Message on William & Mary Promise

Dear William & Mary Community,

Today our Board of Visitors took steps vitally needed to help secure a future for the College worthy of our storied past.  These steps are called “The William & Mary Promise.”  They are sketched in the press release. You will find even more details and a video on our Promise website at www.wm.edu/promise.  Please take a look at this information.

Here, though, are the basic elements of the Promise.  The new financial resources it generates will (1) help provide enough compensation to recruit and retain the outstanding faculty and staff essential if we are to educate our students with “public ivy” quality, (2) materially increase the College’s affordability for low- and middle-income undergraduates from Virginia, and (3) provide more seats for in-state undergraduates at William & Mary (we will enroll an additional 150 in-state students phased in over a four-year period, and they, when added to the additional 150 students we began phasing in with our fall 2011 class, will result in 300 additional students from Virginia – or an 8% increase in the size of the in-state student body as compared to its size in fall 2010).  (4) The William & Mary Promise  also guarantees that incoming in-state students will pay the exact same tuition for four years – no increases, and (5) it raises annual tuition at no more than the rate of inflation for in-state undergraduates enrolled before implementation of  the  Promise.  (6) The Board of Visitors limited the increase in out-of-state undergraduate tuition for next year to the lowest percentage in over a decade to help William & Mary remain competitive for out-of-state students.

Let me provide some context for the BOV’s actions and explain why, in my judgment, they are essential. U.S. News most recently ranked the College 6th in quality among all public universities.  Counting both public and private schools, we ranked 33rd in quality among the leading national universities but only 112th in financial resources.  That’s a gap of 79 points.  No other leading university has a gap approaching that magnitude and none ranked below 80th in financial wherewithal.  William & Mary offers an academic experience that is rich in talented people, steeped in student/faculty engagement, devoted to undergraduates as well as professional and graduate students, and funded on a shoe string.  We do remarkably more with less.  Up to a point, this is a virtue, but only up to a point.  Our shoe string is worn and pulled taut.

William & Mary’s strategic plans hinge on the College’s continuing to offer one of the very best undergraduate educations in the world while remaining a university internationally recognized for academic excellence.  This requires salaries sufficient to retain and attract marvelous faculty and staff and financial aid sufficient to meet the needs of our students. We have fallen behind in both regards.  Faculty salaries are currently at the 14th percentile of W&M’s peer institutions as identified by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). They are projected to be in the 9th percentile by the 2015/16 academic year.  Similarly, staff salaries at W&M seriously lag behind those paid by our SCHEV peers.  This is flatly unacceptable.  We must reverse the trend, while also increasing the amount of need-based aid we provide, focusing initially on in-state students.  The Provost will shortly send a message explaining the steps we will take to raise salaries.

Funds are needed on many other scores as well.  For instance, we should become more multi-disciplinary in our academic programs, because the issues our society faces are multi-disciplinary, and students need to learn to think in those terms and solve problems in those terms. We also need funds so the university can become more internationally engaged, because the world in all its dimensions is increasingly interconnected, our students seek international engagement, and we are well positioned to take advantage of our strengths in this arena.

Among all the things William & Mary must accomplish soon, however, by far the most important is to rebuild our financial foundation, taking into account the decline in state support that has occurred over a generation and the enormous demands that are now being made on very finite state resources.  While William & Mary greatly appreciates any support the state provides us, we recognize that the College must largely fund itself going forward.  This we can do by combining campus productivity gains with growing philanthropic support and more earned income from students who benefit from the extraordinary education William & Mary provides (coupled with need-based aid for those students who qualify for it).

In other words, we all have to do our part – faculty and staff through productivity gains on campus, alumni and friends through philanthropy, and students and parents through tuition.  No group can stand on the sidelines expecting the others to carry the ball alone.  It takes us all, pulling together, to build a sustainable financial foundation for William & Mary in this century.  And it is crucial that faculty and staff, alumni and friends, as well as students and their families be confident they are not pulling alone.

This is why the actions taken by our Board of Visitors today are so vital.  “The William & Mary Promise” embraces the reality that we are all in this together.

William & Mary is a treasure for the Commonwealth and for the country.  It is an iconic national institution that was present at the creation of both the State of Virginia and the United States of America.  The College is now well into its 320th year.  As the stewards of this great inheritance, it’s up to us to sustain William & Mary in our time.

Taylor Reveley