Aug. 23 State of the College Address

August 23, 2018
Service of Dedication
Luther College

State of the College: Paula Carlson



Warm greetings at the start of the 158th academic year at Luther College. Once again, it is my pleasure and honor to greet you at this annual Service of Dedication when we gather to dedicate ourselves anew to our callings as faculty and staff at Luther. This afternoon, I'm pleased to welcome Wendy Davidson, the new chair of Luther’s Board of Regents, and Bob Paulson, the new vice chair of the board. In her remarks today, Board Chair Davidson will share information about the presidential search and the board’s work in the year ahead.


In June, I announced my retirement from service as president at the end of this academic year. It has been my privilege to serve as Luther's 10th president. I am honored each day to work with students, faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the college who inspire me with their passion for the college and their commitment to use their talents to better our community and the world.

During my years at Luther we have worked together as a Luther community to create innovative new programs and enhance long-time strengths of the college. In the year ahead, we will work together to launch successfully our new strategic plan’s key first-year initiatives while the search for the new president is conducted. Our work together this year will assure a strong foundation and momentum for the new president to begin service at Luther next summer.

Strategic plans and fiscal strength

This past year, we completed one strategic plan—the Luther College Priorities 2016-2018. And we launched our new strategic plan—Inspired. Empowered. Engaged. We created these strategic plans at a time of significant challenge, change, and opportunity for Luther College.

To build a strong foundation for the college, we created a strong focus in our plans on opportunities to increase enrollment, improve persistence of our students, increase gifts and grants, and generate new sources of revenue.

To attract and enroll students, we must be competitive. We must offer a compelling educational experience that students and parents are willing to invest in.

  • Through the work outlined in the new strategic plan, we are increasing our value proposition, improving affordability, increasing brand strength and awareness, and creating opportunities for new transfer pathways and degree programs.

A key element of our enrollment plan is to build an integrated four-year retention model to support all students to persist to graduation.

  • Elements of this integrated model will include our TRIO program, our Student Academic Support Center, the Next Steps for Sophomores Initiative, and our new partnership with College Possible and Catalyze.

To secure Luther’s financial strength for the future, a robust endowment, strong annual giving, and success winning grants are essential. Our plan lays out the path for us to achieve these goals.

Finally, in the new plan, we commit to developing new ways to generate revenue through increased summer programming, new academic programs aligned with market demand, and new degree and certificate programs.

In this year of transitions, the Luther community will engage in a presidential search as we work together to assure a strong foundation for the college for the future. As we launch the new strategic plan, our focus will be on enrollment, persistence, gifts and grants, and new revenues.


Today, we will highlight some specific accomplishments of the Luther College Priorities plan—accomplishments that are helping secure a strong foundation for Luther. This coming year, we will move forward with specific initiatives in the new plan to build a strong foundation for Luther for the future.

  • In June, the Board of Regents approved the new academic programs the faculty recommended at the end of last semester. Our new major and minor in visual communications and our new minor in musical theater will enroll students this year. Along with our new academic programs in data science and neuroscience, these programs offer students interdisciplinary, integrative learning in growing fields with many career opportunities.
  • I am pleased to report that once again we exceeded all the annual fundraising goals we set in our Luther College Priorities plan. Total giving to Luther in fiscal year 2018 was over $20 million, one of the highest giving years in Luther history. I am deeply grateful to alumni and friends of the college for their commitment to Luther and for their generosity in offering such significant support for our students, academic programs and campus facilities. These gifts will help secure a strong fiscal foundation for Luther and build momentum for the major campaign we are planning.
  • Over this past year, Lisa Scott, our Interim Dean of Institutional Equity and Inclusion, developed a robust training program for staff and faculty, engaged with students across many departments and programs, and led the re-visioning of the Diversity Council and Diversity Center.
    • This week, we announced the new names and visions for the Council and the Center: The Diversity Council is now the Council for Equity and Inclusion. The Diversity Center is now the Center for Intercultural Engagement and Student Success. These new names reflect the new vision for the Council to become a center of expertise on inclusive excellence for the college and the region, and the new vision for the Center to broaden its engagement across the student body, helping to grow enrollment and increase persistence.
    • Our new first-year class is the most diverse class to enroll at Luther in decades. The new class is 15.7 percent U.S. students of color and 10 percent international students. Serving our students is at the heart of our mission. Our focus on inclusive excellence is essential to foster engagement and success for all our students.
  • This past year, we re-visioned the retention committee to become the Student Engagement and Success Committee, focusing its work on strengthening student experience across campus. Under the leadership of Associate Dean Jeff Wilkerson, the group undertook new, student-centered initiatives to foster student engagement and success. To date, retention of first-year students is 2.2 percent ahead compared to last year. This is meaningful progress that we must build on to serve our students and reach our goals.


On Saturday we will welcome 575 new students to campus. Our enrollment results are 6 percent ahead of last year. In this coming year, we will expand the admissions programs and initiatives that proved successful in increasing our first-year enrollment this year and continue to innovate to overcome the enrollment challenges we face.

Thank you to the many faculty and staff who engaged with our admissions team to help grow our first-year class this year. Every one of us at Luther is important to recruiting our incoming classes. Everyone at the college makes a difference to help prospective students and their families learn about Luther and see how a Luther education would be of great value to them.

Thank you for your partnership with our admissions team this past year, and thank you, in advance, for all you will do this coming year to help build on our improved results to reach our goal of 600 new, incoming students in 2019. Attaining this goal and then supporting our students to persist and graduate are essential to assure the future strength of Luther College.


The 2017-18 budget year closed with a deficit of $2.66 million. The budget performed better than projected, with a shortfall of $1.61 million compared to the budgeted deficit of $3.2 million. Along with $1.05 million for the separation incentive, which was not budgeted, the total draw on reserves to balance the budget was $2.66 million. At the joint faculty and staff meeting tomorrow morning, Vice President Eric Runestad will present more details about the budget and the budget plan, and there will be time reserved for us to respond to your questions.

Today, I affirm again our commitment to balance the budget in three to five years. Our success in doing this depends on our success in achieving our goals for enrollment, persistence, gifts and grants, and new revenues.

Our new strategic plan—Inspired. Empowered. Engaged.—challenges us to innovate both to serve our students in a rapidly changing world and to adapt to the changing and challenging higher education environment of our time.

Inspired. Empowered. Engaged.

In this coming year, we will plan, pilot and launch key first-year initiatives in our new strategic plan. Each of our first-year initiatives ties to our goals for enrollment, persistence, gifts and grants, and new revenues.

  • In the plan, our goal is that Luther College will be a national leader in reimagining a liberal arts education for a global society. We commit to re-imagine the college's curriculum to both grow from our mission and values and serve the distinctive needs of 21st century students and society.
    • This fall, the Academic Planning Committee will undertake the key first-year initiative to review and revise the all-college requirements to foster intersection and collaboration between disciplines, between cultures and identities, between curricular and co-curricular learning, and between intellectual exploration and preparation for life. This is an ambitious, crucial undertaking both for our current students and for the future strength of the college.
  • We will continue progress to launch our first Experiential Learning Hub in Rochester.
  • We will create a plan for an Innovation Incubator on campus.
  • We will establish a Center for Teaching & Learning.
  • To improve both the quality and efficiency of our business operations, we will partner with peer institutions in associations such as the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges & Universities and the Associated Colleges of the Midwest. We will also undertake business operations reviews using expense reduction analysis to identify ways to improve processes, preserve or enhance quality, and reduce expenses.
  • We will complete our four-year comprehensive retention and persistence plan and continue to launch new initiatives to reach our goals.
  • We will complete our branding project and use results to make strategic investments to assure we achieve and maintain our enrollment goals.
  • We will build on our fundraising success of recent years to strengthen our financial foundation to secure the college’s future.


We have a full, important year ahead–a year of transition and change, a year with significant challenges and robust opportunities.

On Saturday, our new first-year and transfer students will arrive on campus. Next week, our returning students will come home to Luther. The excitement, promise, challenge and hope of a new semester are here.

Today, we dedicate ourselves anew to our callings as the faculty and staff of Luther College. Thank you for all you do to fulfill your calling here at Luther. And, thank you, in anticipation, for all you will do for Luther and for Luther students in the coming year.

I want to express my gratitude to you for our partnership over these past four years and for our shared vocation living our mission “to learn in community, to discern our callings, and to serve with distinction for the common good.”

Now, I invite Wendy Davidson, chair of the Luther College Board of Regents, to the podium.