Dear Denison Parents and Families:
Each year, I write a letter to Denison families to update you on the news of the college. This year I want to start by thanking you for supporting your student. Our current students are a fantastic generation of Denisonians. I feel honored to work with them.
It’s an exciting time for Denison. We are in the fourth year of implementing a strategic plan that has sent our applications soaring. We are on pace to complete the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history. But most importantly, we are doing the things we need to do to ensure that our students are receiving a world-class education that will unlock their potential to be the architects of their lives.
Let me expand a bit on this last point. As a college president and parent of a college student, I have been thinking a lot about Denison and what a college experience should entail. My hope is that you will find these things to be true of your student’s Denison experience:
First, Denison provides a supportive and engaging community. Denison is a college where students arrive and quickly make friends, connect with faculty, get their academic footing, and become involved on campus in ways that accelerate a successful transition into college.
Second, Denison provides an education for the whole brain and whole person. We want to immerse our students in a robust liberal arts education. We take students both deep into and wide across the curriculum, ensuring they develop a range of attributes-from creativity and intuition to analytical and logical skills. This learning extends all around campus as students immerse themselves in athletics, the arts, and a range of other campus activities that enhance the development of important skills, values, and habits.
Third, Denison is a college that unlocks the potential of students to be the architects of their lives. We are focused on getting students to ask three questions: What kind of life do I want to live? How do careers and professions allow me to build that life? And how do I use part of my time in college to start to develop the skills, values, habits, networks, and experiences to get started? We do not prescribe any particular kind of life, just as we don’t prescribe what students should think. Our goal is to help students learn to think for themselves so they can define and create the lives they want to live and the careers that will help them build those lives.
Parents and families play an important role in this process. As you are having conversations with your student about Denison, please reinforce the following messages:
- Dive into the liberal arts: This starts with academics. We want our students to savor their coursework and take a wide variety of classes. We also want them to extend their learning across campus by getting involved. This means pursuing interests they brought to Denison but also being open to new interests. Ideally, every student will leave Denison with a new interest they developed over their time here.
- Cultivate meaningful relationships: College is shaped by relationships. In particular, students should form relationships with professors and staff, especially those who can be mentors. Peer-to-peer relationships also are important. Our students should connect with people who share common interests while they also forge friendships with people whose life experiences are different from their own. We call this lateral learning.
- Develop good life skills and habits: This means different things for different students. But it starts with developing a sense of self-awareness. Our students should use their time at Denison to develop a set of habits for wellness that will serve them in the future.
- Take advantage of the Knowlton Career Center: We want our students to have a great four years at Denison that unlock their potential to be the architects of their lives. Professional success matters. The Knowlton Career Center can be a huge resource for students. Encourage them to connect with the Center early and often to help them develop the skills, values, habits, networks, and experiences needed to launch professionally.
We are doing a lot to support this work. This includes expanding the curriculum, focusing on mentorship, deepening the first-year experience, encouraging co-curricular innovation, enhancing career exploration, and leveraging the Columbus Metropolitan Region in unique ways. I have written about this work elsewhere, which you can find at denison.edu/campus/president/speeches.
In addition, I am pleased to share exciting announcements about the future of residential life at Denison. Over the last year, we have had extensive and ongoing conversations with students about different elements of living at Denison. Throughout the fall, those conversations have focused on renovations to residence halls, the design of a new apartment building, designing and renovating social spaces, and planning a new wellness center. Students have helped drive this process, including a group of students trained in design thinking through our Red Frame Lab.
In January, the Board of Trustees approved four elements of the emerging Residential Life Master Plan.
- Renovation of every residence hall: The Board approved funds to allow us to renovate every residence hall at Denison over the next few years. This will happen in phases, allowing us to do a range of exciting things students have suggested. Changes include updating furniture to better suit the ways students use their rooms, re-doing bathrooms, and creating more lounges and study spaces. The firm we hired to lead the design work has done a lot of concept testing with students about how particular halls can be reconfigured to better serve student interests and needs for individual rooms, common spaces, and green spaces outside. We also are studying ways to optimize parking on campus.
- New senior apartments: With generous support from Denison alumnus Jonathan Silverstein (Class of 1989) and funding approved by the Board, we will construct a new set of apartments for seniors. This will create a senior quad with enough apartments for every senior. In addition, the buildings will provide a new gathering space. Students have suggested using this space for a coffee kiosk, a bar, a convenience store, or some combination of these. A goal of the design is to create a venue that anchors the senior apartment community as a distinctive place, something seniors have said they want. Construction will start around Spring Break so the buildings can open for the fall of 2020.
- New social spaces: We will construct two social lodges. This will give us four new spaces that each can hold up to 75-100 students, with an accessible outdoor green space in between. The interior spaces can be combined to hold 150-200 students for larger events. We are moving quickly to learn more from students on a few final design details, with a goal to open this space in the fall of 2019. In addition, construction is well along on renovating a few existing social spaces on campus. In total, we will have ten social spaces that accommodate different sizes of gatherings and different kinds of atmospheres.
- New Wellness Center: The Board approved the basic design for a new wellness center to replace the Whisler Center for Student Wellness. The new center will be built in the stadium hill, overlooking the trees on the hillside. The center, which is not yet named, will offer confidential clinical services on the lower level. The upper level will hold spaces for wellness programs and support, such as a yoga and movement studio, rooms for alternative therapies, and a teaching kitchen. The center will allow us to fully integrate health and counseling services and to provide a forward-looking model of wellness. We anticipate starting construction in the fall of 2020 after the new apartment building is completed.
As we do this work, we are guided by a few principles:
- We want to make sure students have spaces to create a robust and vibrant life on campus. As a fully residential college, we know students are heavily dependent on campus facilities. By renovating current spaces and adding effective new ones, we hope to meet the needs and interests that students have described. We continue to partner with students as co-creators to get this right.
- We want to be responsive to the rich diversity that our students bring to campus and the different needs and wide range of interests they embody. The fact that Denisonians have such a wide array of experiences, interests, and ways of being is what makes our campus interesting and dynamic. It also means that students want to live and socialize in different ways.
- We want our students to develop habits of wellness as part of a liberal arts experience. As a college, our goal is to offer a liberal arts education that educates the whole person. The designs for all of these spaces (the new wellness center, but also the senior apartments, residence hall renovations, and the new social spaces) reflect personal, interpersonal and community wellness considerations.
I want to close with a few comments about the financial model. Denison remains in a strong financial position. Demand for Denison remains strong and growing. This year, we had over 8,800 applications. This represents a 10% increase in applications from last year and an 84% increase since we launched our strategic plan. We also are on pace to complete the largest fundraising campaign in the college’s history. We have raised $175 million on our way to $225 million by June 2020. All of this bodes well for Denison’s future, and the value of a Denison education.
We are working hard to provide a world-class education to our students in ways that keep the college affordable. We know that Denison is expensive and that every family is stretching financially. We take this commitment seriously and are working to be good stewards of your financial investment.
The challenge in front of all private colleges is not the quality of the education, but rather the affordability of the experience. Our focus is on both sides of the equation. We are raising capital through a fundraising campaign and investing our endowment wisely as ways to help pay for more of the Denison experience through Denison resources.
At the same time, we also are working to contain operating costs and to ensure we are using our financial resources effectively. This work has been extensive over the last few years, including joint-purchasing with other Ohio liberal arts colleges; careful examination of our expense structure to make sure resources are used efficiently and are focused on the education of our students; and bidding outside work widely to ensure good prices. We are working to keep tuition increases as low as possible each year. Next year, tuition will increase by 3.48%.
A major priority of mine has been and will continue to be, a focus on our financial health and the direction of the college. I want to continue to deepen the student experience and ensure that our students make a quick and successful transition into top jobs and graduate programs. All of the work described in this letter is geared towards these outcomes.
I want to end where I began, by thanking you for everything you do to support your student’s Denison education. I am honored to work with this great generation of Denisonians.
Adam S. Weinberg
Read more of Adam Weinberg's speeches and writings.