2014 - 2015 Mid-Year Update

November 18, 2014

A Message from President Helen Drinan

BOSTON (November 18, 2014) — I am writing to our Simmons College community — students, parents, faculty, staff, trustees, and alumnae/i — to share updates on both our significant accomplishments during the past six months of the 2014-2015 year, and progress on some of the difficult challenges we face during this school year.

During the past few years, I have presented this information to the community in the form of two meetings - one in the fall, and one in the spring. This year I have chosen to share this information through an email as my chemotherapy treatments - which are going well - require that I avoid large gatherings due to my suppressed immune system.

It has been a tough, competitive environment for all colleges and universities in the United States, and certainly for Simmons. As many know, recently, Moody's Investors Service issued a negative outlook for the higher-education sector, and noted that "American higher education faces limited growth prospects over the next 12 to 18 months." However, on the positive side, Moody's noted that "the U.S. Department of Education projects a 20-percent growth in master's degrees and a 9-percent growth in associate degrees, opportunities in both online education and new certificate programs, and a rising earnings premium for those with college degrees."

The positive trends cited by the U.S. Department of Education, particularly the growth in master's degrees, online education, and the rising earnings premium for college degrees will help support Simmons's next phase of growth. Already, we are setting the foundation for our future with successful, new online programs - Nursing@Simmons and SocialWork@Simmons - and with a new innovative undergraduate curriculum, to be ready for fall 2015, that will distinguish Simmons and prepare our graduates to take advantage of the rising earnings premium for those with college degrees.

Simmons successfully increased fall 2014graduate credit hours due to our new online nursing and social work programs from our partnership with 2U. It is exciting that our online students live in 46 states and our faculty who teach them live in 32 states. Now, hundreds of adults across the country are experiencing the academic rigor, quality, and personal attention of a Simmons graduate education. And, our students are giving high ratings to their Simmons online courses and professors.

Our Nursing@Simmons and SocialWork@Simmons degrees are building both the reputation and visibility of Simmons across the country. I want to thank the deans and faculty of SNHS and SSW for their leadership and hard work in making these new online degree programs so successful.

Simmons Online was the focus of a four-hour plenary session at last month's October Board of Trustees meeting. Trustees heard from three dynamic, engaging expert speakers: Paul Maeder, Founding Partner, Highland Capital Partners; Chip Paucek, 2U Co-Founder and CEO; and Dwight Crane, Harvard Business School professor and Simmons trustee. Trustees had a chance to ask a wide range of challenging and sometimes difficult questions and came away with a sense of the significant growth potential of our online graduate degree programs.

On the undergraduate front, Provost Katie Conboy has been leading a swift and inclusive process since the summer to create an exciting, distinctive new undergraduate general education curriculum for students entering in fall 2015. More than 100 faculty members from all five schools have been involved in the development work which included a discovery team that sought out best practices; an all-faculty retreat to distill faculty priorities; a design team that developed the proposal; summer faculty focus groups; an ongoing core design team to keep the design process moving; a Faculty Senate-named Curriculum Committee to compile and share faculty feedback from the work of each school; and many ongoing school-based faculty discussions and feedback venues.

In December, I hope to share details of the new curriculum once the all-faculty vote on the design has taken place. I can share with you, now, that the new curriculum will reflect best practices in student learning; respond to the needs of current and future students and employers; emphasize innovation and critical thinking; and foster problem solving skills for a diverse world. Provost Conboy, the deans and our faculty are aware of what employers want to see in highly-prepared college graduates. There will be resources to increase student access to high-impact experiences such as study abroad, undergraduate research, and internships, supported by a new Passionate Leader Fund. Simmons undergraduate students will develop their own style of leading and having impact on their communities and the world as a result of the new four-year curriculum.

Another very significant success is the achievement of the Making Education Work (MEW) campaign. The MEW Campaign Committee chaired by Trustee Kathy LaPoint '84 announced that the $85 million goal was achieved nearly a full year ahead of plan! Further, our Advancement colleagues announced the highest total ever raised in a single year at $18.7 million. We received four extraordinary gifts from donors who have substantial confidence in the exciting future of Simmons. Evelyn G. Lipper '67, 00HD gave $3.1 million for scholarship and faculty support for the Family Nurse Practitioner Master's degree; Diane K. Trust ‘77GS and Martin Trust and the Trust Family Foundation gave $1.5 million for an endowed professorship; Roslyn Solomon Jaffe '50, '10HD, HT gave $1 million for scholarship endowment; and Joseph E. Corcoran gave $1 million for the Joseph E. Corcoran Endowed Founder's Scholarship. We have never seen such dramatic financial commitments to the future of Simmons as we have seen this past year.

The work of Advancement continues with the Vision, Voice & Legacy Tour that takes place across the country during this academic year. Trustee and author Denise Pappas '71 ‘85SM will share insights on the Tour from her recently published biography "John Simmons, The Measure of a Man." The Tour will enable alumnae, donors and supporters to gain a new view of our founder's little-understood life. The Legacy Tour kicked off October 30 at the Boston Public Library, highlighting the presence of Simmons in Boston and the College's role in the city's history, present and future. Provost Katie Conboy conducted a fascinating interview with Trustee Denise Pappas and the first, annual John Simmons Legacy Award was presented to Joseph E. Corcoran, an individual who, like John Simmons, can be called a radical thinker in service to philanthropy. (Trustee Chair Regina Pisa, President Helen Drinan, Hill Holliday Founder Jack Connors, and 2014 John Simmons Legacy Award Winner Joseph E. Corcoran. Photo by Cheryl Richards)

Our work supporting the empowerment and development of women leaders across the world also has continued. We recently hosted the Women in Public Service Project (WPSP) Institute with Mount Holyoke College and Smith College for 48 women from post-conflict societies across the world, and our sixth U.S. Department of State program, Women Changing the Face of Leadership

. Our SimmonsLEADS programming is attracting strong support and participation. The October 1, [ENCORE Series] event brought 400 middle and senior-level women leaders together for a full day of skills-building training at the Seaport World Trade Center with three of the top presenters from prior Simmons Leadership Conferences. And the November 20 "[2020 Women on Boards]" Breakfast is one of 20 such events being held around the country to address ways to boost the number of women on U.S. corporate boards. This is our third year hosting, and if the past is a predictor, our event will be the largest event across the nation. (2014 ENCORE speaker Victoria Labalme. Photo by John Waite)

Finally, building on the tremendous momentum of the 2014 Simmons Leadership Conference with Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the [2015 Simmons Leadership Conference] has already sold out! These international and national programs about women's leadership and empowerment are collectively raising the visibility of Simmons. (Photo by Carla Osberg)

Yet with such success and increased visibility, we face difficult competitive challenges in the marketplace. As a small, private, tuition-dependent college with a modest endowment, we do not have financial resources to support all the initiatives that would further our reputation, visibility, and strategic plans. We have made difficult choices about spending and we will need to make more of them going forward. One choice, I believe all of us at Simmons support is to provide broad access to a Simmons education via financial aid. Financial aid is an expensive priority; it represents the second highest expenditure at Simmons after faculty and staff salaries and benefits. This is why financial aid was a top priority for the Making Education Work campaign and why many donors have enthusiastically supported directing their gifts to financial aid. We have grown our financial aid budget substantially during the past five years to meet a higher proportion of the financial need of our undergraduate and graduate students.

For the fifth year in a row, Simmons generated an operating surplus after covering all depreciation. However, the most recent surplus was considerably less than surpluses in the prior four years that ranged from $4.0 - $5.8 million. This smaller surplus was primarily due to increased financial aid to support returning undergraduate students as well as to support the exceptionally strong academic profile of the incoming fall 2014 class.

As I have said many times, Simmons must maintain a solid financial foundation. As we move forward, we must begin to look at program profitability and continue with selective reductions in spending and in positions to help achieve the financial foundation we all want. In addition to our on-going commitment to financial aid, I am committed to implementing an overall 3% performance-based, merit increase in January 2015. To do so, however, the rigorous, disciplined expense management made possible by the very hard work and commitment of faculty, staff and administrators over the past five years must continue well into the future. We have a shared responsibility to steward Simmons's assets wisely, including the tuition and fees students and their families pay to attend Simmons and our donors contribute to make a Simmons education a reality for so many of our students.

As we kick-off Strategy 2020 planning under the leadership of Provost Conboy and Vice President for Student Affairs Sarah Neill, we must have open, informed, and data-driven discussions about the priorities that will best serve Simmons in the future. I am energized by conversations that are taking place among 90 members of the community who accepted my invitation to work on Strategy 2020 as part of the College Leadership Council. Two major, market research projects with prospective and current graduate students sponsored by our Deans and the VP for Marketing will be completed this month. Findings from these market research projects will provide important insights for the College Leadership Council to consider as it works on Strategy 2020.

This year will continue to be challenging and stimulating for all of us. It will be a year of hard work to ensure that Simmons is a vibrant, relevant university where students from across the country experience a transformative education that links their passion to lifelong purpose. I look forward to updating you again in the spring on our success and on the progress we are making, together, to achieve our goals.