You have probably heard something about our vision and strategic plan for the University, at a minimum its name, Mount 2.0. Universities periodically go through this process of examining where they are and where they need to go, taking into account their strengths and weaknesses. Our work has included a detailed review of the market for higher education and our positioning relative to other universities, as well as a rigorous internal review of our financial situation, operations, academic courses and infrastructure. Most importantly, to be more successful we need to know what students and their families are looking for in return for their substantial investment in a college education. I have shared much of the strategic review of the University with all constituents including the board, administration, faculty and staff. The market research about what students and parents have been looking for in their college education has been shared appropriately with the entire community as well.
While there are literally hundreds of initiatives that will define Mount 2.0, they fall into the following major categories:
Academic programs: including core curriculum, undergraduate academic courses, and postgraduate courses. Also included will be a center for student success/leadership, university partnerships and research partnerships, and online and continuing education programs.
Catholic Identity and mission
Finance and Infrastructure
Growth: including a revamping of our marketing, enrollment and retention efforts
Coordinated, effective action in all of these areas will both honor and build upon the strong foundations established here over the past 208 years, while stimulating progress so that the Mount will become one of our nation’s most effective Universities at preparing students to meet tomorrow’s challenges. The successful implementation of Mount 2.0 will require the active input and participation of all stakeholder groups at the University.
Allow me to further describe some of the key initiatives in each of these categories.
The planning and execution of this are still in process, but the intention is to rebalance the ratio of core curriculum to other academic coursework through a revised core of around 45 credits. Many members of our faculty have been working very hard on this complex initiative and I am very pleased and proud of their herculean effort so that this goal is going to be reached. We also plan to continuously evaluate, and, where necessary, make modifications to improve the effectiveness with which our core gives students a very well-balanced liberal education in the areas that are the most meaningful to the world they will enter into. These areas would certainly include core humanities, in addition to theology and the groundings of Catholic intellectual tradition, science and technology, political, societal and international studies, psychology, basic business concepts and leadership concepts.
A proposed new element to our core, currently being evaluated for implementation next year, will be named “The Center for Student Success” or “Leadership Institute.” It will feature regular meetings between students and their personal coach(es) whose role is to ensure that students get the best possible experience from their Mount education, including helping them plan their Mount experience, focus on understanding themselves, find leadership experiences, obtain jobs and internships, and connect with alumni and other mentors. It is through this center that I believe we can help in the human formation elements of our students – the goal here being to provide a formalized Catholic- focused support infrastructure that mirrors the less formal, but highly valued mentoring work done in the past by some the Mount’s favorite priests such as Father Fives, Father Redmond and Father Mulleley. When I talk to alumni it is amazing how many reflect on their interactions with these priests as being the events that most shaped them to be the person they are.
Both our larger world, and the world of jobs and careers, are evolving at an ever-faster pace. We need to move at the speed of life! While our core curriculum is focused on providing a broadly applicable liberal arts foundation, we need to be continuously evaluating how well we are helping students tap in to growing career fields, particularly those that our research has shown to have both a strong interest from our students and very healthy demand for jobs after graduation. Some such areas include decision sciences, forensic accounting, cybersecurity, PP&E (Philosophy, Politics & Economics) and STEM. As it relates to STEM, engineering is by far the most requested major for students who were interested in, but decided not to attend Mount St. Mary’s.
There are other things we are planning in this Mount 2.0 category, including adding elements to existing courses to enhance them. For example, for students in the theology or philosophy areas, expanding our study abroad options to include a semester at the American University of Madaba, Jordan, the largest Catholic university in the middle-east, just across the Dead Sea from Jerusalem. This course could be followed by a 7-10 day tour of the Holy Land. A related concept in the plan is the development of highly in-demand postgraduate courses, such as a masters in biochemistry and a certificate or possible degree in Emergency Management with the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who has a major operation in Emmitsburg.
We are also investigating the possibility of selling our great liberal arts courses overseas to other venues where there is a demand to understand the western intellectual tradition and western culture. These courses could be delivered online or through a professor exchange with leading Universities in Asia and the Middle East especially.
Expanding our academic course options will not only attract more and more diverse students to our campus, it will also better retain them once they’re here.
Mount St. Mary’s University is, and will always be known for its robust Catholic Identity. We will continue to embrace the tenets of our faith and the Catholic intellectual tradition. We will continuously look for new ways to help students develop a deeper relationship with God, including working with Mount community members of other faiths, to help them achieve that same high purpose. Nothing in our Mount 2.0 plan will diminish our Catholic Identity, which is guided by the commitment in Ex Corde Ecclesiae to “a common dedication to the truth and a common vision of the dignity of the human person.” In particular we are committed to the pillars of Ex Corde Ecclesiae No. 13 as given to us by our Holy Father. Please know of my personal pledge to honor these essential characteristics in our mission at Mount St. Mary’s University.
We intend to build on our excellence in teaching our Catholic Intellectual tradition, by adding the practical service experience of applying these truths in the real world to make a difference. My commitment, inspired by the teachings of our Holy Father Pope Francis, is to create opportunities for the entire Mount community to live the Gospel values to service those less fortunate.
In a Mount 2.0 context this means faith in action, and using God’s gifts for a purpose that transcends ourselves. We plan to foster more social outreach programs that will invite the participation of the entire Mount community. Some such programs were suggested by groups in our first ever faculty retreat last month, and we have already received informal commitments of help for both the “Mount House” idea in Baltimore as well as various outreach efforts with the town of Emmitsburg.
Finance and Infrastructure
It’s no secret that small, liberal arts universities such as ours have long faced financial challenges, due in large part to our generally small endowments and the rapidly escalating costs of operating a university. In addition to paying faculty and staff, buildings need to be heated, roofs need to be repaired, classrooms need to be renovated, and occasionally, wholly new facilities need to be constructed. Universities that don’t actively confront this situation find themselves in a downward spiral of constrained investment combined with escalating tuition costs, as their primary source of revenue is tuition. The combination of these factors make a university progressively less competitive in attracting new students. I won’t go into deep detail here, but there are several key elements of our program that are directly addressing our need to lower our costs in multiple areas, in many ways involving making strategic investments in infrastructure to lower ongoing operating costs. We are also devising new structures that will facilitate investors and donors providing the means to finance our growth. As you may be aware I have a professional background in finance, and while the Mount’s situation is one that warrants due attention, I see many opportunities to strengthen our finances so that Mount 2.0 has the funding it needs to become fully implemented.
The size of our student body is currently too small to support our existing infrastructure and overhead, much less our need to grow it. The analysis that went into our planning process suggests that a good size for us would be in the neighborhood of 3000 undergraduates. This size student body would remain intimate and collegial, while providing the right income level to solidify our financial stability. This growth would be fueled in large part by the advancements described earlier that will increase the number of students who are interested in the Mount, choose to enroll with us, and ultimately earn a Mount St. Mary’s degree. This expansion would be phased in over time, probably about 10 years.
Last, but certainly not least is the development of a much wider, and richer range of student activities that will effectively complement the academic side of The Mount experience. Some of the high-priorities we are already working on include: expanding the social venues on campus; University-provided transportation to Gettysburg and Frederick; an arrangement for Mount students to obtain ski passes at Ski Liberty; and more social activities such as dances and music events. In addition, our plans call for the continued expansion of our D-1 and club sports programs, more funding and resources for student clubs, and expanded hours and menu options for on campus dining.
Well, there you have a snapshot of our vision for the future of our beloved University, and a glimpse into how we will get there. Mount 2.0 honors and builds upon the great tradition of our school. I invite the entire campus community to participate in bringing it about.
Editor’s Note: This letter was submitted by President Simon P. Newman