Money woes to slow diversity, other efforts

by Christy Smith

Simpson’s money crunch is putting the squeeze on administrators who are trying to put into action ideas suggested by the retention, marketing and diversity task forces.

President R. Kevin LaGree has released the reports of the three task forces, which spent more than a year studying retention and diversity on campus while looking for new ways to recruit students and improve the college’s donor base.

But LaGree, in a document accompanying the task force reports, committed to few immediate initiatives largely because of budget problems caused by enrollment shortfalls last fall and this spring.

“We are caught in an economic squeeze,” LaGree said. “The stock market is down. Investments have gone down. Expenses are up. This has put financial pressure on the school and has made it more difficult to include recommendations which require funding from the operations budget of the school.”

LaGree said some low-cost ideas could be put into place immediately, and indeed many have already been implemented.

Some could have significant impact on students at Simpson, such as the creation of a new diversity position in the administration and a plan to require all members of college-owned fraternities to live in their houses until the house reached capacity.

But other ideas will have to wait until enrollments rebound or the college bears fruit on its current $50 million fundraising campaign.

Diversity Task Report

While money concerns are keeping LaGree from committing to fulfilling a number of the diversity task force’s recommendations, he said his biggest personnel priority is creating a new position for an assistant dean for multicultural affairs.

The position was included in the fiscal 2002 budget, but has been postponed because of shortfalls in enrollment. Simpson’s full-time fall enrollment was 1,307 students – down 3 percent from Fall 2000.

“I had hoped to have the position filled with this person starting on Jan. 1 of this year,” LaGree said. “We have not been able to do this and it is frustrating. Again, money is an issue here.”

Instead, LaGree said he will soon appoint a president’s Commission on Multicultural Affairs to oversee diveristy efforts on campus until the assistant dean position is filled.

LaGree said vice presidents will make certain their policies and programs are helping the school increase the diversity of the student body, trustees, staff and faculty.

“Where policies impede this institutional priority, I will ask the vice president to reform the policies,” LaGree said. “I will expect that increasing the diversity of the Simpson community will be a factor in all operations of the college, including searches for all employees.”

Starting in October, Simpson’s annual data report will include charts showing the racial and religious diversity of students, staff, trustees and faculty.

Scholarships for minority students are also of concern to the president. The diversity task force concluded that it could cost more than $1 million over four years to provide the financial aid necessary to more than double the percentage of multicultural students on campus.

While tight budgets won’t permit that now, LaGree said he’s going to focus on raising money to make such aid possible.

“One of the foci of the comprehensive campaign [At the Crossroads: The Campaign for Simpson] will be to add scholarship endowment for under-represented students,” LaGree said.

The campaign, which is in its early stages, has already collected two pledges of $25,000 for scholarships for minority students. Simpson hopes to raise $50 million in its five-year campaign.

LaGree also said Simpson will focus on taking “the whole person” into account in deciding admission. The school will consider factors in addition to grades and test scores when deciding whether to accept multicultural students.

“Taking the whole person in account in admissions decisions has been a value at Simpson since our beginning and remains a core value to this community,” LaGree said.

Also, Simpson will lobby through state and national associations of colleges and universities to increase federal funding of the Pell Grant from its current maximum of $3,300 per year. The school also will lobby the Iowa Legislature for increases in the Iowa Tuition Grant, according to LaGree.

As a recommendation, the president has been exploring Simpson’s participation in the Partners in Economic Progress organization in Des Moines.

Fred Jones, head of the social sciences division and former chair of the diversity task force, said LaGree addressed the most important issues of the diversity task force.

“He is on track to hiring a new Assistant Dean for Multicultural Affairs,” Jones said. “He wants to make an environment where people feel comfortable, and where they don’t feel racially unique.”

Some of the diversity task force recommendations LaGree did not immediately commit to implementing include:

n Raising the target percentage of minority students in the next five years from 4.4 percent to 9.5 percent.

n Increasing the percentage of minority faculty at Simpson to 6 percent over the next five years. The task force tentatively supporting a proposal to pay higher salaries and other benefits to minority faculty candidates to entice them to teach at Simpson.

Marketing Task Force

LaGree named John Kellogg as vice president of marketing and chief marketing officer at Simpson last November, and LaGree also has named a marketing team to assist Kellogg.

“A marketing team to assist Mr. Kellogg in his work is in place,” LaGree said. “I will also recommend to the Board of Trustees that the Enrollment Committee be renamed the Marketing Committee.”

By March 31, Kellogg will present a proposal for LaGree and the chairman of the Board of Trustees to begin the process of exploring the mission statement.

“It has been years since our mission statement was looked at,” LaGree said. “We need to think, ‘Does this statement make Simpson unique from other schools?'”

Additionally, Kellogg may invest in more marketing research and will manage a new centralized marketing budget.

“The chief marketing officer will oversee a new centralized marketing budget, which will include at least one new position, that of a Web designer,” LaGree said.

All tactical recommendations are to be directed to Kellogg and his marketing team.

Michael Adams, former chair of the marketing task force and associate vice president for public relations, said LaGree’s final reactions to the recommendations of the force’s report were quick.

“The task force couldn’t consider the ideas of budget,” Adams said. “This is a cautious period for Simpson and the president responded quickly on the recommendations that didn’t require money.”

Adams said he supported naming of Kellogg as vice president of marketing.

“I have always respected the work of John,” Adams said. “I feel good about him, and I know he has the numbers to prove himself.”

Despite the changes, LaGree did not immediately commit to several specific recommendations in the marketing task force report

n Increasing the marketing budget by 3-4 times its current level.

n Freshening the college’s current television advertising and focusing on youth-oriented media supplemented with radio ads in key markets.

n Bolstering resources for more youth camps on campus.

n Starting new advertising campaigns in United Methodist Church publications around the county.

Retention Task Force

A new retention committee will oversee the school’s retention programs and incentives.

Jim Thorius, dean of students and vice president of student development, is the chair of this committee and will serve as Simpson’s retention coordinator.

“I have also recommended that the Student Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees be renamed the Retention Committee,” LaGree said.

On May 17, Ayers-Saint-Gross, a Baltimore-based architectural firm, will present the campus master plan to the Board of Trustees. This plan is to include a proposal for a “one-stop” center for students to go to for services that, officials believe, will help retain students at Simpson.

LaGree also said the school will continue to renovate all residence halls over the next five years and will examine a new policy that would require all members of college-owned fraternities to live in those houses in an effort to keep them full.

“I will ask the retention committee to set up a study group made up of members from Student Development, the Greek fraternities and the retention committee to prepare a proposed policy for the college-owned fraternities,” LaGree said. “It will require all members to live in the fraternity houses until the house is filled to capacity.”

Also, Simpson – which already has added one position to Counseling and Career Services – will consider adding yet another position over the next five years, according to LaGree.

LaGree has referred all other recommendations of the retention task force to the retention committee.

Over the next five years, the president and his committees will continue to examine the President’s task force reports.

As with the other task force reports, LaGree did not make commitments to some initiatives suggested by the retention group, including:

n Starting a pilot Liberal Arts Seminar program for transfer students.

n Expanding the current facilities of the Hawley Academic Center in Dunn Library.

“Every year we will look at the plan and then add another year to the plan,” LaGree said. “This will always be a one-year plan. This is not a static plan.”

In an email sent to faculty and staff on Wednesday, LaGree said the task force ideas he hasn’t immediately endorsed “will not be lost.”

“At this stage in the planning process,” he said, “it’s necessary to make difficult choices about which of the many good thßings that Simpson wants to do.”