President Michael Roth ’78, whose contract as University president has just been extended until 2023, recently published a post on his blog titled “Beyond 2020: Strategies for Wesleyan” that looks toward the future of the University. The Argus has obtained a longer draft of the plan that President Roth has shared with trustees, which addresses the post-2020 years, including Roth’s strategy for resource allocation on areas including education and economic sustainability.
The premise for this update is the impending end of the “Wesleyan 2020” framework, which addresses similar issues. The overarching aim of “Wesleyan 2020,” as addressed in the mission statement, essentially revolves around ensuring that students, and by extension the University itself, excel in a variety of ways.
The administration considers “Wesleyan 2020” a success in many ways. After witnessing a drop in admissions in 2014 and 2015, the University received over 12,000 applications in 2016, lowering the admissions rate to 17.7 percent: a 5 percent drop since 2015 and an overall 3 percent drop since the adoption of “Wesleyan 2020.” Additionally, the University witnessed a 2 percent increase in first-generation students, a 5 percent increase in non-native English speakers, and a significant drop in students from New England.
In addition, “Wesleyan 2020” specifically addresses the school’s ranking, both in describing the reason behind the school’s ranks and what the University intends to do to improve it.
“While Wesleyan was the wealthiest school in relation to the number of students in the late 1960s and early 1970s, today the University does not have the ability to sustain the levels of spending per student that one finds at some of our peer institutions,” reads the “Competition and Prestige” section of the framework. “This has an immediate negative impact on the rankings. With endowment increasingly taken as a way of measuring educational strength, Wesleyan has seen its standing erode.”
Roth’s “Beyond 2020” document addresses additional goals, including expansions on the original plans of the 2020 framework. Roth notes that as 2020 rapidly approaches, it is important to develop the framework for the post-2020 decade. He does this by establishing three main areas of development—“Academic Core,” “Enhance Recognition,” and “Sustainable Economic Model and Campus Planning”—under the initiative’s overarching goals to “energize Wesleyan’s distinctive educational experience… enhance recognition of Wesleyan as an extraordinary institution… [and] work within a sustainable economic model while retaining core values.”
In terms of academics, Roth intends to both expand upon the 2020 framework, as well as ensure that students, in the quintessential liberal arts fashion, leave the University having come in contact with a diverse array of political and intellectual thought and the skills to succeed in the world at large.
“We must continue to find ways to ensure that a Wesleyan education remains relevant decades beyond graduation,” the document reads. “This will mean ‘breaking the bubble’ by encouraging intellectual/political diversity, creating more internship opportunities and linking them back to a student’s educational goals, making the residential experience a more integrated part of a student’s learning, and teaching the value of sustainability across a variety of fields and ways of life.”
Roth also highlighted the previous academic and educational successes established by the 2020 framework.
“We have made significant progress in linking community engagement and sustainability to the academic program (under the Allbritton Center); developing internship opportunities (under the Gordon Career Center); and refining co-curricular learning goals (under Student Affairs),” he wrote. “The Equity Task Force last year recommended that we develop plans for a Resource Center, and we will do so in the coming year as part of an ongoing institution-wide effort to build greater equity and inclusion.”
Additionally, Roth intends to build on the strength of the University’s faculty. He describes four tangible skills he hopes students will develop in coming years, via strengthening University staff. These include “interacting with objects and information,” which emphasizes building the arts and design; “expressing and describing,” which focuses on writing; “analyzing quantitative and digital data,” which targets coding and computer science; and “engaging with difference and building community,” which stresses diversity in terms of student body, staff, and curriculum.
As far as enhancing recognition, Roth hopes to not only build the applicant pool, but to increase the notability of the University’s pragmatic approach to liberal education as well.
“Investing in the work of our students (and alumni) so as to allow them to have a deeper impact across a variety of fields enhances recognition of the power of a Wesleyan education,” the brief explains. “We add value to everyone’s diploma and increase the prestige of the University by supporting the ongoing projects of our faculty, advanced students and alumni. We embrace our academic core by showing its relevance beyond academia.”
One way Roth suggests that the University can make itself relevant to those who have never been on campus is through the partnership with Coursera, a site that has offered online Wesleyan classes to more than 1.6 million students thus far.
“[These online classes can raise] the profile of liberal education in… parts of this country underserved by educational institutions, and also parts of the world (like China and India) where economic development has allowed many more people to pursue higher education,” the section concludes.
The final piece of the “Beyond 2020” document addresses the economic future of the University. Previous frameworks, including “Wesleyan 2020,” cite Victor Butterfield’s era as president and the 1960s-70s as the leading examples of University wealth and academic prosperity. Roth hopes for similar success in his tenure as president of the University.
“College affordability is one of the defining educational issues of our time, and it must be factored into our financial planning,” the document reads. “Fortunately, the successful THIS IS WHY campaign makes it possible to increase our financial aid budget.”
Roth states that financial aid will be a major point of focus in “Beyond 2020,” including prioritizing middle-class affordability and expanding the number of students on full scholarships, which is currently at 10 percent.
“We can address both of these issues by adding dollars to the financial aid budget to increase the discount rate,” Roth writes. “We will add (in addition to any normal increase to the financial aid budget) $2.5 million over the next four years to financial aid, and then, with further fundraising, add another $2.5 million in the following four-year cycle.”
In addition to financial aid, Roth addressed the future of University fundraising.
“Our current plan is to raise $40 million annually, of which $10-11 million goes to the Wesleyan Fund (meaning the dollars are spent annually). Although the positive effects of THIS IS WHY are just kicking in, we are already thinking about the next fundraising campaign, and three areas of focus have emerged: facilities; financial aid and internships; innovative academic positions and programs,” the report says.
Roth concludes the brief by highlighting the University’s continued commitment to inclusion and opportunity for all students.
“In a time of turbulence and worry, Wesleyan continues to attract and educate ‘fearless optimists,’” Roth writes. “Our job is to meet those needs by building the very best Wesleyan we can imagine, true to its traditions and confidently facing the future.”