Board of trustees work to sustain college


Lily Lou/Guilfordian

Vice President for Enrollment Arlene Cash speaks to the board of trustees on how Guilford is working towards a sustainable future.

With issues of debt and low enrollment, now more than ever, Guilford College is looking towards its administration for solutions.

On Oct. 10, the board of trustees had their first ever open meeting, during which, the board approved a budgeted deficit, discussed progress of various committees, announced large-scale plans for increasing enrollment and declared guiding priorities for the board’s future endeavors.

It is unclear at this time how quickly these decisions will turn things around for Guilford, but the board plans to work closely with these issues and track the success of each decision made.

Change: the word on everybody’s lips

“Good morning,” said board chair Edward Winslow III, calling to order the morning’s meeting. “Good morning and welcome to all this change.”

Guiding their future actions, the board drafted and approved a set of values-driven strategic priorities: affirm the centrality of students, improve the campus experience and strengthen Guilford’s standing among peer institutions and other external constituents.

“Everything we do should relate back to these values and goals,” said trustee Christopher K. Mirabelli, managing director of HealthCare Ventures in Dover, Massachusetts. “They can change. If something doesn’t work, it can change. But right now, we need to be able to say we have a roadmap.”

The board also saw the addition of a new trustee, Carla Brenner ‘73, and said goodbye to longtime members Carole Bruce, Pete Cross and Robert “Bob” Jones.

The issue of enrollment

Perhaps the biggest problem Guilford currently faces is declining enrollment rates, which have been the main priority of both the board and the administration.

“It is time to come together to make sure that the sustainability of this place is guaranteed,” said Arlene Cash, VP of enrollment management.

A new leadership team has been assembled to help address this issue.

Cash, Vice President for Student Affairs Todd Clark, William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center Wess Daniels, Vice President of Marketing Roger Degerman and Interim Vice President of Academic Affairs Beth Rushing all joined Fernandes’ senior staff.

According to Cash, Guilford must strive to be “values-driven, student-centered and market-focused.” In accordance with this, the committee has focused their efforts on finding new marketing strategies, strengthening academic programs and retaining current students.

Close to 60 percent of prospective students surveyed knew very little about Guilford.

“Guilford is amazing,” said Degerman. “It really is. When you look at a place from afar, you get this sort of ballpark idea, and I was impressed. But, when you come here and experience it for yourself, it’s a whole other thing.”

The committee plans to focus first on changing Guilford’s academics. This would entail revising the general education requirements (something that hasn’t happened since 1998), creating online classes and building a “safety net” for current students.

The safety net would take the form of an online system that allows students to reach out to Student Affairs for assistance and arm faculty with methods to support that student.

Despite these changes, the board and the committees reaffirmed that Guilford’s core values would not be compromised.

“It is going to be increasingly recognized that we cannot give up that thing liberal arts colleges seek to do,” said Winslow. “Liberal arts colleges are not job training academies. They prepare people to be human beings.”

Building a budget

The board approved a $46 million operating budget with a budgeted deficit of $1 million for the next year, and will draw on a line of credit with BB&T Corporation to cover any cash requirements. The board also approved a capital budget — for investments — of $1 million.

Additionally, Fernandes has received authorization to draw on the line of credit for up to $1 million to carry out actions pertaining to strategic priorities that she thinks will boost enrollment.

The Capital Campaign committee announced they have crossed the halfway mark, having raised over $7.3 million thus far, with 26 outstanding proposals totaling $7.6 million.

The advancement committee also had some good news. The annual fund’s goal of $1 million has been exceeded by 46 percent. Cash is up by 55 percent—due mostly to the success of the Emory and Henry Challenge and the Day for Giving fundraisers—and participation is up by around 20 percent for traditional students and 35 percent for CCE students.

The advancement committee did express concern, however, over their understaffing. Currently, the committee only has six callers for soliciting donations, with one vacant position.

Moving forward

The decisions announced during the meeting have set the course for the administration’s actions for the coming year. The board plans to revisit these issues later this year once results become apparent.

“The initiatives they are taking are good ones,” said Professor of Business Betty Kane. “There are so many great ideas, but before we invest in those ideas, we need to know what success will look like. I have faith that Jane will ensure that those measures are in place, I really do.”

Fernandes has already taken steps in making the administrative process more transparent. This meeting was the first to be open to the Guilford community, which was met with excitement, gratitude and resounding approval.

“I very much appreciated the opportunity to attend the open session of the board meeting,” said Associate Professor of Foreign Languages Maria Bobroff. “I fully support more interactions between the board and the faculty. We are working for the same goal, so it is imperative that we keep an open dialogue with each other.”

This change also marks the opportunity for greater involvement of one of the largest stakeholders in these decisions: the students. In order to take advantage of this opportunity, however, students would need to participate more often and in greater numbers.

“To include the student voice in any decisions of the community, students need to be part of the conversations in which these decisions are made,” said Molly Anne Marcotte, Community Senate president.

“Senate is a base for student input and large budgetary decisions for capital projects, and it provides a great way to ensure your voice is included in these decisions. We want to hear your perspective, and (we) encourage you to join us in these community-based conversations, decisions and actions.”

Moving forward, there is a lot at stake. However, the board is prepared to meet the challenges Guilford faces.

“We are very enthusiastic about Jane Fernandes’ leadership and where we are going,” said Winslow. “All you have to do is step outside and look around, and it is impossible to not be enthusiastic about who we are and what we are doing.”