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An Update from the President



Covenant College President Niel Nielson presented an update on the College on May 15, 2009.

 

Dear Covenant friends,

 

As president of Covenant College, I thank you for your prayers and interest in our ongoing work. Thanks be to God for His people and for His hand on us as we move ahead. I want to give you an update on a number of significant happenings at Covenant College. Even though we face clear economic challenges and some hard decisions, we at the same time are undertaking many new initiatives that I believe will make the College stronger and more effective in carrying out its longstanding mission.

 

The Mission of Covenant College

As a part of a strategic planning process that I will outline in more detail below, we have articulated a fresh expression of Covenant's founding mission:

 

The mission of Covenant College is to explore and express the preeminence of Jesus Christ in all things. We educate Christians to engage culture and cultures, to examine and unfold creation, and to pursue biblical justice and mercy in community. With the student-faculty relationship and strong teaching and scholarship at the foundation, our Christ-centered community seeks to help students mature in three primary areas:

  • Identity in Christ
  • Biblical frame of reference
  • Service that is Christ-like

We offer the world biblically grounded men and women equipped to live out extraordinary callings in ordinary places.

Our mission as a College informs everything we do and is the basis upon which all of the following decisions have been made.

 

Significant Initiatives

We have experienced God's wonderful blessing in the last seven years in the launch of seven new majors and programs (art, bachelor of science in early childhood education, community development, economics, French, Spanish, and theatre) as well as several new minors and concentrations. We have significantly increased academic scholarship opportunities for students, with 180 prospective students visiting campus this past January to interview for these awards. We have also completed a beautiful new academic building and made significant renovations to the library. Finally, we have enhanced campus life and co-curricular programs, including a new student residence building, renovation of the main floor of Carter Hall, a debate club, discipleship coordinators for each residence hall, four new intercollegiate sports, and new baseball and softball fields.

 

Several new initiatives are underway:

  • A strategic plan, which includes what we call a rightsizing plan.
  • Actions the College has taken as a result of economic factors. This includes a reduction in force, which accelerates a portion of the rightsizing plan.


Strategic Plan

Our new strategic plan is rooted in the College's mission, with the academic program at its center, and sets clear, measurable goals through 2012. Developed by over fifty Covenant College stakeholders (including faculty, staff, students, alumni, trustees, and parents) during the 2008-2009 academic year and approved by the board of trustees this spring, the plan provides a viable, mission-focused roadmap for the next three years, sets important trajectories for the years beyond, and will result in a stronger and more effective institution. To see the framework of the strategic plan and a list of members of the strategic planning committees, visit covenant.edu/sp.

 

The rightsizing initiative, while a part of the strategic plan, was begun in the spring of 2008 under the leadership of vice president for academic affairs Dr. Jeff Hall, in consultation with the academic faculty leadership and involving a thorough evaluation of every department. The purpose of the rightsizing initiative is to strengthen what Covenant does best, to meet the needs of our student body, and to ensure the financial sustainability of the College for generations to come. It is vitally important that, as we reduce in some areas, we invest in new strategic initiatives. The rightsizing plan, designed to be carried out over a period of five years, accomplishes this.

 

Key anticipated outcomes of the strategic plan are as follows:

Academics

  • All traditional academic programs and majors, the master of education program, and the bachelor of science in early childhood education program will continue. We will continue developing study-abroad programs under faculty oversight. The recent addition of the study of Arabic will continue, and we will offer the study of Chinese for the first time in the fall of 2009. A theatre major was added this year. We will pursue development of an MAT (master of arts in teaching) program for secondary and middle grades educators.
  • We will increase the student-faculty ratio from 14.7 students per faculty member to an estimated ratio of 15.7 students per faculty member. In careful consultation with faculty leaders, we have determined that close student-faculty relationships will not be compromised by small decreases in the number of faculty serving in some departments. Over the next five years, some departments will maintain their programs with fewer faculty members than are called for in this year's budget. In some cases, the decrease in number will be the result of not filling positions that are currently vacant.
  • We will phase out Quest, the organizational management adult degree-completion program, by 2011.
  • We will add a marketing professor, who is expected to join the faculty in 2010. We also plan to add an engineering professor and a journalism or film professor.

 

Partnerships, Career Development, and Organization

  • We will increase our emphasis on the cultivation of strategic partnerships with our denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), and other like-minded bodies. Covenant's ownership by the PCA is a distinguishing characteristic of the College-one that we highly value. We have much to offer the PCA and other Reformed bodies, and likewise they can support us in a variety of ways.
  • We will develop a Center for Vocational Exploration and Career Placement, to be located in Carter Hall, during the 2009-2010 academic year. This center will be a resource for students-from matriculation to graduation-and alumni as they explore possible callings. We seek to equip our students more effectively to take what they learn at Covenant and apply it in the workplace.
  • We are discontinuing the search for a chief financial officer. The vice president for academic affairs serves as the CFO, while the vice president for advancement has assumed facilities management and construction oversight.

 

Athletics

  • We are in the process of applying for membership in the NCAA Division III. This move from the NAIA will be beneficial for two primary reasons. 1) The profile of NCAA Division III colleges is a better fit with Covenant's academic profile. 2) Shorter playing seasons are more supportive of the academic program. NCAA Division III membership requires the elimination of athletic scholarships, which means that all students, regardless of athletic participation, qualify for financial aid according to the same criteria.
  • We will employ full-time coaches for varsity and junior varsity teams with full rosters. Such additional staffing is available only if enough students enroll to fill the roster of each sport-which means that, in a real sense, this initiative not only aims to be self-funding but may actually serve to subsidize the academic program at large.

 

Actions Taken as a Result of Economic Factors

This is a difficult time economically. Two main economic factors affect the College. First, because Covenant's endowment has decreased by 25% in the past year due to the global economic downturn, we will not draw funds from the endowment during the 2009-2010 year. This represents a $1.2 million reduction in operating revenue for the year. Second, students' families are seeking to steward wisely their limited resources, and we want to assist them as best we can. Tuition and fees provide just over half of our revenue. Gifts make up 22% of revenue, and we are thankful for loyal partners who give generously.

 

To address these economic challenges, we made several budgetary decisions throughout the year.

 

  • Tuition for the 2009-2010 year is $24,520 (an increase of 3.9%).
  • The College will increase funds reserved for financial aid for deserving students.
  • There will be no raises for any faculty or staff, except those minimal raises (less than 1% of salary) mandated by contract.
  • All senior administrators have taken a voluntary reduction in compensation.
  • Any increase in health care premiums in the coming year will be borne by employees.
  • The College has ceased making matching contributions to employees' 403(b) retirement accounts.
  • As has been the case since early in the academic year, employees must obtain approval from the CFO before incurring any expense.

 

As the senior administration has monitored budget projections for next year, we concluded that a reduction in force was necessary. This is not something we take lightly. The people of Covenant make this the unique, vibrant community that we love. Only with much prayer and study did we come to the conclusion that we must reorganize employee responsibilities and eliminate several positions.

 

Facing financial challenges from time to time over the last several years, we have addressed the need for employee reductions entirely on the staff side, through attrition, while the faculty has continued to grow. In these unprecedented times, we need to include reductions in the number of faculty as well as staff in the budget planning process. These adjustments are as distressing as they are necessary. It is important to us that in this process we are honoring all contracts.

 

The reduction in force is as follows:

  • voluntary retirement packages offered to 4 faculty members and 3 staff members
  • 1 visiting instructor, 1 teaching faculty member, and 1 administrative faculty member with expiring 1-year contracts will not be returning
  • 3 full-time and 2 part-time staff layoffs
  • reduction in hours for 5 staff members
  • 10 currently vacant staff positions will not be filled

 

Those who are leaving employment with Covenant have served the College well and will be deeply missed. It is our desire to care for them during their time of transition as best we can. We are doing so in part through the provision of separation packages and professional job search assistance. I ask you to join us in praying for these members of our community.

 

Our longstanding mission-to explore and express the preeminence of Jesus Christ in all things-guides all that we do. I am eager for us to begin the work of the next few years-to develop our academic and co-curricular programs in order most effectively to carry out our mission and serve our students. I invite you to join with us in praying that the Lord would use us in this Kingdom work. May God bless Covenant College as we seek to proclaim His preeminence in all things.

 

In the grace and service of Jesus Christ,

 

Niel Nielson, PhD

President