FLC president: ISO collaborator, unifier with ability to tap into region’s assets, opportunities

Friday, March 2, 2018 10:17 PM

Fort Lewis College benefits from a wealth of resources colleges in other parts of the country can only wish for.

Outdoor classrooms draw on our region’s extraordinary natural and cultural assets. Area small businesses welcome interns, with particularly imaginative businesses making it possible to innovate in technological and outdoor lifestyle products.

Environmental and recreational organizations, on- and off-campus, abound to supplement academics. Want to engage in outdoor activities tied to every season? That’s easy.

FLC’s faculty are here because they want to teach. They publish, rotate as department chairs and are involved in the community. But mostly they find personal rewards in teaching at a small- to mid-sized public college wth the humanities and the sciences. And, they enjoy the Four Corners lifestyle.

The college’s next president, who will start July 1, will have numerous campus and community assets to capitalize on.

The search for that leader is well underway, with initial interviews of those short-listed taking place and campus visits for the top few scheduled to occur at the end of this month.

But even given the college’s considerable core assets, the new president’s tasks are immediate and considerable.

First, the college’s faculty, staff and administrators must be motivated and mobilized to work more often in concert. Plenty of communication and collaborative relationships are needed to create agreed-upon goals and a timeline for a variety of successes over multiple future years. If the sciences lead to higher-paying jobs, and they do, how do the humanities and sciences intermix? The humanities as a foundation is what employers want.

The college’s enrollment decline, of 1,000 students from its 4,200 student high 15 or so years ago, is well known. While Native American enrollment grows mostly because of the tuition waiver, the number of incoming freshmen and transfer students has dropped. The good news is that freshmen entrance selectivity has been maintained (Native American students have to meet the same standards), and the percent of students who return after their freshman year has been up slightly. The number of students who graduate in four years has increased, as well.

But campus facilities could sustain a student body of more than 4,000, and departments and course offerings generally have been structured to provide academic concentrations and options for a larger number of students. Reductions always are painful.

So, enrollment growth must be a priority. Are changing demographics entirely to blame (fewer higher school graduates, the desire to attend college closer to home), or can marketing be improved and the admissions department be more imaginative, aggressive and far-reaching? The problem is not the tuition and room and board rates. They are the lowest, or among the lowest, in the state.

And when marketing and admissions are reshaped to whatever degree, everyone – faculty and staff, not just the admissions department – will be needed to make the results successful.

The next president will also have to raise money. Public colleges have always lagged behind private colleges in their fundraising and always will, but FLC’s supporting charitable foundation ought to have at least three or four times its current endowment, which is approximately $25 million. Scholarships, faculty professional development and matching gifts for building construction come from the foundation.

We look forward to meeting the finalists for the FLC presidency. They know that a college president has a critical mission – to give mostly 18-year-olds a strong start on life and the ability to contribute to society, in all its complexities.