Presidential Perspective

January 2015

Dear Alumni, Parents, and Friends of Hope College,
It’s been nearly two years since our family was welcomed at Hope College. What a privilege it is to serve daily with so many talented people who share a heartfelt commitment to preparing young adults for lives of leadership, service, and faith. And what a joy to live and work on this beautiful campus with Hope students as our neighbors!

The Hope campus is alive with rich tradition, and Kelly and I have treasured our involvement in the many unique annual events here — the Pull, Nykerk, the Images celebration, and Christmas Vespers, to name just a few. We also have enjoyed the opportunity to introduce some new traditions, including the Presidential Colloquium, the Christmas Tree Lighting, and the annual faculty-staff time of prayer for each of our students.

Speaking of traditions, none is more impressive than our college’s longstanding commitment to athletic excellence. In every sport our students exemplify the ideal of high performance in both athletics and academics. Never was this more evident than in November when our volleyball team won the NCAA Division III National Championship in a nail-biting victory over Emory University. Junior volleyball player Jayne Kessel won the NCAA “Elite 89” award for the highest GPA in the tournament, and Sports Illustrated recognized senior Jenna Grasmeyer in its “Faces in the Crowd” feature. Shortly after the championship match concluded, while waiting for our flight home, I was impressed to see our student-athletes getting back to their studies, catching up on coursework and preparing for exams.

As we begin the spring semester, there is much to share about the Hope community. In these few pages I hope to give you a sense of our college’s recent accomplishments and our great optimism for the future.

Welcoming the Class of 2018

Demand for a Hope College education has never been greater. We were blessed with a record number of applications for last fall’s incoming class, resulting in overall enrollment topping 3,400 for the first time ever. The class of 2018, comprising 840 freshmen from 31 states and 26 countries, enhances the diversity of our campus in many ways.

Our momentum remains strong, with the pace of applications for the class of 2019 surpassing that of years past. In the fall, we saw a 20 percent increase in applications, right up to our November 1 Early Notification Deadline. It has been enjoyable to watch the flurry of celebratory social media posts from accepted students, like this Tweet: “The wait is finally over! Couldn’t be happier to be accepted to @HopeCollege #Hope2019.”

As our applicant pool continues to grow, we find it necessary to carefully manage admissions to ensure that our student body never exceeds our capacity to provide an excellent educational experience. We do not take our recruiting success for granted, as we are keenly aware that many private colleges are struggling to stem declining enrollment. American high schools will graduate fewer students every year for the next decade, a trend felt more strongly in the upper Midwest than some other parts of the country. As always, attracting great students to Hope College depends in no small measure on referrals from loyal alumni, parents, and friends, so let me encourage you to visit hope.edu/refer to tell us about outstanding high school students you may know.

Continuing Academic Excellence and Financial Strength

Our college has long been blessed with superb faculty and staff, a fact I have come to appreciate greatly. It has been gratifying to see their dedication recognized by U.S. News & World Report’s ranking of Hope College among the top National Liberal Arts Colleges in the all-important category of Best Undergraduate Teaching. The publication also ranks Hope among fewer than 35 colleges and universities nationwide offering the best “Opportunities for Undergraduate Research and Creative Projects.” Our overall academic program was applauded recently by the Higher Learning Commission, which reaffirmed our accreditation following a comprehensive 10-year cycle review.

Student success is evident in unusually high retention and graduation rates, as well as in the fact that 95 percent of last year’s graduates were satisfactorily employed or in graduate school within six months of completing their degrees. Undergirding our strengths in enrollment and academics is a commitment to careful financial stewardship, for we ended the last fiscal year with a balanced operating budget as Hope has done for nearly five decades.

A Greater Hope

Our endowment is growing as we near the end of the A Greater Hope comprehensive fundraising campaign. The number of endowed scholarships has grown to more than 700 and the number of professorships has increased to 28. Two beautiful new facilities, the Kruizenga Art Museum and the Jack H. Miller Center for Musical Arts, are slated to open in the coming year, with groundbreaking for the new Jim and Martie Bultman Student Center soon to follow. For the A Greater Hope campaign to end, we need to complete our fundraising efforts for the student center. Meanwhile, annual giving to The Hope Fund is increasing, providing countless benefits to our students. So much is made possible by the generosity of friends and alumni of the college — thank you!

Envisioning a Bright Future

We are now harnessing these strengths to move our college forward with confidence. The Hope College community is finalizing a strategic plan to guide our work over the next decade. More than 130 representatives of faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, and trustees have served on committees to identify and analyze a broad range of issues and opportunities. While the plan is not yet complete, the Board of Trustees recently approved a set of aspirational goals recommended by the Strategic Planning Steering Committee. These goals are guided by our vision statement for the strategic plan, which states that “Hope College will gain national and international stature” over the next decade. I am delighted to share these six goals with you, along with a few of my own comments on each:

Goal 1: Hope College will engage every student in a holistically formative education distinguished by its combination of academic rigor, intimate learning environment, and experiential relevance developed and delivered by nationally recognized teacher-scholars.

Hope will continue to be distinguished by a broad academic curriculum with deep roots in the liberal arts. We will build on our strengths including an array of externally accredited programs, high-quality experiential learning and off-campus study opportunities, and a holistic approach to student development that fosters learning in every aspect of student life. And we will nourish an intimate learning environment where students are mentored by a caring, highly dedicated faculty.

Goal 2: Hope College will be an ecumenical Christian community welcoming students, faculty, and staff into a vibrant experience of faith formation and intellectual engagement with the historic Christian faith.

Our campus has long been an ecumenical Christian community affiliated with the Reformed Church in America and committed to educating students “in the context of the historic Christian faith.” This is reflected in the composition of Hope’s faculty, which represents a breadth of Christian traditions, and in our desire to welcome both Christian and non-Christian students. This goal calls us to support the formation of Christian faith in ways that reflect a diversity of individual needs. It also commits us to being a place where students may practice their faith in a manner that is voluntary and invitational.

Goal 3: Hope College will equip every student to lead and serve in a global society by orienting all areas of the college toward greater global engagement.

Hope College’s mission statement directs us to prepare students to be leaders in a global society. To this end, Hope is moving toward becoming a more globally integrated organization — a college where the activities of every unit are planned with a view toward engaging the larger world. This is our aim not only for the academic program, but also for admissions, alumni relations, student life, campus ministries, and other areas of the college that must be fully engaged with the global society of the 21st century.

Goal 4: 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.

Hope College is committed to being an inclusive learning community where all faculty, staff, and students can flourish. Our Christian mission provides a special advantage in shaping a healthy community where trust and interconnectedness are evident and where all can grow in their intellectual, professional, personal, and faith formation. Our mission also lays the groundwork for a commitment to individual and institutional responsibility to build and practice community. It is vital to provide opportunities to learn from one another in an environment where different gifts are valued, affirmed, and celebrated.

Goal 5: Hope College will grow in national and international stature as a respected leader in higher education with a reputation for excellence.

Strengthening our broader reputation will enhance student and employee recruitment, broaden our base of support, and add value to the Hope degree for all of our graduates. Increased competition in higher education makes it more important than ever to be known and valued by key individuals and organizations beyond our region. Even before adopting this goal, we undertook a summer restructuring to establish a new division of Public Affairs and Marketing with responsibility for better conveying our story through our website, social media, video production, publications, press publicity, community relations, and special events.

Goal 6: Hope College will be the best value among leading liberal arts colleges by providing an unsurpassed educational experience through faithful stewardship and development of resources.

Certainly much of Hope’s success can be attributed to our position as a more affordable option among the nation’s premier liberal arts colleges. We aspire to be the best value in our category by maintaining this dual commitment to high quality and comparatively lower cost. But this will not be easy, for although we have held tuition increases well below the national average in recent years, families’ needs for financial assistance have grown, resulting in lower net revenue gain. To achieve this strategic goal, we must work to grow revenue streams, like our endowment, to provide more funding for scholarships and academic programs.

In future letters I will update you on our progress toward these goals. Even as we look to the future, plans for a yearlong celebration of the sesquicentennial anniversary of our charter are underway. The festivities, from building dedications to reunions to performances, will bring many alumni, parents, and friends from around the world back to Hope’s campus. As we prepare for our 150th year, I hope to have the opportunity to connect — or reconnect — with many of you and share more great news about the Hope community.

We are thankful that Hope College is thriving. From championships in multiple sports, to an abundance of co-curricular activities, to distinctive accomplishments in the classroom, to a chapel filled to near capacity four times a week, our students are experiencing college life at its best. Most of all, we thank you for your support and encouragement, for today’s students benefit in so many ways by being part of the larger Hope family.

Kelly and I wish you God’s blessings in the new year.

Spera in Deo,

John C. Knapp
President & Professor