The state of a ‘student-focused’ institution

By CiaraShook

Warrick L. Carter, president of Columbia, said although enrollment was down for the 2009-10 academic year, prospective students still display great interest in attending.

Carter gave his annual State of the College address before faculty, staff and a handful of students on March 10. The State of the College Address was hosted by Columbia’s Student Government Association. Carter spoke of Columbia’s achievements, challenges and plans for the future.

Prior to Carter’s speech, Jessica Valerio, president of SGA, spoke to the audience about SGA accomplishments the past year and what’s in store for the months ahead.

Valerio recounted the SGA’s new constitution, which was passed at the beginning of the academic year, and Columbia’s student representation on Lobby Day, Oct. 15, 2009, in Springfield, Ill.

“Though the fight for aid is not over and will, for some time, be a long-term issue the efforts of the Student Government Association, with exceptional support from Columbia administration and student organizations, we’re making higher education attainable for at least one more year,” Valerio said.

She also announced SGA’s launch of a campaign, in partnership with Campus Environment, to end student vandalism and ensure tuition dollars are put toward programs benefitting students while ensuring the treatment of Columbia’s urban campus.

“While Columbia is a community of creative individuals and supports the notion of allowing students to express themselves freely, having to spend that amount of money [$645,000] on graffiti used as vandalism is unacceptable,” Valerio said.

Carter took the stage and welcomed his audience by saying he enjoys the annual State of the College address because it gives him an opportunity to see students, staff and fellow faculty and to share with them accolades about Columbia.

“It also gives me a chance to get suggestions in terms of what’s going on and to hear what’s on your mind as we move forward as a college,” he said.

Carter cited two challenges Columbia faced in the past year: the state of the economy and the evolving world of technology. He said current students’ financial challenges are different from the challenges college students faced three or four years ago, due to the state of the economy.

Carter said innovations in technology affect how a unique institution such as Columbia can function. He also stated that when money is spent on new technology, less is available to other areas throughout the college.

“Technology is demanding,” he said. “We spend money on new things to stay abreast and move forward. But in every challenge, there’s an opportunity.”

Carter said Columbia takes advantage of said challenges by keeping the college affordable to students. This includes salary freezes, an increase in scholarships, a smaller tuition increase for the 2010-2011 academic year, which he reported was 3.5 percent for undergraduates.

“A very, very small increase in tuition and a big increase in scholarships,” Carter said. “We’ve decided to make student scholarships a priority.”

He said that in the 2009-2010 academic year 500 scholarships were offered to incoming freshmen and those scholarships will increase in the next school year.

“We refer to ourselves as a ‘student-focused’ institution,” Carter said. “What better way to put our money where our mouth is than to put it in scholarships?”

Carter said no tuition dollars were spent on building the Media Production Center, which opened at the beginning of the spring 2010 term.

“We said ‘no tuition dollars,’” he said. “We said we were going to raise [the money]. We said we were going to leverage ourselves in the right way to get done what we needed to get done, and we did that. But the MPC is only one sign of what’s happening here at the college as far as new additions. We’re always doing something.”

Carter said the opening of the MPC is just one in a list of events at the college, including the Columbia College community on Facebook, the beginning of an honors program, a new office for degree evaluation, a new Fashion Studies Department and Columbia playing host to the Chicago International Film Festival and the European League of Institutes of the Arts in April.

Carter continued his speech by addressing the low enrollment numbers for the 2009-2010 academic year.

“Although enrollment is down for this year, applications are up for next year,” he said.

According to Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Affairs, applicants for the 2010-2011 academic year are up by 43 percent, compared to last year’s applications.

“There is still great interest in this place,” Carter said. “And the interest continues to be high because of the quality of what everyone in this room does.”

John Trierweiler, executive vice president of the SGA, said the SGA is very pleased Carter addressed the student body.

“We’re pleased he shared with us the progress the college is making moving forward,” Trierweiler said.