June 26, 2019
Dear Faculty and Staff,
I hope the summer has been filled with enrichment, rest, and rejuvenation. As we approach what is nearly a halfway mark at the Fourth of July celebrations, I am eager to provide you with an update on the work of the University. My message today reflects the health and strength of Creighton, national challenges in our mission of higher education, bold stewardship efforts, and specific summer initiatives that are geared toward both advancing and sharpening our strategic planning efforts.
As has been messaged and discussed in various formats and sessions over the past couple of years, we have continued through focused efforts to make good progress on being good stewards of the University’s resources. Over the last several months, colleagues have been working on the fiscal year 2020 budget, striving to ensure that financial planning continues to align with strategic planning. As a result, I have appointed several strategic-objective task force groups of faculty, staff, and administrators that are meeting this season to engage more purposefully around five key areas:
- undergraduate enrollment
- lifelong-learning enrollment
- collaborative health care education
- community engagement and impact
- stewardship and operational excellence
My plan is to have these objectives drafted and the University budget completed by early August, and to present the budget for approval to our Board of Trustees Executive Committee this summer.
These efforts will be focused on moving forward our strategic plan themes – achieving academic excellence, thriving in our mission, and engaging the world – to best meet the needs of prospective and current students.
As highlighted in national data, and noted in various campus conversations – including my fall Town Hall and spring Convocation presentations – the higher education landscape is changing, and the pace of that change is accelerating with innovative programs and new education options that are desirable to different types of students. The number of high school graduates is declining precipitously in the United States due to a decrease in the overall student population. This is creating greater competition among colleges and universities nationwide in terms of traditional undergraduate enrollment. In addition, these students and their families have placed a greater emphasis on price in choosing an institution of higher learning. Like other colleges and universities across the country, including those within our peer group, the trend is affecting Creighton in terms of decreased undergraduate tuition revenue.
Creighton University remains an outstanding value – particularly in relation to our graduation rates and the professional and personal long-term success of our graduates, as measured by Gallup studies, ranking agencies, and other sources, and even more distinctly regarding transformative experiences of faith and reflection, local and national experiences in service and justice, and global immersion and fluency. However, we are not immune to these national phenomena affecting higher education.
With this backdrop, I feel that we at Creighton – as a faculty and staff community – face a renewed urgency and emphasis to align our resources to most effectively and efficiently address today’s increasingly competitive higher education environment, adapting to the changing needs of students while continuing to provide the outstanding teaching, research, scholarship, and clinical care that are core to our mission.
Again, as I highlighted during this past academic year’s Town Hall and Convocation addresses, our margin of operating dollars continues to improve, and this has allowed us to offer and implement some remarkable programs and events, and to remain being visionary and creative. However, important work still needs to be done. In September, I celebrated the fiscal strength of the University, and, in February, I pledged my continued commitment to our encouraging, ongoing efforts toward our goal of a 5% operating margin. We expect to achieve an operating margin of 3.5% to 4% for the 2020 fiscal year. To continue our momentum, it remains important to prioritize key objectives coming from the task forces. Our operating margin provides essential support for our debt obligations, deferred maintenance, and dreams, including embracing general fiscal security in a time of national instability in higher education.
Reaching this goal will require shared efforts across the colleges, schools, and departments of the University to manage expenses and grow our revenues. To that end, it is important to continue to thoroughly review open positions before rehiring; monitor spending related to travel, renting off-campus facilities, and consultants, to name a few examples; look for reductions in utility usage; and better evaluate our overall utilization of space within our current facilities.
In striving to achieve an essential stewardship goal, I remain committed to funding annual merit increases for the upcoming year, thereby rewarding outstanding faculty and staff.
Knowing and meeting the needs of today’s students, and providing them a challenging environment of intellectual and existential transformation, has always been at the heart of our work. So, too, Creighton is ever creative in programs and curricula. I am pleased, for example, with recent efforts to offer a new four-week winter term between the fall and spring semesters. Thanks to the effort of a University task force, the 2020-2021 undergraduate academic calendar will be adjusted to allow a full four-week term between fall and spring semesters. Students will be able to complete core classes online and faculty will be able to design innovative new courses, both locally and globally. Winter term opportunities will complement our ongoing initiative to enhance online course offerings during the summer months.
I am excited about the work and ideas emerging from the summertime task force groups, and I will be eager to share more updates later this summer, as well as discuss findings with you at the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 3:30 p.m. At that time, I also will update the campus on our significant momentum with our health care alliance partners in Phoenix, as we plan for a Sept. 25 groundbreaking ceremony for the new health sciences campus there. I am pointedly hopeful about ensuring growth in University resources through enrollment opportunities, philanthropy, and daily operational efficiencies. Too, assessing and thinking creatively around advancing our timeline for achieving carbon neutrality on campus, prior to the previously pledged goal of 2050, is necessary.
Again, I look forward to providing more updates as the summer progresses. I wish you and your families a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July holiday, as we reflect on our many blessings and opportunities as a nation.
Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, PhD