A time for summing up the past, a time to comment on the present, and a time to note plans for the future.

By Robert A. Scott, President, Adelphi University


The annual State of the University Address is a time for summing up the past, a time to comment on the present, and a time to note plans for the future.

A Summing Up

This past winter, the audit firm Grant-Thornton dedicated its annual report on higher education to Adelphi because of our status and progress.

Just think, over the past decade or so, we have hired some 225 faculty and have sought to increase the percentage of course sections taught by full-time faculty. We have built on historic strengths in the fine and performing arts, including the construction of new facilities, and in the sciences, including renovated facilities and new equipment, and new initiatives such as the McDonell Scholarship Program.

We completed the first-ever comprehensive fundraising campaign, in which more than 60% of the faculty and staff participated. We exceeded our $56 million goal and recruited the first living million dollar donor. We now have 16.

The endowment has tripled to over $150 million and total assets have grown significantly. Nevertheless, our funds per student lag behind other S&P “A” rated institutions.

Instructional expenses per FTE student increased by nearly 60%, now a higher proportion of the budget than at most other institutions in the region.

We achieved Fiske Guide Top 24 “Best Buy” status for eight straight years because of moderate tuition and high success rates for students, and U.S. News and World Reports recognition for being “under-rated”. We have the highest graduation rates in the Long Island region, even though student success is highly related to family income and a quarter of our undergraduates come from families earning less than $30,000. And, they graduate on average with only moderate debt.

The Ruth S. Ammon School of Education was designated as preparing “highly effective” teachers by New York City.

We completed $250 million of construction and major capital improvements with only $90 million of debt, and all of that at fixed interest rates. Annual debt service ten years ago was about 3.8% of the operating budget, as it remains today and will be for the foreseeable future. These construction projects included three large geo-thermal fields, and the Performing Arts Center and Center for Recreation and Sports received LEED Certification. All house-keeping and grounds-keeping is accomplished with “green” materials. The campus grounds are a registered arboretum.

We added lounges and lockers throughout campus so that students did not have to use the car trunk as a closet, and could feel at home no matter where their pillows are located.

We also can recount successes in increasing the number of students who study abroad; improving town-gown relations; and creating the popular Levermore Global Scholars Program, the successful Long Island Institute for Non-Profit Leadership, the notable Institute for Parenting, early childhood education initiatives, the Adelphi Prize for Leadership Program for Garden City youth no matter where they go to school, Vital Signs-the social health indicators project, C.S.I. (now iSoRCE), and the Adelphi Community Fellows Program (which prepares selected students for paid internships in non-profit organizations each summer) – all in fulfillment of our commitment to be the “engaged” university.

Many of these and other accomplishments, including our receipt of The Presidents’ Cup for overall success in athletics, were cited by “The Delphian” in its recent editorial.

There is more to celebrate, but these results were neither inevitable nor simply the result of good fortune. They took a dedicated team, led by Provost Insler, the vice presidents and deans, and a dedicated faculty.

In fall 1997, the University enrolled fewer than 300 new freshmen; this year, three times that. Enrollment, retention, and graduation rates had plummeted. In 1998-2000, the Board discussed merging with Long Island University (LIU), renting one-half of the residence hall rooms to Polytechnic University, and closing the majors in Anthropology-Sociology, Chemistry, Philosophy, and Physics.

During our period of progress, LIU had to sell its Southampton Campus and the university is on “credit watch” by the federal government. Polytechnic University closed its Long Island operations and the university was absorbed by N.Y.U.

All five academic programs have grown in strength and enrollment, with Physics a “jewel” and Chemistry a candidate for American Chemical Society (ACS) accreditation after adding faculty and equipment.

In addition, total enrollment grew by 40%, undergraduate enrollment increased by 83%, and alumni were re-engaged.

Nevertheless, during recent years, graduate and adult enrollment have fallen and the competition for undergraduate students has become much stiffer.

As I said at the faculty meeting in May, I had heard dire comments about cuts to the budget. However, faculty hiring continues; faculty salary increases continue; and there have been no lay-offs or furloughs.

Even faculty travel money has increased. In 2005-06, we spent an average of $1,518 per faculty member on travel and conference registration expenses. During this year, we are spending an average of $1,985 per faculty member – a 31% increase, and we have more members of the faculty.

Since 2005, we also have increased financial support for graduate students by 50%. The increases in financial aid are not just for undergraduates.

We want to reach the goals of AU 2015, our strategic plan, in total and, while challenges are real, we are on our way. The “Newsday” story last spring about graduation rates and student debt show us in very good stead among our regional peers.

In financial terms, our debt is low, our endowment has nearly tripled, and our credit rating is strong.

We have much to be pleased about, in terms of undergraduate satisfaction and graduation rates; student engagement and success in class, in internships, in voluntarism, and in athletics; student success upon graduation; quality measures and reputation; and improvements in faculty support, facilities, and endowment.

However, we cannot entertain “business as usual”. There is a limit to how high we can raise tuition, our major source of revenue. We cannot continue doing what we have always been doing without a critical review of how we can be both more effective and more efficient.

We must bring the same discipline and vigor to adult, graduate, summer, and continuing education programs and promotion as we have to undergraduate enrollment planning.

It is time to show the same willingness to experiment as previous generations of Adelphi faculty and leaders did when they developed innovative programs in physical education, dance, nursing, psychology, social work, adult education, peace studies, theater, and business, and in expanding opportunities first for women and then for returning veterans. Throughout Adelphi’s history, faculty and leaders have sought ways to improve or remove programs and add to what we offer in response to societal needs, keeping our mission in mind.

Our goal now is for at least 250 more graduate and adult students by 2015: not by finding 250 in one program or one place, but by adding 10 here, 20 there, and 15 over there, relatively small increments, in existing and new programs and locations, without damaging the character of the Adelphi experience.

A Current Snapshot

Some of you have seen recent reports on the conditions of colleges and universities. The United States Department of Education released data for the 2011 fiscal year which identified 153 degree-granting institutions as failing its financial-responsibility test. We received the highest grade possible, 3.0, while C.W. Post received a 1.4, St. Lawrence University received a 2.2, the University of Rochester a 2.5. This was good news and a very good year for us, but it was 2011 news.

More recently, we received a grade of “C” from a “Forbes Magazine” review because of our reliance on tuition and the competition for students in the region. It was no comfort to learn that other institutions nearby received even lower grades.

In the past two years, we have experienced a 4% decline in enrollment. Freshman enrollment this fall is below forecasts because of cancelled or curtailed recruitment and campus visits caused by super storm “Sandy”, and because of increased competition for a smaller pool of students, with competing institutions raising their financial aid awards through greater tuition discounting. This is not a sustainable strategy to join. We need to do a better job of informing prospective students and their families about the laudatory benefits of an Adelphi education – greater satisfaction, success, graduation, and career prospects.

Enrollment of new graduate students this fall is higher than last year, following several months of hard work by the deans and Vice President Mounty and her staff, but total graduate enrollment is still below that of five years ago because of fewer continuing students.

As a consequence, we have cancelled or reduced salary increases for administrative staff, eliminated open staff positions, and taken other savings or delayed expenses so as to protect core academic programs.

In line with this commitment to the core, we are proceeding with the design and construction of the Nexus Building and Welcome Center, with an underground garage. The imperatives for this project are numerous and the financing is secure. We must remove the temporary trailers and provide offices for the 30 faculty housed in them. We must provide up-to-date facilities for the College of Nursing and Public Health if we are to retain and advance our enrollment and position in healthcare education.

In addition, we need the general purpose classrooms and more welcoming and workable facilities for Admissions and the Career Development Center to be located in the Nexus Building, as well as the classrooms and offices to be created in Alumnae and Levermore Halls as part of this project.

Other institutions either have or are constructing new space for nursing and other health programs. The Village requires, and we want to have, adequate parking for students, faculty, and staff.

This is a period of uncertainty in society at large and in higher education in particular. Higher education is in the news frequently due to numerous criticisms. These challenges include references to a student debt “bubble”; the disruption to newspapers and hospitals by advances in information technologies and forecasts that the same will happen to universities; tuition increases, student debt, and low graduation rates; allegations about too little campus accountability and inadequate student advising; a faculty focus on “their work” instead of on student learning; the tsunamis of distance learning and MOOCs forecast by Stanford University President John Hennessy and talked about often by columnist David Brooks; and the over-specializations of faculty when it is said that what students need more are “general practitioners”, among others.

Some of these issues are summarized in the Obama Administration’s proposed “College Scorecard”. This is another in a series of federal efforts to provide information to prospective students and their families, in this case by rating institutions on certain variables. For the Scorecard, the variables are (1) Cost, really price; (2) Graduation Rate; (3) Loan Default Rate; (4) Median Borrowing; and (5) Employment, really income. I have met with the Under Secretary for higher education to critique these variables, to help refine them, and to add some others, such as the percentage of Pell Grant recipients and community engagement by students.

My concerns about the existing variables are these: the cost calculation is very general and ranks Adelphi “high” even though our tuition is significantly below that of others ranked high; graduation rate does not take into account the future graduation of those who transfer out, especially from community colleges; and using initial income as a variable under-values those who enter teaching and social work and over-values those who go to Wall Street. I will continue advocating for a more rational system for judging college success.

Still other issues on the federal agenda relate to for-profit companies sanctioned as colleges and universities under Congressional definition. At the moment, the major topic concerns what is called “gainful employment.” Some Members of Congress want these schools to demonstrate that the degree they advertise will actually lead to gainful employment for the graduates. The for=profit lobbyists want the same requirements to apply to traditional colleges and universities, ignoring that, as we say, and Adelphi education is as much about the development of character and engaged citizenship as it is about preparation for careers and commerce. Of course we want our graduates to be employed, but do we want their first job, if not linked to the major, judged to be a failure? What we do is different from what a career school does when it recruits students to a degree program related to a specific job, yet the Congressional Committee is debating whether we should be judged the same.

We need to be mindful of these issues, but keep the challenges in perspective. This is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that advances in technology have appeared to threaten the foundations of college and university education. Nor is it either the first or the last time we will face major demographic, economic, and technological shifts or government initiatives.

However, this is a period of multiple and deep shifts all at once. The rapid development of online technologies is significant, with the internet now a base for many traditional functions of higher education, including program delivery, business functions, and credentialing. The demographic and economic changes in our region are significant, and include not only concerns about price and financial aid, but also about courses of study, the cultural and socioeconomic origins of students, and the need to be fully engaged with prospective students through imaginative promotions and frequent communications, and by being flexible in our offerings and services.

A Summary of Plans

All this takes planning, and planning is important to us. I say “planning” rather than “plans” because too often the plan becomes a document on a shelf instead of a guide to decision-making and measuring progress.

To me, strategic planning is about establishing a set of principles for decision-making, setting priorities for action, and monitoring execution.

The Adelphi vision statement is a perfect starting point:

We aspire for Adelphi to be the leading private university in the region for undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty who value excellence in teaching, learning, research, scholarship, creative activity, and service to one’s community. The University will be known for the competence of its graduates, its strong programs and interdisciplinary orientation, its welcoming of the community onto the campus, and its impact on the broader society through educational, economic, intellectual and cultural initiatives.

The goals expressed in AU2015 were designed to fulfill this vision. These include putting a high priority on quality, reaching enrollment targets, continuing to fulfill the objectives of the Facilities Master Plan, achieving goals for annual giving and capital gifts, and maintaining a balanced budget while also fulfilling annual plans.

As we monitor AU2015, and make any mid-course corrections due to changes in environmental forces, it is fitting to select a few goals for emphasis. I will comment on six of them.

First, our overall institutional reputation is based in large part on measures related to undergraduate admissions selectivity; student satisfaction, success, retention, and graduation; licensure exam results; and related items. Given the changes in the economy, demographics and student aspirations, we must be even more strategic about our enrollment and financial aid promotions, policies, and practices, and create even more distinctive academic programs.

Following my comments to the faculty last fall, I was invited to meet with the General Education Committee to discuss my ideas for a “signature” Gen Ed Program. In preparation for the discussion, I wrote an essay entitled, “Thoughts on a Liberating Education,” which will be published this fall in the journal “Liberal Education.” You may access this publication on our website at

The skills and abilities needed in the world today are not only knowledge of balance sheets and how to analyze them, but also an understanding of the dynamics of cultures and how people interact, to know that “words are bearers of history and mystery”.1 Too many adults seem to lack self-awareness or any preparation in critical reflection and thinking. The study of literature, philosophy, and history are designed to help us see the questions and assumptions so often hidden by answers, develop a meaningful philosophy of life, and be able to comprehend the good, the beautiful, and the true in contrast to the respectable, the pretty, and the adequate, in E.M. Forster’s terms.2

Students must learn interpersonal, organizational, cognitive, and other skills, and that even small changes of input can cause nonlinear and major changes in output. Our aim is to help students “understand the relationship between the individual and the wider world, the ‘mind’s center and its circumference.’”3

Second, for most of its history, Adelphi has offered graduate degree programs and supported faculty scholarship and creative activities in the arts and humanities as well as in the sciences and professions. We must give renewed attention to graduate education and enrollment in these areas of strength and need, and think carefully about how to consider the role of research and creative activity at Adelphi, which is primarily a teaching university.

The university in America has a privileged tax-exempt status and is charged with three distinct and critical roles central to society: curator of the past, creator of the new, and critic of the “status quo”.

The role as “creator of the new” varies by institution, but virtually every regionally accredited campus includes at least one form of scholarship and creative activity in its mission. These forms were codified by Ernest Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, as “Discovery”, “Integration”, “Application”, and “Teaching”.4

Boyer argued that we should move away from the debate about teaching versus research, and recognize the full range of scholarly activities in which faculty engage, each of which can improve teaching and learning in fundamental ways. Three of his four forms of scholarship seem self-evident.

The fourth area, the Scholarship of Teaching, however, has been the most difficult to define without controversy and second guessing. It means more than just updating a syllabus, creating a new course, or teaching to a satisfied class, but requires critical analysis, reflective practices, and research on what works best. Just as with other forms of scholarship and creative activity, one must evaluate whether new knowledge or understanding has been created, whether this new knowledge or understanding has been evaluated by experts in a public manner, and whether it advances the baseline of knowledge in the field.

I think it is important to add “creative work” to any discussion of research. Of course, any research should be creative, but we must also include the ways in which novelists, sculptors, poets, playwrights, and composers, among others, advance knowledge and understanding about the human condition in their creative activity.

These approaches to scholarship and creative activity are supported in multiple ways, including externally funded grants and contracts, internally funded grants, release time from teaching, or a standard course-load requirement that assumes a substantial portion of the time not spent in teaching or other campus responsibilities will be spent on scholarly or other creative pursuits, often in collaboration with students.

Some people criticize research in higher education as arcane, self-serving, and of limited value. They refer to it as “publish or perish”, useful only for promotion in rank. Some of it is. But if it enhances and fulfills the campus mission for teaching and learning by both students and faculty; contributes to our knowledge and understanding of the human condition, the world in which we live and the earth which sustains life; promotes critical discourse; is critiqued and improved by disinterested evaluators; and advances student knowledge, skills, abilities, and values, then it is a valuable contribution to higher education and society.

Third, Adelphi has been a leader in programming for adults for many years; we must find new ways to help those above “college” age continue their progress toward a degree, advanced certification, or further learning.

Fourth, we must develop plans and protocols for granting credit and certifying competencies for online courses submitted by applicants and current students, and for delivering courses and programs to students in the region and nationally, as well as the 100,000 alumni and others who have an affinity to Adelphi and want advanced education and credentials but cannot get to campus.

When critics of the pace of change in higher education talk about how online interactions have disrupted traditional models in finance, publishing, and healthcare, and how the same will happen to universities, I respond this way.

Please recall that the history of higher education in the last 150 years is filled with innovations, including the Land Grant Act, the development of community colleges and the lodging of medical schools in universities, and the advent of mass access to postsecondary education following the G.I. Bill, etc. And, I say, please note that in each of the cases of technological disruption highlighted by critics, the new providers identified a problem to be solved, usually a transaction to be improved, because they either understood or postulated a need of the receiver – – the person wanting a cash withdrawal, the person wanting to sell or buy through a “classified ad”, or the billing office that wanted more timely information.

Some opportunities to be addressed in higher education are similar: marketing, billing, inventory control, registration, scheduling, etc. are basically the same as in other enterprises, and are already benefiting from technology.

But teaching and learning are of a different type, just as higher order interactions in banking, publishing, and healthcare are. Sophisticated private banking requires face-to-face consultation, even with technological support; blogs depend upon the legwork of reporters interviewing sources; and physical diagnosis and many treatments depend upon advanced training and intense interactions between doctor and patient except in the most extreme cases – robotic surgery and telemedicine are not the answer every time.

This is not to say that technology cannot improve or even replace some of what we do in the classroom or lab, and free faculty for even higher order interactions, but the availability of distance learning technology does not mean that we automatically can do away with local departments and professors. Judgment is required.

We will redefine the roles of faculty and students, to be sure, but there will continue to be sources of expertise and wisdom on the one hand and neophyte learners on the other, facing each other.

We have no choice but to be active in online education – on our terms – in both online and blended or hybrid forms. The need exists and we have the technology. Just think about when you go to a conference and want to be connected to your class, or when students go to activities off-campus and need to be connected to you.

Then, think about when you might want to supplement the syllabus with an expert or source of expertise brought to class online, just as you might bring a visitor or a video to class, or arrange a visit to a museum. Students can have the opportunity to study and learn “methods” or content online and then develop problem-solving skills from the classroom experience under the tutelage of faculty. Online learning is all this and more.

Fifth, health programs have been signature initiatives for Adelphi for many decades. The Center for Health Innovation serves as a coordinating body and fosters interdisciplinary research and seminars. It helps the whole become greater than the sumer of its parts. At its 70th Anniversary ceremony in June, we renamed the School of Nursing as the College of Nursing and Public Health.

CHI also represents an opportunity to develop many more interdisciplinary and cross-departmental programs and courses, including joint programs between and among nursing, business, social work, and other academic units. We could learn from the success of the Doctor of Audiology degree we offer in conjunction with Hofstra and St. John’s to consider other programs and services we could offer in cooperation with other institutions or medical centers, thereby increasing our impact without increasing our cost structure.

As important and interesting interdisciplinary initiative is being undertaken by a group of faculty in time for the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I next year, and in part modeled on a faculty program on war and peace started here in 1938.

Sixth, we have a Facilities Master Plan that was adopted by the Board of Trustees to guide our use of land, placement of buildings, and additions to our inventory of office space, classrooms, and labs, and we should abide by it in spirit if not in every detail.

These six goals are my overarching priorities, knowing full well that each and all require the nurturing and sustenance of our excellent and dedicated faculty and staff. Planning takes people. Excellent planning requires thoughtful people, and excellence in plans and people does not happen by chance.


Change is inevitable. No organization or institution can remain still in the face of economic, demographic, technological, and other forces, and must engage in honest self-reflection about whether it is doing its best in fulfilling its stated mission with every decision it makes. An institution or organization which doesn’t evolve, which attempts to defy entropy, will lose vitality.

For Adelphi, this means choosing according to our principles, acting according to our priorities,and embracing all the help we can get.

For your help, I am grateful. Thank you.


1Fox, Margaret. “He Wove Irish Strife and Soil Into Silken Verse. “The New York Times, August 31, 2013, p. A1.

2Forster, E.M., Howards End. London: Edward Arnold, 1910.

3Kakutani, Michiko. “Capturing the Rhythms of Nature in Poems.” The New York Times, August 31, 2013, p. C1.

4Boyer, Ernest, Scholarship Reconsidered. Princeton: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1990.

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