Reaching Higher Ground

Reaching Higher Ground

HIGHER GROUND! AT DENISON, WE OCCUPY IT, LITERALLY, perched on College Hill above the valley carved by Raccoon Creek, the middle fork of the Licking River. Higher Ground! As our reputation grows within the higher education community and among the young men and women who, in ever-increasing numbers, seek places in our student body, we have clear evidence, indeed, that Denison has climbed higher. Higher Ground! We share aspirations for the future of our college, aspirations for a quality of collegiate experience that will confirm Denison’s leading place among the nation’s outstanding liberal arts colleges.

Higher Ground! Not long after you receive this issue of Denison Magazine, we will publicly unveil one of Denison’s worst-kept modern secrets—Higher Ground: The Campaign for Denison. Why “worst-kept”? Perhaps because hundreds of alumni and friends of the college have already “quietly” committed tens of millions of dollars over the last three years in pursuit of the campaign’s leading objectives. Maybe because anyone who’s looked carefully at the ambitions of the college’s Strategic Plan for this new century can see that they will require new resources. In either case, Higher Ground is no one’s secret any longer, as our whole Denison family joins over the next three years to achieve the campaign’s $160 million goal.

“If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”

—Isaac Newton, 1676

Why Denison; why now? I’m hard-pressed to think of a college that has enjoyed a trajectory like Denison has in the last decade. Pick up nearly any popular guidebook to colleges that you might like and read how the “marketplace” regards Denison. Or better yet, consider that 1995’s 2,400 applications for admission have grown to 2005’s 5,100. Once we had to accept 85 percent of applicants to fill out a class; today we have to hold our acceptance ratio under 40 percent in order to keep enrollment within the capacity of the college. How many other colleges have seen the academic credentials of the entire enrolled class advance as fast as Denison’s? And how many have done it while building a student body increasingly more representative of races, classes, states, and nations? No wonder Denison families have offered their vote of confidence in the college by sending us record numbers of applications from their sons and daughters, sisters and brothers, to say nothing of their grandchildren. Why, Denison-connected applications have doubled in the last seven years alone.

Our pride is not only in our students but also in our faculty and our campus, too. Denison is fortunate today as it has been in the past to attract faculty who make whole lives and careers here. In higher education circles, Denison passes for a “plum” teaching appointment, and we nearly always land our top selections from strong pools of faculty candidates. Given the opportunity to work closely with interesting and eager students and be supported in their development as teacher-scholars, Denison professors form an intellectual community that aims high. Professors and students alike enjoy a campus that combines natural beauty, historic architecture, and a growing number of state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories. A rich array of housing opportunities that range from traditional double residence hall rooms to suites and full apartments allows us into a select company of fully residential colleges where students have extraordinary access to social, athletic, service, and cultural opportunities.

As the most ambitious comprehensive campaign in Denison’s history, Higher Ground seeks to raise $160 million for long-term investments and daily operations.

Recognizing these characteristics and trends, the Strategic Plan for Denison set out an ambitious vision:

Denison will strengthen its position among the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, capitalizing upon its proven ability to transform young lives. The college offers an active, participatory education that engages students in critical thinking and problem-solving in close collaboration with outstanding teacher-scholars. Our diverse, residential campus community provides rich opportunities for men and women to join one another in leadership, responsibility, friendship, and service. Denison graduates will be prepared to lead complete lives and make a difference in the 21st century world.

Denison already finds itself among a few dozen outstanding national liberal arts colleges that represent the “gold standard” of undergraduate education. What will it take to offer the highest quality educational experience that will secure our position among the very leaders of this group? Simply stated, we must invest in our strengths. More specifically, we must:

  • Increase the number of professors available to work with Denison students in small, participatory classes and in independent study.
  • Support students who have the ambition to tackle serious scholarly projects.
  • Nurture the development of faculty members who are intent upon improving their skills as teacher-scholars.
  • Acquire and support the technology that brings the information resources of the globe into classrooms, libraries, laboratories, and studios.
  • Increase resources for student scholarships and financial aid to allow the college to enroll the students who seem most able to take advantage of the education Denison has to offer.
  • Provide enhanced internship and off-campus study opportunities that help students relate their classroom learning in the liberal arts and sciences to careers and to the world they will inhabit as graduates.
  • Sustain academic, residential, and student life facilities that encourage student engagement in learning and growing opportunities in and out of the classroom.
  • Strengthen the resources that bolster student organizational life, campus leadership experiences, athletic and recreational endeavor, cultural growth, and community social life.

These are large, important investments. endeavors that can and will take the college upward to the higher ground of increasing educational excellence.

Why a “campaign”? Can’t our enviable endowment and substantial operating income take us where we want to go? In all truth, no. We’ve extracted great value from our endowment, the fruit of the successfully invested gifts of alumni, parents, and friends. But the income it produces has been fully employed to take us to the heights we currently enjoy. Moving ahead means joining a select group of national liberal arts colleges that advance on the strength of what can only be called leadership resources. And so, the larger part of our Higher Ground initiative is to add to the endowments that provide for long-term excellence in student, faculty, and program support.

We’re also constrained from placing more burden upon tuition and student fees. Affordability is an issue for all in higher education, and at Denison we have addressed it by supporting an exceptional program of financial aid and student scholarships. Taking major strides in institutional effectiveness will require the support that only endowed scholarships, professorships, and programs can provide in perpetuity.

But a “campaign” involves much more than a focus on accelerated fund-raising. The very word implies shared effort and common goals. What better mechanism than a campaign to focus our attention upon the historic strengths of the college, upon innovations that have made us even better, and upon the steps we want to take to ensure that an undergraduate experience at Denison is second to none? What is a campaign but one part celebration, one part challenge, and one part dedication?

Between now and the projected completion of the campaign in June 2008, our entire Denison family will have the opportunity to reflect upon what we have achieved at Denison, upon where we want our college to go, and upon the shared effort it will take to move Denison not just ahead but up, up to Higher Ground.

Published November 2010