The Board of Trustees retreat gives updates on university and vision for the future
The Board of Trustees, which has great influence over the university’s finances and ongoing projects, convened for their annual retreat on Thursday and Friday. The retreat is an opportunity for the administration to discuss the status of the university and for the trustees to design its business strategy going forward. They sat down for a series of presentations and group discussions in the Audion of the tower on Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) campus, which is itself one of the major jewels of the university’s portfolio of profitable business ventures to show investors.
The retreat comes at a time when the university is acquiring more property within Newark and expanding its relationships with businesses across the nation. University President Dennis Assanis intends to prepare the university for a changing economy and an ever-growing market of students.
“Today is an opportunity to show our trustees the impact we make on the world, but perhaps more importantly, how the higher ed industry is going to change a lot in the next 30 to 40 years, and how we need to show that we will anticipate and respond to those changes,” Assanis said.
This is the second year that the Board of Trustees retreat has not been so tightly hidden behind closed doors. Delaware State Senator David Sokola (D-District 8) noted on Friday that Assanis is diverting from previous administrations, such as that of Patrick Harker, by allowing more public scrutiny of the retreat.
“I think it’s great that we have an opportunity to sit in and listen,” Sokola, chair of the State Senate’s Capital Improvement Committee said. “It wasn’t always this transparent. I’ve fought so hard to open it to this point, and I feel I have an obligation to be here. Harker had a more rigid, business-oriented mind, and I think it’s better understood now that this place is so much more than just a business, it’s first and foremost an institution of higher ed.”
Last year’s trustee retreat at the Courtyard Marriott Hotel on North Campus was briefly interrupted by a small protest. Although this year’s retreat was less eventful, this still shows the degree to which the public is interested in the Board of Trustee’s activities.
On Oct. 3, the first day of the retreat, Assanis outlined the areas in which the university has grown over the course of this fiscal year.
Regarding the incoming class of 2023, Assanis reported that these freshmen represented both the most diverse class — consisting of 723 students from underrepresented minority groups — and the largest class of Delawareans of the decade — with 1,407 of the 4,146 new students on the Newark campus being in-state. Assanis also announced that the university would aim to add 1,000 new undergraduates from abroad by sending an international admissions team to visit and recruit from “key markets” in Asia, Latin America and the Middle East and from “niche markets” in Africa. The majority of the university’s international students come from China, with 805 undergraduate and 554 graduate students.
According to a statement by the Institute of International Education, the number of new international students enrolled at American institutions declined for the first time in 2016 by nearly 10,000 students to about 291,000, representing a 3% decrease from the previous year.
Rodney Morrison, vice president for Enrollment Management at the university, suggested that, assuming the applicant pool remains roughly the same, the creation of a summer semester program specifically for international students could also attract more of them to the university.
Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Michael Chajes, the director of the university’s Honors Program, announced that the Class of 2023 also had the largest number of freshman honors students in the university’s history at 638.
“Updating the trustees on the Honors Program and its road forward was a key part of this retreat, today,” Matthew Robinson, president of the Faculty Senate and professor of hospitality business management, said. “It is very important to attract more and more students here to the Honors Program to retain academic excellence. I was enlightened to see the change in the demographics going into higher ed now, and it’s important that we position ourselves to be on top of that changing market.”
Assanis also showed the university’s change in operating revenue over the past decade. According to Assanis, the percentage of revenue provided to the university via tuition and fees has grown from 44% in 2010 to 51% in 2018.
During that same time, the percentage of revenue provided to the university by state appropriations has dropped from 14% to 10%, research has dropped from 19% to 15% and endowment has dropped from 5% to 4%.
As appropriations from the state have decreased, the university has relied more and more upon payouts from endowment spending.
Broadening the availability of scholarships and aid was another major theme of the day’s talks.
“The university could drive further enrollment increases in the coming years by restructuring financial aid packages by layering scholarship money onto specific academic programs such as engineering and ensuring financial aid packaging is ‘in-line’ with key competitors and comparator institutions,” Morrison said.
Assanis repeated his proposal, which he first announced at this year’s first meeting of the Faculty Senate on Sept. 9, to create a policy which would cover the full tuition and mandatory fees for in-state students whose family incomes are below $61,000 annually.
The university’s economic impact on both the state of Delaware and the broader Northeast Corridor was another key theme of Thursday’s presentations. According to Assanis, the university supported an estimated $4.7 billion in economic activity and an associated 33,320 jobs in the Northeast Corridor. In Delaware alone, the university supported $2.8 billion in economic activity and 24,450 jobs.
“For every $1 invested by the State, U.D. generates $23 in Delaware’s economy,” Assanis said.
Additionally, Assanis plans to continue the campus’s physical growth by integrating full campus land holdings and reserving new lands for longer-term opportunities. These “brick-and-mortar” investments in the university’s physical infrastructure are, according to Assanis, key to sustaining its relevance as a major university and an economic driver in the region, especially considering the increasing amount of new students coming each year.
Christopher Brisbin contributed reporting to this article.