo welcomed Dean Teresa Garrett to her first board meeting. Dean Garrett was asked to review the College’s Fall to Fall, first time, first year retention rate and first year full time graduation rates. She then reviewed the College’s retention plan, which involves enhanced faculty advising efforts as well as collaboration with Student Life. Dean Garrett also explained how analysis of institutional datasets will enable us to fine-tune admission metrics to ensure student success.
Dean Garrett said that she found faculty to be deeply committed to SBC, its students, and our community. She further commented on the importance of academic advising for a rich, engaged experience for our students and how that is critical for our retention efforts. She noted that our faculty is fully on board with retention efforts.
Luther Griffith reviewed the FY 2019 Budget to Actuals explaining that FY19 expenses were higher than budgeted and that tuition revenue was lower than expected due to shortfalls in enrollment and cash fundraising. He also led the board through a discussion of the revised FY20 budget.
Mr. Griffith then turned to a discussion of the endowment. He defined of various endowment fund types, and endowment investment results.
Mr. Griffith responded to board questions about the budget to actual report. The board and administration all agreed that there is a need to accelerate enrollment growth to ensure financial stability.
Guest Working Lunch Speaker
President Woo introduced Joanne Soliday, who co-founded CREDO Higher Education, a consulting company assisting the College with enrollment. Ms. Soliday discussed the challenges of recruiting college students today. She told the Board that any successful college recruitment strategy must include courageous and collaborative leadership, a compelling vision and a culture of planning and strategic risk. CREDO recommends that in addition to the historical “funnel” admissions strategy, colleges should utilize a Pipeline strategy, as Sweet Briar has.
Mary Pope Hutson shared that the alumnae base, foundations and corporate relations teams are optimistic about the College. With visionary leadership and a dynamic team now in place, the College is planning to proceed with a campaign to fund President Woo’s strategic priorities. Ms. Hutson reminded the board that the campaign is not a capital campaign but is instead a Priority Campaign designed to be budget relieving, with goals targeted toward funding scholarships, academic innovation, and our natural and built environment. She noted that during the fourteen city visits scheduled for President Woo for the fall, there will be alumnae events as well as events that include prospective students and their parents, and meetings with high school counselors.
SBC / VCCA Collaboration
Georgene Vairo introduced Kevin O’Halloran, Interim Executive Director, Virginia Center for Creative Arts (VCCA), Betty Forsyth Harris ’60 VCCA Honorary Board Member, and Professor Carrie Brown, Director of the SBC Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts. Ms. Harris and Mr. O’Halloran discussed the history of collaboration between VCCA and SBC, and, Mr. O’Halloran shared details on current initiatives, including the current Fellows Studio course, VCCA Salons and the Forsyth Fellowship.
Professor Brown provided an update on the Center for Creativity, Design and the Arts, highlighting initiatives and sharing students’ positive responses to those initiatives. Most significantly, more students have participated in programs than previously, and the number and range of artists on campus has been expanded.
Board Campus Tours
The meeting was adjourned for the day and board members departed for their selected tour options:
- Trail walk: the renewed walking trails of Sweet Briar College with Gary Canfield, Business and Finance Project Manager
- Thinking large about agricultural initiatives with Lea Harvey, Director of Foundation and Corporate Relations and Nathan Kluger, Director of Agricultural Enterprises
- Where does Sweet Briar begin and end? van tour with Rich Meyer, Director of Physical Plant
The meeting resumed at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning for Board Committee Reports.
Finance Committee Chair Gillian Munson set forth the Committee’s recommendation on several matters: Approving releases to balance the FY2019 budget, and to ensure cash flow for the revised FY2020 budget, and an updated Investment Policy Statement for the Board’s OCIO.
Committee on Academic and Student Excellence
Lynn Pasquerella provided a review of the CASE meeting that took place on Thursday. The college is reviewing and undertaking further planning for the 3-12-12-3 semesters, Leadership Core and Centers of Excellence. There is a commitment to the stability of the current majors to allow Admissions staff, faculty and students to feel confident of the offerings. The VFIC Tri-College Consortium provides additional resources around foreign languages. The College is firmly focused on student success. She explained how first-year academic advisors, major advisors, first year mentors play an important role in ensuring student success at Sweet Briar. The SACSCOC reaccreditation ten-year review will take place in 2021. A board presence will be needed during the process because board governance will be among the matters evaluated. Further, it was noted that updating the transfer policy is vital to Admissions’ success with dual enrollment and transfer students.
Alumnae Relations, Communications and Advancement Committee
Sally Mott Freeman reported on the first meeting of the consolidated committee, noting the need for the committee to create a mission statement and to consider a change to the name, specifically replacing “Alumnae Relations” with “Alumnae Engagement.” There was discussion around the role and makeup of the committee. Finally, she noted that the committee will consider methods for supporting the College’s efforts in enrollment and retention, and will support the Alumnae Alliance and College in their alumnae engagement efforts.
Georgene Vairo presented a board travel policy for the board’s consideration which essentially requires each board member to cover their own costs to attend meetings. The recommendation was unanimously approved.
Chair Vairo announced the results of the elections that took place in an Executive Session of the Board: 1) The Board unanimously approved the Officer Slate recommended by the Governance Committee – Georgene Vairo, Chair, Andrew Benjamin, Vice Chair, and Fred “Buzzy” Griffin, Secretary. 2) Pursuant to the Board Bylaws, Scheline Crutchfield was elected as the Board At Large Executive Committee member. 3) Pursuant to the Board Bylaws, the Board ratified Chair Georgene Vairo’s recommendation that Gillian Munson serve as Chair of the Finance Committee and member of the Executive Committee and that Mason Rummel serve as Chair of the Governance Committee and member of the Executive Committee.
Chair Vairo reaffirmed the Board’s commitment to supporting President Woo’s vision for and the direction of the College. She further noted on behalf of the board her deep appreciation for President Woo’s and her Cabinet’s hard work.
President Woo commented that the last two years have been a time of tremendous change and challenges. She is confident that the College is now in a good place to successfully move forward as a unique and historically significant place, uniquely situated to be a dynamic niche college.