Fall Semester has begun and it feels like summer is over—even though we're still in August. I'm happy to get classes started because it means we have stopped planning for the start of school and are just simply doing it. I want to thank everyone who worked so hard with our many orientations and Convocation. I heard many compliments from parents, students, and new faculty who are pleased to be at Westminster and feel the warmth and support of our community.
Of course everyone wants to know how we're doing on enrollment. Students can adjust their schedules until Friday, which means that final numbers won't be available for several weeks until we do a final count on census day. We do know that as of today, we have enrolled 475 first-year students and 145 transfer students, which is just short of our budgeted goal for the year of 490 freshman and 170 new transfer students. Undergraduate-enrolled credit hours are slightly ahead of budget and higher than last year at this date in time, but graduate hours are behind budget and lower than last year due to the lagging impact of lower enrollments and high graduation rates.
The freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, however, may reach 80 percent—a huge improvement over last year's 72 percent. What does it all mean? We have made progress on a number of fronts, but lower enrollments over the last three years—plus graduating the largest class in our history in May 2015—means we still need more students to really achieve our optimal enrollment and realize the net tuition revenues we need to sustain growth.
We will continue to recruit transfer and graduate students through the fiscal year. The expansion and success of programs geared to non-traditional students will increasingly become important to our bottom line.
I appreciate the work of the Office of Enrollment Management and the entire faculty and staff who play an integral role in continuing to recruit students for this year while going full-steam ahead at recruiting the 2016–2017 entering class. I know I can count on all of you to continue the good work of teaching and supporting our students with the goal of continuing to improve retention and enrollment.
At the President's Breakfast last week, I presented our institutional goals for the year. I also announced the 2015–2016 Griffin Grants that were recommended by the Strategic Steering Committee and approved by our Senior Team. I believe these grant projects will help advance the progress on our strategic plan, much like the Quick Win Grants did last year. Funding for the Griffin Grants comes from the generous and dedicated donors who are supporting the President's Innovation Network (PIN).
One of our college-wide learning goals is for our students to develop global consciousness, social responsibility, and ethical awareness, a goal that is being achieved in part through our strategic partnerships. For the past eight years, the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy has been located on our campus and has brought hundreds of international visitors to meet with our students and faculty. They also are the cosponsor with Westminster College of the John & Marcia Price World Affairs Lecture series. This year we have six extraordinary international speakers coming to campus (beginning next month) to speak about global and international issues. We appreciate this wonderful opportunity for our students to expand their international knowledge and understanding, and we extend our heartfelt thanks and congratulations to Laura Dupuy, long-time director of UCCD and Westminster alumna, who retired this week. We welcome new UCCD Director Beth Martial, and pledge our continued support to her for this important program.
I am excited to announce two new staff appointments: Norm Parrish will be our new men's basketball coach, replacing Adam Hiatt, who resigned in July. Norm was the head coach at Salt Lake Community College for 20 years, and for the last four years has been director of basketball operations at the University of Utah.
Staci Carson will be our new vice president of institutional advancement. Staci comes to Westminster with extensive fundraising experience at Bucknell University, Puget Sound University, and recently at Southern Utah University, where she led a very successful capital campaign for SUU and the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I want to thank Jeff Driggs for his interim leadership over institutional advancement these past six months while we looked for a new vice president.
This week I participated in the creation of a new partnership with Envoy Aviation that will greatly enhance the employment opportunities for our aviation students. Thanks to John Schaefer, the new director of Westminster's aviation program, and his staff for bringing us this opportunity. This pilot program will help Westminster aviation students' transition from college to a first officer position with Envoy, a regional carrier based in Irving, Texas. Once students have acquired appropriate experience with Envoy, they will have a direct path to being hired by the world's largest airline—American Airlines—without having to interview twice. Scholarships and other incentives are also part of the program too.
Finally, I am excited to get started with many of the initiatives planned for this year. I know it takes all of us working together to help the college achieve its full potential. Over the next several weeks we will ask for your support as we begin our work on strengthening our campus culture and completing our multi-year inclusion plan. You will be receiving invitations from me and others to get involved and help us continue to make Westminster the kind of place we are all proud of.
While teaching and providing services to our students is our #1 priority, we also have some other events and activities that I hope you'll put on your calendars: Veterans Center Grand Opening on September 11; Title IX Symposium September 18–19; and Reunion Weekend/Inauguration September 24–26. What a great start to an exciting year at Westminster!
All the best,