Presidential Perspective

Spring 2017

Dear Alumni, Parents and Friends of Hope College,

When I meet students for the first time, I am eager to learn where they are from and why they chose Hope College. Many come to us from homes in Michigan and the upper Midwest, of course, but increasingly they travel from more distant origins across the United States and abroad. Their reasons for doing so are as varied as the students themselves:

Nancy is from Texas and knew she wanted to go a small liberal arts college far from home. After visiting and staying overnight in Scott Hall, she knew Hope was for her.

Bianca is a freshman from Honduras, where she attended a bilingual Christian school. She learned about Hope through her sister, a junior. “Although it is challenging to be away from home, I am super grateful I was blessed with this opportunity and am trying to make the most out of it,” she says. “I can honestly say I made the right decision because I feel like this is where God wants me to be for now.”

Yechan is from Thailand and learned about Hope from his high school principal, who gave him a list of 20 Christian colleges where he could also pursue pre-med.

Nicole, from Kenya, met an admissions representative and Hope alum at her school counselor’s office and went home telling her family, “Hope is where I want to attend college in the USA.”

It is gratifying to hear stories like these every day. You might say it is in Hope’s DNA to welcome students from afar. Nearly 150 years ago, our founders invited 14 students from Japan to enroll at Hope, and ever since, our campus has been home to students and employees from all parts of the world. This is a crucial element of a student experience that prepares students for “lives of leadership and service in a global society.”

Growing in Stature

You, the Hope family, have an important role to play in spreading the word about our college. Without a recommendation from a friend, neighbor or family member, many students would never have heard the story of Hope. Your advocacy always matters, but even more so at a time when U.S. colleges are competing for fewer available students each year.

Over the past year and a half, my letters to you have offered reflections on the college’s strategic plan, Hope for the World: 2025, which is our blueprint for increasing Hope College competitiveness in every area. Most recently, I discussed our plans to ensure that an increasingly diverse campus population is fully supported and able to succeed in every way. In these pages, I will focus on the fifth of our six strategic goals, which states:

Hope College will grow in national and international stature as a respected leader in higher education with a reputation for excellence.

Goal Five relies on and supports the other goals, for we know that strengthening our reputation bolsters student recruitment, helps us develop resources, and adds value to the degrees held by our graduates. Strong enrollment and philanthropic support, in turn, allow us to invest more in distinguishing our academic programs, enhancing our students’ formation of faith and character, increasing our global reach, and cultivating an environment where every individual will flourish. Put simply, growing Hope’s stature broadens our base and undergirds our competitive advantages in a challenging climate.

My last letter to you discussed the national decline in high school graduates. After peaking around 2009, these numbers are decreasing annually, due mostly to lower past birth rates. In Michigan, where we find a majority of our students, these numbers have declined most steeply, as we were the only state to lose population in the last decade. Now a December 2016 report from the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education shows that high school graduates in Michigan will decline in number until at least 2032.

What does this mean for Hope College? We continue to recruit high-caliber students in Michigan and the upper Midwest, but because this is a shrinking market, our strategic plan calls for us to “increase the percentage of student applicants from outside the region to 30 percent” by 2025. As we seek more students from beyond our traditional base, a greater national and international reputation is a necessity. This is why we must remember that there is no substitute for “word of mouth” from you — our alumni, students and parents.

Telling Our Story in a New Era

Yet word of mouth has taken on new forms in recent years, thanks to social media. With new dimensions of interpersonal interaction, students searching for colleges have access to vastly more information via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other platforms. Hope College is in all these places too, meeting people where they are and sharing our story with a new generation of young people.

It was with all of this in mind that I created a Public Affairs and Marketing Division at the college in 2014. Since then, Hope has rolled out a new website, dramatically increased its social media engagement, and shifted to a more proactive media relations strategy. In December, we unveiled a new design for News From Hope College, along with a new website for the magazine. Most importantly, we have expanded our ways of telling Hope stories, broadening our reach through blogs, the website, more high-quality video and social media.

As we do more than ever to tell the stories of faculty-student research, innovative programs, notable scholarship, global engagement, and alumni and student success, our aim is to give you, the extended Hope family, more to share with prospective students and families. As always, I encourage you to tell us about students you think would be a good fit at Hope by visiting hope.edu/refer. We promise to follow up with them.

Gaining National and International Recognition

Over the last four years, many of you have heard me speak about our need to claim the reputation we have already earned. Hope continues to raise its national profile, building on a transformational student experience that includes everything from strong research opportunities to a winning athletic tradition.

Though we do not measure our success by national polls, published rankings are one measure of reputation in higher education. Thus, the following recognitions are noteworthy:

  • In The Wall Street Journal and Times of London’s 2016 College Rankings, Hope College placed 11th in the United States — tied with Stanford University — in the category of “Right Choice.” More than 100,000 students from 1,061 public and private higher education institutions across the country were asked, “If you could start over, would you still choose this college?” Hope students felt strongly that they had made the right choice, achieving a score of 9.17/10.
  • In December, Hope College earned a spot on Kiplinger’s Best College Values, making the list of top 100 values in liberal arts colleges with a ranking 64th based on quality and affordability.
  • In the U.S. News and World Report College Rankings, Hope continues to hold a spot on the Undergraduate Research/Creative Projects List, one of the lists of schools with outstanding examples of academic programs that are believed to lead to student success. And, Hope continues to appear on the list of top National Liberal Arts Colleges, competing with colleges not just in the region but across the entire country.
  • Hope again is included in the book Colleges That Change Lives, the guide that showcases the best of student-centered colleges.

We are gratified by such acclaim, but it is no more important than the recognition our faculty receive for relevant, high-quality scholarship. Perhaps you’ve seen recent articles in The New York Times that feature Dr. David Myers discussing happiness and social psychology, or Dr. David Ryden offering insight on the Supreme Court and election issues in The Christian Science Monitor. Maybe you noticed references to Dr. Charlotte vanOyen-Witvliet’s research on forgiveness in The Book of Joy, coauthored by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, or read Dr. Fred Johnson’s piece, “So What Are You Doing With That History Major?” on the History News Network website. In recent months, there has been coverage of Vicki TenHaken’s research on the success of “century club” businesses, Dr. Carrie Bredow’s studies on marriage partners, and Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren’s research on humility. We have also garnered national media attention for RingCam and Fathom, two successful start-up projects launched by Hope alumni while they were still student entrepreneurs.

There is a spirit of optimism on the Hope campus this year, thanks to significant achievements in academics, athletics and alumni engagement. We are especially gratified by the strong support of our alumni and friends who sustain our mission through personal generosity. At the end of the calendar year, giving to The Hope Fund was up more than 20 percent over last year’s pace, in part because of a substantial increase in donors, many of whom participated in our new crowdfunding initiatives. Annual giving to The Hope Fund has never been more important, as these gifts are now dedicated 100 percent to much-needed scholarship support for our students. At the same time, the number of households contributing to our endowment has increased, providing invaluable support to sustain the college while keeping the cost of tuition as affordable as possible.

For all you do to promote Hope College and add value to the Hope degree, thank you!

Spera in Deo,

John C. Knapp, Ph.D.
President and Professor
Spring 2017