There is no higher education system in the world that can match that of the American higher education system. Students from all over the globe flock to this country for undergraduate and advanced degrees. Among its greatest strengths is the diversity of our system. It serves the traditional 18- to 22-year-old full-time population and also those who are part-time students or working adults with families. It offers vocational and technical training, as well as broad-based liberal arts degrees. Students can earn credits in-person or on-line. They can study with classes of 10 or 100 or 1000. They can be in residence or commute. All of these models have merit. All contribute to the richness of the American higher education environment.
Of all of those earning undergraduate degrees, 4.5% earn them from residential liberal arts colleges. It is a small niche, but one that fulfills a critically important need—a highly personalized educational experience that offers a superior academic experience with a focus on critical thinking, communication skills, and complex problem-solving; a co-curricular experience geared intentionally towards personal development; superb preparation for further study; one-on-one mentoring; and an emphasis on social responsibility and civic engagement. How better to prepare tomorrow’s leaders?
Gettysburg will continue to reside in this important higher education niche. Our planning process affirmed our dedication to providing a superb residential liberal arts and sciences education. However, we move forward with an acute awareness of the following:
- A Gettysburg education must be relevant in its focus and delivery.
- A Gettysburg education must appeal to today’s students and their families.
- A Gettysburg education must be financially accessible.
- A Gettysburg education must prepare students for fulfilling lives in today’s—and tomorrow’s—society.
Cost and Value
We live in a society in which there is heightened public concern about the cost of higher education, in which the idea of “free” public higher education is being discussed, and in which there is regular criticism of the “impracticality” of a liberal arts degree. How can we best respond to these concerns?
In recent years we have emphasized outcomes, enriching the career development opportunities available to our students and focusing on our graduates’ accomplishments and how they are linked to their Gettysburg education. We have received national attention for being one of 50 Colleges That Create Futures and one of 50 Colleges That Pay You Back, by The Princeton Review. However, it is clear that we cannot presume that the public understands what a liberal arts and sciences education entails. We must continue to communicate clearly about the exceptional value of a residential liberal arts education, and a Gettysburg education in particular. Our focus on personal and intellectual development can be complemented by strong messages about the career-relevant skills that our students acquire and the success of our graduates as citizens, as professionals, and as leaders.
The World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs report focuses on the top 10 skills that will be needed in the workforce in the year 2020. Complex problem-solving, critical thinking, and creativity top the list, followed by people management, coordinating with others, and emotional intelligence. It is hard to imagine an approach to learning these skills that could surpass an education in the liberal arts and sciences, paired with a rich co-curricular experience in a residential setting. There is no question that this form of education has tremendous value in today’s and tomorrow’s workplace, in addition to providing the wonderful benefits of personal development. It is our job to continue to make this case with great energy and conviction.
We also have a responsibility to use our resources wisely—to contain our costs where possible, while maintaining high quality. Over the last two years, our College community has engaged in a process of sustainable excellence to assure our ability to continue to offer a truly excellent education that is financially sustainable. We acknowledge that we will need to continue to look through the lens of sustainable excellence as we move into the future. We no longer have the luxury of increasing net tuition at a rate that meets the increasing costs of operations. Over the last five years, Gettysburg’s effective annual tuition increase net of financial aid has been 2.5%. We have been pressed to respond to the need for salary and benefits increases, inflationary increases, and multiple compliance requirements imposed by the federal government. This trend will continue, as will our need—and our desire—to make a Gettysburg education available to strong students who cannot afford it. To enact new initiatives, let alone to balance the budget, we must continue to be thoughtful and creative about how we use the resources available to us—and we must be willing to make decisions about reallocation of existing funds.
Gettysburg College continues to lag behind its peers with regard to its resource base. Our endowment per student is significantly lower, and our annual giving numbers, although improving, are still not equal to many of our peers. Clearly we cannot let up on our fundraising efforts. Our current campaign will help to support many of our strategic initiatives; and we will continue an aggressive fundraising effort after the campaign’s conclusion to secure the funds to help support these initiatives.
To summarize, we will mount a four-pronged approach to the challenging economic climate in which we recruit students. Specifically, we will:
- Build the case for the value of a Gettysburg education;
- Use our process of sustainable excellence to help us contain costs and build alternative revenue streams;
- Work to fund new initiatives through the reallocation of existing funds; and
- Raise funds aggressively, with a strong focus on financial aid.
A liberal arts education is by definition broad-based. We will continue to offer a strong and well-rounded curriculum in the natural sciences, social sciences, arts, and humanities. We will continue to seek excellence across disciplines, to encourage interdisciplinary connections, and to recruit and retain faculty who are dedicated to undergraduate teaching, mentoring students, engaging in their disciplines, and supporting the College by participating productively in its governance.
Recently we have made minor revisions to the College’s mission and values statement to reflect our current student population, our focus on diversity and inclusion, and our goal to prepare graduates to thrive as productive citizen-leaders and professionals.
Gettysburg College is a residential, undergraduate college of the liberal arts and sciences that prepares students from across the nation and around the globe to pursue lives of personal and professional fulfillment and to engage the complex questions of our time through effective leadership and socially responsible citizenship.
This statement is grounded in the core values of the institution:
- The worth and dignity of all people and the limitless value of their intellectual potential;
- The commitment to a diverse and inclusive learning environment;
- The power of a liberal arts education to help students develop critical thinking skills, broad vision, effective communication, a sense of the inter-relatedness of all knowledge, sensitivity to the human condition, and a global perspective, all necessary to enable students to realize their full potential for responsible citizenship;
- The enrichment of the traditional liberal arts and sciences curriculum with the most promising intellectual developments of our time;
- The free and open exchange of ideas and the exploration of their ethical and spiritual dimensions;
- The value of a lifelong commitment to service, and the role of the College in both providing an example of public service for students and fostering a commitment to service among our young people;
- The value of ethical leadership that is inclusive, collaborative, and directed towards effecting change for the greater good;
- Our conviction that a residential college best promotes the sense of community, central to a liberal arts education, in which personal relationshipsbetween students, faculty, and staff can flourish.
The implementation of this plan will enhance our ability to advance our core mission as a residential, undergraduate college of the liberal arts and sciences.
We are acutely aware of the fact that we are operating in a fast-changing higher education landscape. The strongest liberal arts colleges have stood the test of time, meeting the needs and expectations of today’s students by revising curricula and pedagogies, adopting new student recruitment methods, building new facilities, and providing rich co-curricular opportunities. Although we hold firmly to our belief in the value of a residential liberal arts education, we also recognize that we must remain vigilant to the changing landscape around us, that we must be ready to adapt to that landscape by considering alternative scenarios, and that we must continuously evaluate our progress on this plan against that landscape and make adjustments as needed.