It seems almost impossible that we have already begun the spring semester of the 2011-12 academic year. Time certainly does fly when you’re having so much fun and there are so many enjoyable activities on campus.
The big concern as we looked toward this past fall was enrollment. We graduated our largest class ever in May 2011, and with less-than-favorable demographics and a still-sputtering economy, we were very concerned. What transpired was one of the best team efforts with which I have ever been associated. Led by our admissions team but including many faculty, staff, and friends of the college as well, we were able to recruit our largest freshman class ever (848) resulting in our largest overall enrollment of 3,205 FTE students.
Our goal always is to have 3,000 full-time-equivalent students on campus to begin the fall semester. This is the number at which we can operate most efficiently and effectively. Typically, we have 125 FTE students studying in off-campus programs each fall.
Gratefully, we did not reduce our standards (the freshman class had an average high school GPA of 3.78 and an average ACT of 26+), nor did we “buy” students by offering financial aid packages that were unsustainable long-term. Rather, our message was to convey with as much integrity as we could muster the worth of a Hope College education.
Hope’s pricing philosophy clearly identifies us as an outlier in today’s market. With the Board of Trustees’ encouragement, we price low (with a lower sticker price by far than other institutions in the Great Lakes Colleges Association, our academic consortium group), provide generous but not unsustainable financial aid packages, and try to keep tuition, room, and board increases near or even below inflation. For example, our 2011-12 tuition, room, and board increase was 1.9 percent versus a national average of 4.6 percent for all private colleges. How is Hope able to do this? Carefully, of course! But, realistically, disciplined effort to control costs, strategic financial planning, targeted stewardship efforts, and diligent student recruiting and fundraising efforts make it possible. Thus far we’re very pleased with the results of this concerted effort.
Hope College is once again identified as providing a best value among private institutions according to the annual rankings by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. The listing recognizes colleges and universities that deliver a high-quality education at an affordable cost, with Hope 68th out of 200 cited in the rankings. Every college in the country was evaluated. “Hope placed in the top 200 because of a high four-year graduation rate, low average student debt at graduation, good student-to-faculty ratio, excellent on-campus resources, and overall great value,” according to the publisher.
A Greater Hope
In addition to enrollment, a second major concern this past fall was the funding for our comprehensive campaign, A Greater Hope. As many of you know, this past fall the college moved from the “quiet” phase to the public launching of this ambitious campaign. The goals and components of the campaign are now clearly identified, and we are aggressively pursuing both. We seek $175 million by July 1, 2013. To date, $141 million has been committed. The components include:
Projects yet to be completed include the following:
As is our current practice, construction begins on these projects when the project cost and a 25-percent maintenance endowment are fully pledged so that tomorrow’s generations will not be saddled with bond repayments and maintenance costs on buildings we build today.
Gratefully, we have very generous multi-million-dollar lead gifts for each of our initiatives. Yet, these gifts alone will not, nor should they, suffice. We will not reach our goal unless all of us as friends and alumni of Hope contribute as we are able, perhaps even sacrificially. There is an urgency about this campaign as we seek to complete funding in a timely fashion. So, today I’m asking every friend and all alumni of Hope to think and act on how you might help Hope achieve this lofty goal by contributing generously to the annual Hope Fund, pledging to the endowment or building projects, and/or making provision for a gift through your estate planning. Every gift, large or small, will help us to be successful. We are confident this goal of $175 million for A Greater Hope is achievable, because we were successful ($161 million) with our Legacies campaign completed in 2005.
Hope has a beautiful campus with attractive, well-maintained, and timeless buildings. Yet, we don’t build new facilities just to have nice buildings. Rather, we build buildings so that students and faculty can perform at the very highest levels. Hope also has excellent programs. But, what makes Hope special is people—and especially the extent to which faculty, staff, friends, and alumni invest in the lives of students. So, if you want to be dynamically involved with Hope—a college that changes lives, a place with exceptionality in academics, superiority in intercollegiate sport and co-curricular activities, and excellence in character and faith development—invest in Hope. It will positively influence present and future generations of students, as it has yours and mine, for both time and eternity.
Hope enjoys an enviable town-gown relationship with the greater Holland area—the result of intentional efforts by the city and college over a very long period of time. To be sure, we share a common heritage, with both the city and the college founded through the visionary leadership of Albertus C. Van Raalte (whose 200th birth date was celebrated both in Holland and in the Netherlands this past fall through an effort organized by Provost Emeritus Dr. Jacob E. Nyenhuis, director of Hope’s Van Raalte Institute). There can be little doubt, though, that both the community and college are stronger because of our ongoing willingness to work together unselfishly. For example, the cooperation of our city fathers has been essential in enabling Hope to more than double its campus acreage in the last decade. For this we are very grateful.
But, Hope does also provide many outstanding opportunities for the community—most at little or no cost. These take the form of cultural, educational, spiritual, and athletic events. High-quality events in theatre, music, art, dance, and intercollegiate sport as well as guest speakers all add to the vitality of western Michigan. Earlier this year, an independent firm analyzed the economic impact of Hope on the greater Holland area and calculated a dollar figure of $1 billion over the next five years. But, arguably the greatest impact is more subjective and includes the service of Hope faculty, staff, and especially our students working voluntarily to make ours a better community. I’m so impressed with them. Some examples include:
Hope graduates do very well on professional exams. The most recent example is the 100-percent pass rate for our 2011 nursing graduates on the Nursing Council License Exam (NCLEX). Hope was one of 51 colleges out of 658 BSN colleges and universities nationwide (7.8 percent) with a 100-percent first-time pass rate.
Prospective students literally have hundreds of options from which to choose when selecting a college or university. We who know Hope understand well the virtues of the college, but in the highly competitive landscape of higher education it is essential that we share our story as effectively as possible. Although I still think word-of-mouth promotion by our students and their families is the best form of affirmation, we are working with a consulting firm to enhance promotion of the college. This will be noticeable in both electronic and print media materials in the coming weeks. We have no desire, however, to dissipate resources by engaging in marketing and advertising wars with our competition; so, don’t expect to see us on billboards between and Holland and Grand Rapids in the near future!
I receive so many affirming letters as president of this wonderful college that we all love and support. One recently received from 11-year-old Audrey Redeker touched me perhaps more than any other in my 27 years as a college president, and I share it with you with her permission. But first, a little background. I initially met Audrey one year ago when her brother, Jonathan, enrolled as a freshman and remember her sobbing in the chapel when the thought of leaving her brother at college was too overwhelming for her. As I tried unsuccessfully to console Audrey, I knew she must enjoy a very special relationship with her brother. In the midst of her tears, it was heartwarming. We met again this past fall during the Family Weekend worship service in Dimnent, and this time there were only smiles.
Dear Mr. President Bultman,
Thank you for talking to me yesterday at chapel. I love Hope College, and I hope that I can go there when I get older. I want to be a teacher when I get older. I also want to play basketball at Hope. I need to grow taller.
My brother, Jonathan, lives next to your house in Durfee. Next time I visit him, maybe I could visit your house.
You are a wonderful president at Hope College. I wish that you could stay at Hope forever!
This letter warmed the heart of a soon-to-retire college president.
James E. Bultman, President