Letter to Faculty and Staff from the President
September 29, 2021
September has been busy, with the continuation of classes and the return of performances, athletic competitions, admissions activities, Westminster weekend, a Board of Trustees retreat, and a town hall on Westminster at 150, our strategic positioning initiatives.
Bringing trustees back to campus gave us the opportunity to showcase some of our students, faculty and staff, point to campus improvements, and re-energize everyone about our work ahead. Not surprisingly, much meeting time was spent reviewing and understanding our financial status as an institution. Federal stimulus funding, careful fiscal management, and the outstanding performance of our endowment this past year have and will continue to mitigate the impact of fewer full-time, first-year undergraduates. Our deficit this year will be somewhat smaller than we anticipated last spring, and the board formally approved our FY2022 working budget while knowing that we anticipate using strong, unrestricted endowment earnings to help balance our budget in the years to come. Our performance going into FY2022 has been aided by a particularly strong retention rate, with 85% of our first-year students from last year returning this fall. This is a high point for Westminster, which deserves celebration.
Increasing retention rates, additional investment in student recruiting and fundraising, improvements in our infrastructure and campus collaborations, progress on Westminster at 150 initiatives, and academic program development will all take time to yield an incremental growth in our student population. There are ample early indicators of success in addition to strong retention rates, such as high levels of interest from prospective students. Our board understands that small, pandemic-era classes will be with us for the next few years and requiring continued deficit spending to sustain operations while at the same time supporting our efforts to make needed investments in employee compensation. Trustees are also looking to us to be aggressive with mid-year recruiting, transfer initiatives, partnerships, new program development, and continued monitoring of and refinement to our existing curriculum. All of these efforts are underway, and trustees expressed great appreciation for our accomplishments in the midst of the continued challenges of COVID-19.
We continue to do well in meeting those challenges. As of Monday, over 90% of our community had completed the attestation process, with a 94% vaccination rate, continued on-campus testing and off-campus exposure reports, and no active cases. These results are encouraging and a testament to our community of care. The pandemic continues with ample collateral disruption and anxiety, especially for those who are immunocompromised, or living with individuals at high risk, or receiving news of exposure, or caring for others. Because of the continued high rate of transmission in Salt Lake County, we will continue mask mandates for the time being and have extended some existing remote work options for staff.
At the same time that we’ve been consumed in the moment with all things COVID-19, we’ve been crafting and enacting a vision for the future. We are acting swiftly and boldly to claim a space in higher education and the intermountain west, with programs and stories compelling and relevant enough to bring new students. We know that our new and prospective students are stressed, but they’re also problem solvers. They seek opportunities, immediate experiences, and positive impact; they desire flexibility; and they need to grow personally and professionally, at every degree level. Their needs drive our vision for Westminster’s future. We’re launching a signature student experience and integrated wellness initiatives, connecting to the power of our place on the Wasatch Front, and diversifying our academic portfolio of programs.
A signature student experience means that every student will be guided in a personalized, academic journey that provides them with:
- A network of mentoring and support from the moment they join Westminster
- Guidance in designing an academic program including and beyond traditional majors
- Connection to and practice with professional goals and experiences
- A culminating experience in leadership development
This work is in motion now. As an example, our new first-year students have been introduced to Griffin Guides, a student support team that supports holistic advising, career planning, and extracurricular engagement.
Our approach to exploring academic programs and majors will help Westminster break down boundaries between programs and encourage creative combinations of majors and disciplinary clusters, taking the lessons learned from years of customized majors to all Westminster students. Some students have already combined biology and art into a career in medical illustration, women’s health and international relations into global health initiatives, or dance and neuroscience to understand movement and the human brain. Some have created entirely new programs, such as environmental entrepreneurship, music therapy, or behavioral economics. Moving forward, students may also combine a traditional major coupled with a skill set, like adding a certificate in business fundamentals to a history major. All of these things, and more, will be within reach for all Westminster students.
Our second area of distinction, integrated wellness, means moving away from reactive services and crisis responses to promoting wellness practices such as healthy approaches to eating and nutrition, self-awareness and emotional intelligence, financial health, and spiritual understanding. According to surveys of admitted students this fall who chose not to enroll at Westminster, nearly three-quarters said that a greater emphasis on wellness as a priority would influence their decision to enroll. We’ve already begun incorporating mental health and mindfulness into our academic programs, added resources to our counseling center, provided professional development for faculty, and promoted financial wellness for students. Fundraising is now underway for a new Integrated Wellness Center, relocating the Counseling Center and Student Health Services from the basement of the Shaw Student Center and including a teaching kitchen, financial wellness counseling and services, outdoor programming areas, a stress reduction room, promotion of spiritual understanding, and social spaces for gathering and interaction. We’re well on the way to achieving our fundraising goal for the center, having made significant progress toward our $7.6M goal.
Finally, diversifying our academic portfolio means that we’re launching new degree programs, majors, and certificates based on market and employment data, student demand, and existing areas of faculty expertise. In addition to the development of customized majors and certificates as part of the signature student experience, we’re in various stages of developing and implementing programs in outdoor behavioral health, kinesiology and exercise science, sports management, aviation management, advanced construction and project management, and year-round nursing programs. We’re partnering with Life Chiropractic for priority application and the University of Utah for early assurance to law school. We have incredible energy and expertise brought to these efforts from talented staff and faculty across the college, whose efforts deserve applause and encouragement. Our next steps include developing a marketing and communication plan to showcase our initiatives and finalizing benchmarks of progress for the months and years ahead.
We will make meaningful human relationships inescapable rather than optional. We will inspire students to learn across boundaries and apply their knowledge to complex problems. We will provide every student with the opportunity to earn while they learn and develop leadership skills for the future. This will be Westminster at 150.