October is always a busy month here at Suffolk. From Suffolk Weekend to admissions open houses there is a lot happening on campus, including a slate of Board committee meetings and the first meeting of the full Board of Trustees for this academic year, which took place just last week. Allow me to take a moment to update you on some of the highlights from the fall Board activities.
On Thursday we held the 2017 Trustee Orientation. The half-day session introduces new trustees to the basics of the institution, including organizational structure and expectations of Board members. But it also provides an opportunity for all Board members to examine and discuss key challenges and opportunities for Suffolk and for higher education today. Areas discussed included higher education business models, enrollment trends, and issues of free speech. Some of the topics easily carried over to our dinner conversation Thursday evening at the first “Board Plus” dinner of the year.
As you may recall, last fall we launched a new tradition of bringing together Trustees, members of the senior leadership team, and sometimes faculty, staff, students or alumni, at “Board Plus” dinners. These dinners have given trustees the opportunity to engage with different members of our community in discussing complex strategic issues. The subject of last Thursday’s “Board Plus” Dinner was a complex one indeed – financial aid. The goal was for all of us to better understand how we can maximize the impact of the aid we offer for the benefit of our students, and for the financial health of the University.
We don’t figure out the right tuition prices and financial aid awards by throwing darts at a board. It’s a complex calculus that aims to find the sweet spot that will help us meet student need, keep tuition as affordable as possible, hit revenue and enrollment goals and continue to invest in the quality of our educational experience. It’s not easy. Todd White, an executive consultant with the firm Ruffalo Noel Levitz, took us through scores of slides that helped us better understand where we stand vis-à-vis competitors, higher education and demographic trends, and how we might improve our enrollment yield and student retention with the right mix of financial aid. The various financial aid models that we discussed will inform our conversations as a team about the best strategy as we move forward.
Finally, at its meeting on Friday the Board heard reports from its various committees including The Audit Committee, which approved the audited financial statements for FY17; the Student Affairs Committee, which had heard presentations from the presidents of our three student government associations; the Academic Affairs Committee, which among other things presented a slate of potential honorary degree recipients; and the Finance and Administration committee, which recommended tuition, room and board, and fee rates for next academic year.
While many topics were covered over the course of the October meetings, these are the highlights. Overall it was a great set of conversations, and my thanks go to all the involved Suffolk employees, students, alumni, and trustees, for working so hard – and together – to continue to move the University forward.
Marisa J. Kelly