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BORSC February 2024 Meeting Report


Photo by Mindyrose Sinykin '25


The second St. Olaf College Board of Regents meeting for the 2023-24 academic year was held from January 31–February 3 in Palm Springs, California. The February meeting is typically held off campus, allowing more time for both board business and social time. As the student observer to the Board of Regents, I, Fenton Krupp ’24, write a report about the meeting. For further reading, please see the faculty observer's report.


The board began with two executive sessions. Executive sessions are closed to the student observer, the faculty representatives to the board, and members of the president’s leadership team (PLT) and typically include reports from the President about the state of the college, discussion of Regents' perspectives and priorities, and matters involving confidential information.. 


This meeting included three plenary sessions. In a plenary, a handful of presenters speak to the board for about 20–50 minutes about a topic that is relevant to the board’s mission. Then, presenters generally allow time for discussion of their presentation or questions from the board.


The first plenary session I attended was about enrollment and St. Olaf’s financial future, and five speakers presented:


  • Paul Grangaard P’18, Regent and Chair of the Finance Committee

  • Michael Kyle ’85, Vice President for Enrollment and College Relations

  • Mike Berthelsen, Vice President for Business and Finance and Chief Financial Officer

  • Jim Day, Founding Principal, MARKETview

  • Anna Swanson, Founding Partner, Data & Analytics, MARKETview


This plenary addressed a concern brought to the board’s attention by the Finance committee during the October board meeting: the seemingly unsustainable growth of the College’s comprehensive fee. 


In the 2009–10 academic year, St. Olaf’s comprehensive fee was $43,000. Next year, it will be over $73,000. Despite this 70% increase in the comprehensive fee, our revenue from the comprehensive fee has remained relatively constant. To understand how we got here, the plenary speakers provided context about St. Olaf’s market position and financial history.


Kyle first addressed how changes and delays to Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) have shaken colleges across the country. Kyle highlighted how Gustavus Adolphus College has already admitted 2500 students this year, but had not sent any aid offers yet. St. Olaf uses the CSS profile in addition to the FAFSA, so we were able to send over 1800 aid offers by the beginning of February, giving us a key competitive advantage over colleges like Gustavus and the University of Minnesota.


Kyle also acknowledged the importance of the United World Colleges (UWC) Davis Scholars. St. Olaf is a hugely popular choice for Davis Scholars: 1 out of 4 of all graduating Davis Scholars worldwide applied to St. Olaf this year. Further, St. Olaf receives a substantial amount of funding from the Davis Foundation for each Davis Scholar who attends the College.


Moving to the discussion at hand, Kyle identified three factors that have caused the College’s revenue to stagnate despite fee increases:


  1. Providing unfunded financial aid discounts (i.e., tuition reductions that are paid for by the college’s general operating budget rather than endowed scholarships or other resources),

  2. Capping the percentage the comprehensive fee could increase in previous years, and

  3. St. Olaf’s commitment to minimizing student indebtedness


Kyle noted that these decisions, despite impacting revenue, were not bad decisions. Each was prudent in its time, but they have brought us to where we are today.


Berthelsen spoke about revising our benchmark groups, which have been previously referred to as Institutional Comparison Groups. He split comparison institutions into two buckets: 


  • Cross-application institutions — the top 14 institutions that St. Olaf most directly competes with for students

  • Financial-based comparable institutions — institutions with similar financial resources and selectivity


Each group will inform different decisions on campus. The cross-application group will support decision-making on marketing and financial aid, while the financial-based group will support decision-making on compensation, programming, and overall College operations.


Finally, Jim Day and Anna Swanson from MARKETview spoke about market research and the state of higher education at large. They emphasized the importance of competing in a market where test scores are largely optional and being strategic in which prospective students the Colleges should focus marketing efforts on.


Members of the board asked questions about current marketing campaigns, the College’s commitment to student indebtedness, and what kind of investment the Admissions team would need to meet the College’s revenue goals.


The second plenary session I attended was about the future of the Institute for Freedom and Community (IFC). Associate Professor of Political Science Christopher Chapp is now in his second academic year as the Morrison Family Director of the IFC, and he has been working on a variety of projects to bring the Institute’s mission across campus.


Chapp spoke about the purpose of the IFC, which is to “challenge presuppositions, question easy answers, and foster constructive dialogue.” He explained how the IFC achieves that mission through events, dialogue training, student opportunities, and faculty development.


Members of the board asked questions about engagement with the student government and other ways the IFC interacts with students across campus.


There were four committee meetings at this board meeting — some of the committees meet in between the board’s regularly scheduled meetings. The student observer (again, that’s me) sits on the Community Life Committee, which “provides counsel and advice regarding enrollment; student and employee physical, mental, social, emotional, and spiritual well-being and engagement; and programs and services affecting learning in the co-curriculum.” You can read more about the board’s committees here.


At this Community Life Committee meeting, there were two topics on the agenda: 


  • Building Community on the Hill: The Residential Experience

  • Christopher Medley, Associate Dean of Students for Residence Life

  • Evan Fisher-Damsgard, Assistant Director of Operations

  • Jordan Tarango, Assistant Director of Residence Education

  • Board of Regents Student Committee Student Transportation Project Update

  • Fenton Krupp ’24, Board of Regents Student Observer


During the first presentation, Dean Medley and his team spoke about how Residence Life impacts the student experience through operations, education, and branding. The team spoke about how St. Olaf’s housing options and how the College will open affiliate housing next year in partnership with Kraewood Flats.


They also spoke about other changes, such as first-years no longer being required to be randomly paired with a roommate. This year, 20% of first-year students selected their own roommate this year. 


Members of the board asked questions about whether we had the right mix of room styles and how Residence Life was working to move from a “transactional” office to an “experiential” one.


The second presentation was about work that the Board of Regents Student Committee (BORSC) started in the fall. Since the last board meeting, our team has met with staff from Student Life, Financial Aid, and Finance to learn more about implementing some solutions to provide students better transportation options.


We presented some research demonstrating a need for more transportation options to the Cities, and pitched two ideas for improving this need:


  1. Bringing transportation in-house: St. Olaf could hire a bus driver and purchase a bus, and then offer students rides to the Twin Cities for a cheaper price than Northfield Lines

  2. Investigate commuter rail to the Twin Cities: last year, State lawmakers lifted a rule that prohibited the discussion of proposed commuter rail path between the Twin Cities and Northfield. The College could potentially contribute to research on this (much more long-term) transportation solution


We also shared an update about a committee formed on campus to discuss transportation in Northfield. Eventually, this committee will work with members from Carleton and the city of Northfield. If you are super excited about transportation (or want to join this committee), let me know! I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for making getting around Northfield and up to the Cities easier.

 

After the day’s meetings, the board held a reception and dinner with alumni and friends of the College. 


On the second day of the meeting, I attended the third and final plenary, which was about the College’s bold strategic planning initiative. The Integration team of this work put together an incredibly comprehensive report that highlights the salient information from both this plenary as well as feedback sessions from across campus. I would just add that the board is excited and eager about seeing the next steps of this important work.


The last board session I attended was a corporate session. This is the session where the full board votes on resolutions put forward by its committees. The board unanimously passed several resolutions, including changes to the Faculty manual and conferral of several faculty awards.


Academic Affairs Committee (Chair: Jeff Bolton)

  • The committee discussed academic freedom and offered advice to the faculty representative to the board for developing a College statement on academic freedom.

  • The committee brought several resolutions to update the faculty manual and confer endowed professorships on several faculty members.


Advancement and College Communications Committee (Chair: Jen Hellman ’98 P’25)

  • The committee updated the board about campaign and general fundraising updates.

  • The committee highlighted the work of the Alumni and Family Board and the entire office of Alumni and Parent Relations.


Building and Grounds Committee (Chair: Laurie Nordquist ’81)

  • The committee shared updates about recent and upcoming capital projects, including the HillKit renovation and a solar field that will be installed next to the wind turbine this summer.

  • One of the board members asked when Mohn was going to be renovated.


Community Life Committee (Chair: Scott Okuno ’85)

  • The chair recapped the discussion I summarized above.


Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee (Chairs: Brenda McCormick ’89 and Sean Burress ’94)

  • The committee discussed the upcoming search for a permanent Vice President for Equity and Inclusion.

  • The committee shared feedback from listening sessions held with BIPOC students on campus.


Finance Committee (Chair: Susan Gunderson ’79 filling in for Paul Grangaard P’18)

  • The committee shared updates about the College’s finances and switching to approving the College budget in May instead of in October.

  • The committee mentioned plans for a 5-year enrollment plan that will be presented during the May board meeting.


Investment Committee (Chair: John Raitt)

  • The committee discussed the possibility of increasing the endowment spending policy limit from 4.7% per year, but decided that such a move could be unsustainable and was unwise.

  • As of December 31, 2023, our endowment was valued at $796 million.


Nominating and Governance Committee (Chair: Ward Klein ’77 filling in for Theresa Wise ’89)

  • The committee spoke about the pipeline of recruiting new board members based on upcoming board retirements.


After the second day of meetings, we attended a reception and dinner hosted by former Board chair Dean Buntrock ’55 and his wife, Rosemarie. Buntrock served on St. Olaf’s Board of Regents for 23 years and now serves the College as a Senior Regent. Senior Regents are non-voting former board members elected by current Regents in recognition of their sustained and significant service to the board and to the college. Buntrock Commons is named in honor of the Buntrock family for a lead gift of $26 million that made the building possible — the largest single gift ever made to St. Olaf and at the time, the largest to any other Lutheran college in the United States.


The third and final Board of Regents meeting of the 2023–24 academic year will be held on campus on May 1–3.


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