2019 Mid-Year Update

Mid-Year Update
Luther College
Paula Carlson, President
5 February 2019


Good afternoon! A very warm welcome to this Mid Year Update on another cold wintry day! I’m grateful we’re not in the midst of another polar vortex like last week’s, and I’m also grateful to have this opportunity to say a very warm, hearty and heartfelt “thank you!!” to everyone who helped us assure the safety and warmth of our community last week.

Thanks to our Safety and Security staff who bundled up and cared for campus 24-hours each of those very, very cold days and nights. Thanks to Student Life staff who were our point people in residence halls to help students manage the cold. Thanks to our facilities staff who kept the walks clear and user-friendly and who responded so quickly and professionally to the water and temperature troubles that cropped up in a few places on campus. Thanks to supervisors who adjusted schedules to help employees. And thanks to everyone who responded with such a quick “yes, of course!” when we reached out to ask for van drivers for the shuttle service we quickly launched; when we asked to have ‘breakfast-to-go bags’ for students; when students needed flexibility for J-term finals; when we prepared messages for the campus community; when students, faculty, and staff needed their cars jumped; and so much more. Many, many thanks!!

For those of us on campus, the weather presented a host of challenges. It presented a whole other set of challenges for our Center for Global Learning staff as they orchestrated the return of 367 students and 32 faculty and staff who participated in J-term courses in faraway places. Airline schedules changed moment to moment. Bus transportation shut down during the coldest hours and days. But Jon Lund and his staff brought everyone back safely. Many thanks to Jon Lund and the staff in the Global Learning Center for your dedicated care for Luther students, faculty, and staff.

In very extreme weather conditions, our community pulled together to assure safety and warmth for everyone. This says a lot about our community and who we are. Thank you! It looks like we have more cold weather ahead this month – not as extreme (so far, anyway). Thank you, in advance, for what I know will be dedicated care for students and employees at the college in these winter weeks.

Three years ago, I began the practice of inviting faculty and staff to gather for a Mid Year Update. I’ve been glad over these years for the opportunity to gather as Luther College faculty and staff just before the new semester begins. It’s an opportunity for me to share updates with you about things underway this year, and to look ahead at key priorities for the semester to come. And it’s a chance for us all to gather in the Valders Atrium for some social time in this week between the end of J-term and the start of the new semester.

Strategic Plan and Fiscal Strength

This year, we launched our new strategic plan: Inspired. Empowered. Engaged. In this transition year, as we launch key initiatives in the new plan and as the presidential search proceeds, our work together here on campus is assuring a strong foundation and momentum for Luther’s 11th president to begin service this summer. Our motto is: “We’re in transition, but we’re not in neutral.” We have important work to do together.

In this time of transition, I continue to be inspired by Luther students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the college. The Luther community’s passion for the college and its commitment to “serve with distinction for the common good” is deep and powerful. It sets Luther apart. And it’s an essential part of building a strong foundation for Luther for the years to come.

In the new strategic plan, you recall that we created a strong focus on opportunities to increase enrollment, improve persistence of our students to graduation, increase gifts and grants, and generate new revenue.

I’ll begin today with an update on enrollment, fund-raising, and the budget, and then share information on progress on the key initiatives we chose for this first year of the new strategic plan.


Last month, I shared the news that Scot Schaeffer accepted the position as vice president for enrollment management at Marietta College in Marietta, Ohio. His last day at Luther will be March 1st. Scot has served as Luther’s vice president for enrollment management for the past 12 years. Scot has been a passionate advocate for Luther and for the transformative power of a Luther education. I want to thank him for his dedicated service to the college and his deep commitment to Luther students.

I’m very pleased that Derek Hartl will serve as interim vice president for enrollment management. As you know, Derek is currently our associate vice president and director of admissions. He joined the admissions staff here at Luther in August 2002 and since September 2011 has been director of admissions. Derek knows the Luther community well, and he brings significant expertise and experience in enrollment management to his new position.
The transition in leadership is underway now to assure that we have a smooth transition for admissions and financial aid in this crucial time of year for enrollment.

To date, our enrollment deposits are somewhat lower than last year, but our momentum is strong in key recruitment areas. Our target goal for the incoming class this year is 600, an increase of 28 from last year’s class of new, incoming students. As we enter the spring semester, our focus is on connecting with admitted students to assure they know and understand the great value of a Luther education and the extraordinary experience Luther offers them. Beginning this week, the admissions team will hold events and programs on campus for admitted students. Thank you in advance for your engagement with these admitted students. As you know, it takes a campus to enroll a class. Everyone at the college is important to bringing our new, incoming students to Luther each fall. Everyone makes a difference to help students and their families see how a Luther education will be of great value to them. Luther’s community is very special. We care for each student. Thank you for helping students and families experience this special community as they make their college choice.


I am very pleased to report that once again this year alumni and friends of the college are giving generous gifts to support students, academic programs, and facilities at Luther. As of January 31st, total giving to Luther since the start of the fiscal year on June 1st was close to $15 million. Since June 2016, total giving to Luther is approaching $47 million with the goal of $75 million by June 2020. The total value of the college’s endowment as of December
I am particularly pleased that many of the gifts in the past few years have established or increased endowed scholarships. These endowed scholarships directly aid students and provide relief to our annual financial aid budget. In 2018, we received gifts to establish 35 new endowed scholarships. Endowment support is up 53% over last year, with endowed scholarships making up over 90% of that increase.

The response to the Regents Promise Scholarship Challenge announced by Board Chair Wendy Davidson at the Service of Dedication in August has been very heartening. This challenge focuses particularly on scholarship support to close the gap in unmet need for Luther students. These scholarships make such a difference for students choosing Luther.

I am deeply grateful to the generous, faithful, and committed alumni and friends of Luther for their significant support of the college. These gifts help secure a strong foundation for Luther, and they build momentum for the future.


The final budget for 2018-2019 passed by the Board of Regents in October showed a $3.4 million deficit for this fiscal year. Currently, the budget is over-performing, and we anticipate now that the actual budget results at the end of the fiscal year on May 31st will show between a $1.5 to $2 million deficit. We will continue to give budget updates throughout the semester. Your careful stewardship of the budgets in your areas helps us achieve a better result in these challenging times. Thank you for your care and attention to help manage our resources wisely.

Strategic Plan: Progress on First-Year Initiatives

For this first year of the new plan, we chose to focus on initiatives—18 in all—that are key to achieving our goals to increase enrollment, improve persistence of our students to graduation, increase gifts and grants, and generate new revenue.

This past semester, many of you have worked together to plan, pilot, or launch one or more of these initiatives. Today, I’ll share progress on key first-year initiatives and look ahead to the next steps for our work in the coming semester.

  • Brand: Our brand strategy initiative will increase the college’s brand strength and awareness, emphasizing the value of a Luther education and supporting the vision and goals of the college. The results of the project will guide strategic investments to assure that we achieve and maintain our goals, particularly our enrollment goals. The brand task force’s work, led by Vice President Aimee Viniard-Weideman and Dean Brad Chamberlain, is now at an important transition point. This month, we anticipate bringing initial results and proposals to the Board and the campus. And we anticipate launching the first messaging later this spring.
  • Inclusive excellence: We learned in January that Luther has been accepted into the Council of Independent Colleges’ Institute for Diversity, Civility, and the Liberal Arts for 2019-2020. This summer, a team of faculty and administrators will attend a week-long conference along with teams from the other 24 schools selected. The teams will engage with institute leaders and each other to explore significant trends in higher education, particularly regarding diversity, inclusive pedagogy, identities, social and political change, and free speech. Our team will develop a plan to strengthen diversity and civility on the Luther campus and will implement the plan next year. Thanks to Dean Lisa Scott for leading the application process. Thanks to Dean Brad Chamberlain, Associate Dean Sean Burke, and professors Novian Whittsitt and Marie Drews for preparing the application. Luther’s participation in the Institute will help achieve our goal to champion inclusive excellence as a core value.
  • Career: Dean Kraus, Dean Landstrom, and I were pleased to announce recently a new leadership model for our Career Center. The new model directly connects the Career Center with our academic programs. The director of the center will work in partnership with a new associate dean for integrated academic and career development. We were especially pleased that Brenda Ranum has returned to Luther as director of the Career Center and that Jodi Enos-Berlage, professor of biology, will become associate dean for integrated academic and career development. Brenda and Jodi will strengthen existing partnerships and create new ones to deepen collaboration between the Center and academic programs. These partnerships will enhance and expand our comprehensive career development services for students and alumni.
  • Curriculum: This past fall, the faculty approved new majors and minors that will be brought to the Board for review this month. The new majors and minors are in Music Education and Exercise Science in addition to a new minor in Leadership Studies. Along with the other new majors and minors approved and launched in the past two years (data science, neuroscience, visual communications, and musical theater), these new programs offer students new integrated learning opportunities in fields with many career opportunities. This semester, faculty will continue to work on developing two additional new programs—one in global health and other in “identities.” These new majors and minors will help attract and retain students.
  • Applied Learning: We will be ready this year to launch a pilot for our first experiential learning hub—this one in Rochester, MN. Professors Robert Christman and Jodi Enos-Berlage are leading the planning for this initiative. An advisory board of alumni from the Rochester area was formed this fall under the leadership of Chris Gade, a Luther alum and new member of the Board of Regents. An on-campus advisory committee consisting of faculty and staff began work last month. These two groups will collaborate on internship sites, housing, and complementary coursework for students. We anticipate that the Rochester hub will offer Luther students a unique opportunity to have a semester-long applied learning experience at the Mayo Clinic or other organizations and businesses in Rochester. This new program will be available to students in all academic programs at Luther.
  • Innovation Incubator: This year, Professor Rob Larson has been studying innovation incubators at other colleges and universities. To gather ideas and recommendations here in Decorah, he has met with faculty and staff as well as local business and economic development leaders. Rob has also traveled to visit incubators on other campuses and meet with staff who developed and administer those programs. He will submit his report and recommendations this spring.
  • Center for Teaching and Learning: Since September, Associate Sean Burke and a faculty group have been studying Centers for Teaching and Learning at colleges like Luther. The team has engaged Luther faculty to gather ideas and recommendations for what a Center for Teaching and Learning at Luther might look like and what the top priorities for a new Center should be. This spring, the team will bring a proposal for launching a Center for Teaching and Learning at Luther. We anticipate naming a director for the new Center by the end of spring semester and launching the Center in August.
  • Student Success: This year, the Retention Committee became the Student Success Committee with the charge to design a four-year, high-impact student retention model by the end of this academic year. The committee is on track to bring specific recommendations this spring and be ready to implement them beginning this summer.
  • Summer Programs: In our new strategic plan, we commit to expand summer programs to meet revenue, pre-enrollment, and community development goals. This year, Jeff Leschensky, Associate Director of Campus Programming, has worked with our Athletics department to review our model for summer athletic camps and identify opportunities to enhance and expand those programs, which bring hundreds of middle and high school students to Luther each summer. This coming semester, Jeff and the Athletics department will develop specific proposals to make those programs even more effective at introducing prospective students to Luther.
  • Business Operations: To improve both the quality and efficiency of the college’s business operations, Eric Runestad has led work to review and improve our operations processes as well as to form new partnerships to achieve savings in areas such as insurance coverage. This fall, we joined with three other Iowa colleges in a pooled property insurance program; we are implementing a new system for accounts payable through a program introduced to us by the Iowa Association of Independent Colleges and Universities; and we have engaged a group called “Expense Reduction Analysis” to examine spending on consumables, supplies, and IT equipment.

    The group operates on a contingency basis, so there is no charge unless the group finds savings for the college. Any savings identified are shared for three years after which they become Luther’s. This review of business operations is yielding savings – so far of more than $125,000 per year going forward. We will continue to look for opportunities to improve quality and efficiency of business operations.

The fall semester and J-term have been times of robust engagement by the campus community in planning, piloting, and launching key initiatives in this first year of the new strategic plan. I’ve touched on highlights this afternoon, and there’s more that’s happening for each of the 18 first-year initiatives. Hearty thanks to every member of the campus community—faculty, staff, and students—who are joining together to innovate in curriculum, student experience, and business operations to create and embrace opportunities to draw students to the college and offer them extraordinary, distinctive learning and growing experiences here at Luther. These are challenging times for higher education, particularly in the upper Midwest. In our new strategic plan, we envision opportunities to build on Luther’s signature strengths to achieve our mission in this new environment for liberal arts colleges.
Thank you for your creative work together to assure that Luther thrives in years to come.

Announcement and Look Ahead

I would like to conclude today with an announcement and a look ahead to some important moments in this coming semester:

  • Today, I am pleased to announce that Professor Jim Martin-Schramm will serve a 3-year term as Director of the Center of Sustainable Communities beginning in this new semester. Jim has been a member of Luther’s Religion Department since 1993. He holds a PhD from Union Theological Seminary in NY; an MDiv from Luther Seminary in St. Paul; and a BA from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Jim is a widely published scholar with a focus on ethics and public policy, particularly regarding the environment. His latest book, titled Earth Ethics, was published in 2015. He has been an active participant in Luther’s sustainability programs and initiatives, and serves on the Luther College Wind Energy Project, LLC board. I look forward to Jim’s leadership as the Center for Sustainable Communities continues its exemplary service to Luther College and the surrounding region as a catalyst for change and a leader and resource for sustainability initiatives.
  • As we welcome Jim to this new role, I want to express deep appreciation and gratitude to Jon Jensen, who is stepping down as Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities. Jon has been the director of the Center since its founding in 2013 and has been instrumental in making it a visionary, forward-thinking, and effective Center for learning and change. On behalf of the Luther College community, I want to extend many thanks to Jon for his leadership and for the powerful impact the Center has had in the past six years on the college, the region, and beyond.
  • Later this week, the Board of Regents will gather here on campus for their biennial board retreat. The full board will meet for plenary sessions on brand strategy, the presidential transition, and enterprise risk management. Board committees will engage with issues such as governance, curriculum, student experience, enrollment, facilities, budget, investments, and fund-raising. Committee chairs will report on their committees’ work at the Board business session on Sunday. As is our practice, we will send an email to faculty and staff summarizing Board meeting proceedings in the week after the meeting.
  • As you know, this year the Higher Learning Commission is conducting its periodic comprehensive re-accreditation review of the college. Dean Brad Chamberlain is leading our preparation for this review. Brad and a group of faculty and staff have prepared our written report, called the “Assurance Argument,” which will be submitted to the Commission on February 11th. Then, on March 11th and 12th, a review team from the Commission will be on campus for the evaluation site visit. The review team has given us a schedule of meetings for those two days. They will meet with faculty, staff, and students who hold particular positions at the college, and they will also hold open sessions focused on the Commission’s five criteria for re-accreditation. In the coming days, Brad and his team will share information with the campus about this important visit. Please don’t hesitate to contact Brad if you have questions. Luther has held accreditation by the Commission continuously since 1915. This accreditation is important to signify to students and families the quality and strength of the college as well as to the federal government, for which this accreditation is necessary for Luther students to receive federal student aid dollars. Thank you in advance for meeting with the team, if requested, to share information that is important to their review of the college.

The spring semester will officially begin on Thursday at 9:40 am with our Opening Convocation in the CFL. Our speaker this year is Dr. Tiffany Patterson of Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, Dr. Patterson is Associate Professor of African American and Diaspora Studies as well as Associate Professor of History and Director of Undergraduate Studies in African American and Diaspora Studies. Dr. Patterson was on the faculty at Luther from 1982-1984. At Luther, she served as chair of the African and African American Studies Department. Her Convocation address is titled “Black Students and the Creation of Black Studies.” Dr. Patterson’s visit to Luther is part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Black Student Union at Luther. I look forward to welcoming Dr. Patterson back to Luther.

At the Convocation ceremony, we will also present the “Spirit of Luther” award to Bob Naslund, a well-known and much-loved member of the Luther community. Bob coached in the Luther Athletics Department for more than 20 years, serving as head coach for both track and field and football. During those years (and many that followed), Bob served as a teacher and mentor for numerous Luther students and has continued to maintain relationships with alumni spanning several decades. I look forward to honoring Bob at the Convocation ceremony on Thursday.

We have much to look forward to in the semester ahead. Thank you for gathering today for this “Mid-Year Update.” I am glad to have this moment in the break time between J-term and second semester to share updates, to look ahead, and to have some social time together.

Thank you for all you do for Luther and for Luther students. Every day, your dedicated work and your engagement with our students makes a difference. Thank you for our work together in our shared vocation at Luther College.

Soli Deo Gloria!