Presidential Perspective

Summer 2016

Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of Hope College,

The fall semester is well under way for our returning students and newest freshmen, the Class of 2020. Kelly and I have a personal interest in this class, as our son Ron is among its members. We always cherish our roles as neighbors and “campus parents” to 3,300 students, but during this year’s New Student Orientation we joined the ranks of official Hope parents. Four of our children are now college graduates, so it was a family milestone to see our youngest off to college — all the way to Phelps Hall!

I am often asked about today’s young adults, and am quick to share that it is a privilege to live and work among this generation of students. Indeed, I could not be more optimistic about the future of our society as these leaders begin to make their mark. Much of what I see in today’s students is confirmed by recent studies of the younger Millennials: They value authenticity, respect individuality, champion innovation and expect to work collaboratively with others. They want to serve and make a difference.

Another key to understanding today’s students is that many have experienced more diversity than prior generations could have imagined. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that when our freshman class graduates in 2020, more than half of Americans under the age of 18 will be members of racial or ethnic minority groups. These trends have significant implications for colleges and universities.

Welcoming The Future, Strengthening Our Community

2020 is also significant because it will mark the halfway point in implementing our strategic plan, Hope for The World: 2025, adopted last year by our Board of Trustees. In recent letters, I have told you about three of our six strategic goals: strengthening Hope’s academic program; supporting students as they explore and grow in Christian faith; and orienting the college toward greater global engagement. I turn now to our fourth goal, which promises:

Hope College will be a community unified by its inspiring mission, strengthened by its diversity, and committed to the flourishing of every individual as one created and loved by God.

When we in the Hope community began developing a new strategic plan in 2013, we did so with an eye on the future. We asked ourselves, “What must happen to ensure that Hope College continues to improve and thrive over the longer term?” We were mindful of dramatic changes facing higher education, including the demographic shifts in our nation and region, so our plan included measures to ensure that an increasingly diverse campus population is fully supported and able to succeed in every way.

Engaging Our Employees In An Inclusive Culture

Several early initiatives have focused on our employees — nearly 900 dedicated faculty and staff whose ranks reflect increasing racial, ethnic and international representation. We recognize that our students’ success begins by ensuring that all who serve them can realize their own God-given potential in a supportive and caring workplace environment.

To inform this effort, we enlisted the Great Place to Work Institute to administer a survey called the Trust Index to assess multiple dimensions of our workplace culture, including respect, camaraderie, fairness and work-life balance. The opportunities identified by this research became the basis for an unprecedented leadership-development program at Hope involving more than 100 senior administrators, program managers, staff supervisors, academic department chairs and others with management responsibilities. Learning sessions are held regularly to promote a shared vision of a workplace shaped by values-based leadership behaviors.

You are well aware that Hope College is blessed with an abundance of talent, for it shows in countless ways. Kelly and I expressed our thanks recently by hosting a second annual picnic for all employees and their families. People of all ages filled our backyard and the Pine Grove to enjoy friendship, food and entertainment two weeks before the arrival of students. I take personal joy in getting to know my coworkers and learning how they help us fulfill our mission. Every week or so I visit different parts of campus to provide lunch or snacks and learn more about the remarkable people who invest so much of their lives in our students. My “Neighborhood Drop-Ins” have varied from a doughnut hour with 75 members of our maintenance and custodial teams to an informal lunch with faculty and staff in the loft of Lubbers Hall.

Preparing Students To Navigate A World Of Differences

Educating students for “lives of leadership and service in a global society” is not only language in our mission statement, it has been our aim for 150 years. At the inauguration of Hope’s first president, Philip Phelps, it was said, “This is a shrinking world, and we must learn to be at home in it.” Those early leaders — most of whom were immigrants themselves — took this to heart and quickly sought racial diversity by recruiting our first Japanese students who at one time numbered as many as 14 and constituted a significant percentage of the nascent student body.

Today’s world is not only far more globalized, but vastly more mobile as well. Even our graduates who remain in West Michigan can expect to interact with growing numbers of people from many races, cultures and places of origin. Whether one is a nurse, a schoolteacher, a businessperson, a missionary or a scientist, it will only be more essential to understand and appreciate the differences among people in God’s richly diverse world. As demographics shift in our nation and region, our commitment is to provide a highly relevant, personally transformative educational experience to young adults in an environment that prepares them well for the world beyond our campus.

Most important, our mission calls us to provide a superb educational experience to each and every student who accepts our invitation. As Hope College enrolls and serves more domestic-minority and international students over the next decade, we will be intentional about ensuring that this a welcoming place where all may flourish. Today we are implementing new programs, including a summer bridge program to prepare first-generation students for college life and a restructuring of existing multicultural programs to help every student understand and value diverse others in classrooms, residence halls and student activities. Meanwhile, existing programming focused on diversity and inclusion, such as Phelps Scholars and FACES, is seen as more important than ever in our students’ success.

Stewardship In A Competitive Environment

I am pleased to report that Hope College ended the fiscal year on June 30 in a solid financial position, continuing five decades of healthy margins and annual balanced budgets. Our careful stewardship was rewarded in June when Standard & Poor’s issued a two-notch upgrade in our credit rating, from BBB+ to A. And for the second time in a row, U.S. News & World Report ranked Hope No. 1 among national liberal arts colleges for efficient management of financial resources. At a time when the cost of college is on the minds of families and political candidates alike, Hope’s culture of stewardship allows us to keep our tuition and other costs well below those of our peers of comparable quality. It also makes it possible to provide employees with the compensation and resources they need to flourish at work and at home.

Hope College continues to be blessed with alumni and friends who invest generously in our students’ education. Annual gifts to The Hope Fund increased last year, and several new projects were launched with donor support. The coming year will see the completion of the Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center, a beautiful new home for student activities in the historic heart of the campus adjacent to the Pine Grove on the site of the former Nykerk Hall of Music. We are also beginning work on a new campus master plan and space utilization study to ensure that we make optimal use of our facilities and projecting future needs.

All of this news is especially important at a time when competition among colleges and universities is increasing because there are simply fewer students to go around. After peaking in 2009, the number of high school graduates in the U.S. is declining and will continue to do so for another six or seven years. In Michigan, the only state to lose population in the last decade, this decline is more precipitous than elsewhere.

While Hope is faring better than many others in this environment, we can no longer assume that our traditional recruiting efforts will be enough. We are sharpening our marketing strategies in a number of ways as we begin the new admissions cycle. But we also need your help in spreading the word about the value of a Hope College education. As you speak with friends, neighbors and family, whether they live close to campus or half a world away, be sure to tell the story of Hope College. And if you know students who may benefit from learning more about Hope, please share their names with us at We’ll be happy to reach out to them in a personal way.

As the new academic year began, we continued the tradition of a college-wide gathering where our faculty and staff prayed for each of our enrolled students by name. It is my hope that you, too, will keep Hope College, its students and employees in your prayers.

Spera in Deo,

John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President & Professor
Summer 2016