On Wednesday, September 17, the Goucher Student Government (GSG) hosted an open forum with college president José Bowen. The forum allowed students to express their concerns with recent and upcoming changes. The forum was facilitated by Isaiah Zukowski ’17 and featured a question and answer session with Bowen, which addressed topics, including the Goucher Video Application (GVA), student retention rate, Wi-Fi, Title IX, study abroad, student support services, and the Stimson project.
GSG advertised the event by sending out emails to the student body, and encouraged students to submit pertinent questions ahead of time via email. Once these questions had been gathered, Zukowski presented them to Bowen and then opened the floor so students could ask follow-up questions.
In terms of the GVA, Bowen revealed that he met with admissions, Associate Provost LaJerne Cornish, and Provost Marc Roy back in July to discuss Goucher’s community principles and possibilities for a more inclusive admissions process. This resulted in a faculty meeting, where a few ideas were “tossed around,” as Bowen said, including the video application.
Bowen reiterated that Goucher will still use the Common Application, and if students do choose to do the GVA, they must also submit two pieces of high school work. Although students do not have to submit a transcript with the video application, students do have to submit a transcript if they want to be considered for merit-based scholarships. Bowen also reminded students that scholarships are given after students are admitted. Therefore, it is possible for someone to apply through the video application, and then later submit their transcript to be considered for merit-based scholarships. Additionally, students who are from low-income backgrounds who are admitted through the GVA will still be able to apply for need-based aid both through FAFSA and the college. Upon being asked how the GVA will attract students who are the first in their family to attend college, Bowen explained that the video gives the college recognition and it will give high school students a new opportunity when applying to colleges. Because more students have a phone than a laptop or computer, and phones are “better at making videos than writing essays, so I felt it leveled the playing field.”
There was much speculation expressed as to whether or not the GVA will succeed. Bowen mentioned several ways in which the success can be measured including a rise in SAT scores among applicants, the overall yield of students, and the retention of students accepted. Another way to measure this is tracking the GPAs of students who were accepted on the Common Application versus the GPAs of students accepted on the GVA.
The GVA has sparked a lot of response nationwide, giving Goucher a great deal of publicity. When this topic came up, Bowen acknowledged that “most of the publicity we’re getting is positive,” and while not all of the responses to the GVA have been positive, the GVA has been able to get the school’s name out there. “If it works,” Bowen said, “trust me, everyone will be doing this in the next couple years. Eight hundred schools are now SAT [or ACT] test-optional; it started with one school.”
A few students asked whether the GVA will hurt the budget, but financial models allow for the school to continue the curent model that it needs to meet and sustain the budget in the short-term. In the long term, if the video application results raising the total yield for the school, it could help sustain the budget because when more students are enrolled, the budget is better, regardless of the financial need of the students. Zukowski mentioned to Bowen that the four students present at the panel on the GVA were opposed to it. Bowen found this statement to be false, and while he did say that students were involved in the process, he did not remember who those students were.
This brought up the question of the administration making big decisions without first asking for student input, which came up a few more times throughout the forum. Bowen responded to this comment by saying, “I’m here…I have open hours.” He reiterated that he is willing to talk to students about their concerns on campus.
Another major topic addressed at the forum was Goucher’s retention rate. Goucher students and the administration are aware that the college does not have a very high retention rate. Zukowski mentioned that the retention rate across four years is only 59%. Bowen said that he “just hired someone who has expertise in this area.” He also mentioned that Cornish is starting a committee on the subject, which will consist of people from student services, student affairs, and other areas of the college. A student later asked if there are students on the committee. Bowen said there are not any on the committee yet, but that it is a possibility. Part of retention, Bowen explained, is that “we need to look at what we do…everything we do on campus matters.”
This brought the conversation back to the topic of the video application, as he elaborated on the idea that if more people apply using the Common Application, which has happened, the yield goes down because all you have to do is check a box. However, if people use the video application, students will be “intentional” about applying to Goucher.
One question Zukowski posed was, “Why are we choosing admissions first when we’re having a hard time right now as it is providing for the students here?” Bowen responded that nothing is mutually exclusive. “It’s not an either or [and] we’re taking a holistic view of student services, academic services, [and how] they can be rethought,” he said.
Retention is closely related to maintaining and enlarging the size of the student body. Bowen said that the campus is sized for 1,600 students, but is currently at 1,440. The target for next year’s admission is higher, and the college has a continuous goal of reaching 1,600 students.
Bowen noted that the decision to upgrade the Wi-Fi was made based on the results of a survey from IT sent to students in the spring. He said the Wi-Fi upgrade cost $1.2 million.
In regards to the Title IX online training course, Bowen made it clear that the college is required by federal law to administer this to everyone on campus, including students, faculty, and staff. The college looked at a few different products that were available, and chose this specific training course because over 150 schools have used it. Bowen admitted that “we probably could’ve communicated a little bit better” when the training course was first sent out to students.
Zukowski also asked Bowen to talk about study abroad. The first thing Bowen said in response to this was that “we haven’t removed the voucher, we’ve just changed the way it’s allocated.” He added that the amount of money one gets for study abroad will be about where the student is going and their financial need. In regards to the requirement, Bowen said, “I don’t see a reason to change it. It’s expensive, but it’s not monumental” and that he sees “study abroad as a means to an end.”
Another topic mentioned was college employees in student support services who have left their jobs, but their positions had not been refilled. Bowen stressed the importance of looking at the budget and being strategic in the positions that are hired. “We’re going to be in a constant mode of looking at the budget,” Bowen said.
When students were allowed to pose their own questions, renovating Stimson came up. Bowen acknowledged how necessary this project is and that the building has to be brought up to code. He said that constructing a new building is $40 million, and renovating the current building is $20 million. However, it is easier to fundraise for a new building even though it is more expensive. Additionally, constructing a new building allows the college to answer questions about number of beds, if it should be suite-style living or halls of singles, doubles, and triples, and what the dining should look like. A committee, which includes students, has been formed and an architecture firm has been hired, although there is not yet a firm timeline for the project.
Bowen also mentioned that Hoffberger and Meyerhoff both need renovations, and that he does not want to play favorites between departments. He said that “the arts matter to me,” but he also wants “to be strategic about where we put that money.”
One transfer student raised a concern about the college being more open and available to transfers. Although private schools, unlike public universities, are not mandated to reach out to community colleges, Bowen agreed with the student that Goucher could definitely do more outreach to recruit transfer students.
Dean of Students, Bryan Coker, and the staff from the Office of Student Engagement (OSE) were also present at the forum. Coker said he was there because his job is to serve as the liaison between the president and the students and wanted to be aware of what students’ questions and concerns are. Stacy Cooper Patterson, Director of Student Engagement, stressed the importance of hearing concerns directly from the students, rather than from other people on campus.
Deanna Galer ’17, who is on the GSG Transition Team and helped coordinate the forum, said that “the event has already sparked an administrative conversation about proactivity rather than reactivity and hearing students’ voices on all issues.”