Dear AU Community,
The question on everyone’s minds right now is, “When will things go back to normal?” While the many uncertainties we face do not lead to easy answers, we are looking forward with purpose. As we plan our community’s path for recovery, re-opening, and renewal, we are focused on key priorities that will shape the future of American University.
First among these priorities is enrollment of our new students and retention of our current students. Like many tuition-dependent universities, American University’s functions and finances are centered on serving our students through our core mission of teaching, learning, and research. We outlined the $27 million shortfall already caused by COVID-19, but that impact could become even greater if we face a significant drop in our student population. To continue providing the high quality, experiential educational opportunities that are the hallmark of AU, we need a thriving community of undergraduate and graduate students.
While our immediate response to COVID-19 focused on the health and safety of our community, we also began critical parallel efforts to advance our educational mission and support our students in the post-COVID world. Throughout April, our COVID-19 working group developed and implemented real-time solutions. The Enrollment and Retention Task Force – led by Fanta Aw, vice president of campus life and inclusive excellence, and Wendy Boland, interim dean of graduate studies – is creating the frameworks that will enable us to address any situation that may come in the fall. This approach provides the data, analysis, diversity of ideas, and comprehensive outlook that fuels our decision-making. The determination and creativity of our teams have positioned us well to transition to this new and challenging reality.
From the moment admissions notifications were sent to newly admitted students on March 17, we launched a comprehensive effort to connect with our future Eagles. This substantive engagement is based on in-depth conversations that bring together our new students and families with our community and educational mission. On March 25, we published a virtual version of our Welcome Center presentation. We’ve put the virtual campus tour online and held 44 webinars to date that engaged more than 3,000 admitted students and families. We are developing a robust virtual orientation program for the summer and new online programming that will provide access to our expert faculty. And when you watch this new Admissions video featuring President John F. Kennedy’s historic 1963 speech at AU, it is clear why so many changemakers come here to pursue their passion and take on the world’s challenges.
For our current students, we had two immediate areas of focus: continuing our high-quality educational experience and consistently communicating the latest information. Our faculty moved more than 2,000 classes online in a matter of days. The academic affairs and information technology teams built a task force to address any challenges students had connecting with our online learning. Key services like advising and counseling were made available to students regardless of their locations. The Career Center is helping students and particularly graduating seniors navigate the challenging job market. And we made it a priority to share as much information as possible through our COVID-19 Resources page, messages to the community, and webinars dedicated to current students and families.
Now, moving into our recovery phase, our goal is to continue making an education at American University as impactful, accessible, and successful as possible. We have much work ahead, but these actions and preparations guide our path forward. More importantly, our faculty and staff have brought their best efforts and unwavering dedication to this task, all with the singular focus of supporting our students.
Another vital reason to focus on our current students and incoming Eagles is their incredible contributions to diversity and inclusion within our community. While COVID-19 challenges our every operation, it strengthens our resolve and commitment to inclusive excellence. At a time when we most need to come together as a community and as a society, we must be inclusive and welcoming of diverse backgrounds and perspectives so we can have robust discourse and solutions that include everyone.
Before COVID-19, we planned to report on Year 2 of our inclusive excellence plan this month and launch the updated roadmap for Years 3-5. While we are moving the full release of this information to the fall, we want to highlight some of the important achievements of the past year. More than 750 faculty and staff attended 25 inclusive teaching workshops. Fifty-six percent of tenure-line faculty hired in fall 2019 identify as faculty of color. Applications for inclusive excellence mini-grants increased 43 percent. And this is just the beginning; we know we have more work to do. You can learn more at our newly updated Inclusive Excellence Impact page.
Finally, I wanted to share an example of the connection we share as Eagles. While being apart now is difficult, the bonds of American University hold us together. Supporting our current students, working to bring new students to our community, and fostering an inclusive university and world is part of keeping those bonds strong. They can be seen, heard, and felt in this beautiful rendition of AU’s original Alma Mater from the 1920's, which was recently recorded one part at a time by members of the AU music program under the direction of Matthew Brown, director of orchestras and symphonic band.
This is our community, and we are dedicated to its strength, its purpose, and its future.
Be safe and be well.