I like to joke that my dream is to wake up one day and know that the scaffolding on the Little Building has been taken down. (Many of us at Emerson, myself included, have never known the building without the scaffolding.) I am happy to report that this dream will soon come true.
The Little Building project—a gut renovation of our largest residence hall—is going well. We recently celebrated a milestone in the project, to place the last steel beam atop the building, reminding us all of the campus transformation that is taking place before our very eyes.
That progress is emblematic of the momentum that has been building at the College over the last few years.
We just completed the best enrollment season we have ever had, as well as a record year for fundraising.
At the same time, the College’s U.S. News & World Report ranking is the highest it has ever been, rising to #6 in our category (Best Regional Universities in the North), a ranking that has steadily climbed from #14 in 2012. This summer, The Hollywood Reporter again put Emerson in the top 10 of its list of “The Top 25 American Film Schools.” Emerson is ranked #1 for Journalism, #7 for Film, Video, and Photographic Arts, and #15 for Marketing by College Factual, a ranking and college search company.
And this summer, Emerson College Polling—which has grown from just three students in 2012 to the more than 400 who have participated since then—was named the second-most accurate pollster by the well-regarded political website FiveThirtyEight. Media outlets and candidates have increasingly relied on Emerson Polling during this historic midterm election.
It has been an incredibly successful year. And yet, we cannot afford to rest on our successes.
Excellence, after all, is an ongoing process. It is not about being. Rather, it is aspirational—it is about becoming. At Emerson, we are driven to create and to innovate as we educate the next generation of storytellers and artists—those who are becoming a creative force in the world.
Demand for an Emerson Education
One of the best indications of the continued excellence of Emerson and the strong demand for an Emerson education is our record admission cycle.
A historic number of new first-time students applied to Emerson this year. We saw a 25 percent increase in new first-time, first-year applications (almost 13,000) and a 16 percent increase in transfer applications, also a record high. Emerson is becoming more selective. Our acceptance rate of new first-time students was less than 36 percent—down from 46 percent last fall.
The Class of 2022 is more diverse than ever before:
- 16 percent are the first in their family to go to college;
- 20 percent of our transfer students are first-generation college students;
- International enrollment (representing 26 countries) is up 54 percent over last fall for our new first-time class (145 students compared to 94 last year);
- 16 percent of new first-time students are international, which is the highest ever; and
- 27 percent of the incoming new first-time class are domestic students of color. Together, 43 percent of our new first-time students bring diversity to Emerson.
The Class of 2022 is also the most competitive at Emerson. Our incoming class had the highest ever high school GPA at 3.72.
Strengthening Financial Resources, Strengthening Institutional Effectiveness
In this environment, the College’s ability to raise money from alumni, parents, corporations, foundations, and friends continues to be critical in supporting our priorities. Emerson had a record fundraising year last year, raising almost $11 million. Of that figure, almost half is designated for scholarships, which will help Emerson continue to attract a creative, talented and diverse student body. Last spring, we received an anonymous $4 million gift for scholarships, which was the largest single gift Emerson has ever received. Additionally, we recently established the Norman Lear ’44 Scholarship Fund, a $1 million fund-raising effort, intended for first-generation college students from underrepresented and underserved backgrounds, who have an interest in pursuing a writing career. And, thanks to the generosity of Kevin Bright ’76, Emerson now boasts a sculpture of Norman, located in Boylston Place, in honor of this legendary Emersonian who helped change the face of television.
Our fundraising success contributes to our strong balance sheet. Emerson is structurally sound, as we managed several complex operating and capital challenges—including union negotiations; new dining, cleaning, and security services contracts; and several construction and renovation projects. We continue disciplined financial management, while investing strategically in our core academic mission.
At the same time, we are focusing on further growth and on diversifying our revenue sources. You may recall that last year, Emerson was recognized by Moody’s, one of the major credit rating agencies, for our exceptional revenue growth.
Indeed, we have been implementing strategies to move away from relying so heavily on undergraduate tuition. Strategies include expanding our graduate programs by offering more online courses and growing enrollment, and assessing and growing our global initiatives.
Academic excellence is at the heart of all that we do and strive for. We aim to increase academic and inclusive excellence by creating a culture of collaborative and interculturally effective pedagogy, fostering innovation in teaching, supporting research and creative work, deepening the connectivity of the liberal arts with arts and communication, and strengthening our global capacity.
We continue to invest in our core enterprise. This past year, we added and hired five new faculty (including one Presidential Inclusive Excellence position), for a total of 28 new faculty during the last five years relative to our goal of adding 40 net new faculty. We also made strategic investments in programs and staffing in areas such as the School of Communication, the Engagement Lab and Launch Program, Visual and Media Arts, Performing Arts, Graduate and Professional Studies, Advising, and the Registrar, and in support of faculty research and mentoring, among others.
Our curriculum continues to grow. New this year is a BS in Public Relations and an MA in Digital Marketing and Data Analytics. Additionally, this fall marked the launch of our online Speech @ Emerson graduate degree, which mirrors our on-campus MS in Communication Disorders.
Emerson Los Angeles continues to thrive as a laboratory for academic innovation. New LA-specific courses have been launched along with special partnered studio classes in which students and faculty work on real-world problems with a not-for-profit or industry leader. Several of these courses contribute to civic engagement. The LA Fellows program brings two full-time Boston faculty each semester to live in LA in order to enhance professional and scholarly expertise and strengthen student-faculty connection in the residence halls.
We also recognize the need to provide our students and their families with increased financial aid to ensure that they are able to thrive at Emerson free of the anxiety of scarce funding as well as to ease the burden of private loans and long weekly work hours to make ends meet. And while these objectives will not be met in a single year, the College is determined to meet these challenges over time through its fund-raising efforts and other revenue sources.
We have made great progress this summer on projects that are transforming our campus on the Common and downtown, with the goal of making the Boylston Street corridor from Edgar Allan Poe Way to Tremont Street a destination for all who work, live, visit, and study in Boston. Our vision strengthens Emerson’s identity by animating the streetscape to inspire, embrace, and celebrate our great city’s emerging diversity. We recognize that thoughtfully designed buildings and spaces can better connect the members of our community. Our vision is deeply grounded in the notion that Emerson helps energize Boston, just as the College is energized by this city.
One of the most visible signs of this transformation, of course, is the complete overhaul of the Little Building. That work is ongoing, and I am pleased to report that it is scheduled to open on time in fall 2019. As a reminder, this project will add 280 new beds, six spectacular two-story common areas as well as create more cabaret space, studios, rehearsal rooms, and a workroom for assembling sets and props. The former Little Building Dining Hall is being converted into a flexible conference center that will be large enough for faculty to host symposia, lectures, and special events for up to 300 people as well as serve as a gathering place for our community when it is not hosting conferences and meetings.
When the Little Building is back online, and taking into account the 374 beds recently added at Two Boylston Place, we will be able to house over 70 percent of our student population in on-campus housing and an additional 300 students at Kasteel Well and in Los Angeles, allowing us to house first-year, sophomore, and junior classes. We’re anticipating the needs of our growing and vibrant on-campus population, and have begun to renovate 172 Tremont for student-centered purposes—including additional student meeting, organization, and social spaces. The building will feature an expanded Cultural Center and will be the new home of the Center for Spiritual Life. Located halfway between the Paramount and Little Building, 172 Tremont Street strategically knits together our campus from Boylston and Tremont to Washington Street. Moving many of the function areas from Piano Row to 172 Tremont will enable the fitness center to return to campus—to the Piano Row Building—and the Cabaret (which also moved to the temporary 52 Summer Street) to its original location in the below grade level of the Little Building.
And, of course, the recently re-opened Emerson Colonial Theatre, the crown jewel of Boston, is a part of the downtown transformation, bringing theatre-goers from around the world to our campus.
Additionally, we have made some smaller updates to academic spaces on our Boston campus. The second phase of the virtual reality studio on the third floor of the Ansin Building is progressing. We have expanded our space in the Somerville Warehouse, which includes both the props from Performing Arts and a new set/building film shooting space for Visual and Media Arts. Two new classrooms with full IT have been added to the UBank building and we have renovated Tufte 914, converting the seating from fixed to flexible.
While we invest in our Boston campus, we are acutely aware that an education for the 21st century is a global education. To make Emerson more accessible to more diverse populations, we must think and act globally. I am pleased that we have been making significant progress toward our vision for creating a global, borderless campus. In our increasingly global world, this work is vital to educating future generations of artists and storytellers.
Our global presence has grown exponentially in recent years. This summer we held 15 Global Pathways programs in 13 locations around the world. Between our Global Pathways, our new Global Portals Initiative, and our traditional exchange programs, Emerson now has a presence in six of the world’s seven continents.
Over the summer, we announced a partnership—the first of its kind—with Paris College of Art and the creation of a Global BFA in Film Art. Emerson is the first U.S. college devoted to the arts, communication, and the liberal arts to offer an international bachelor’s degree program in film art.
In September, we announced a second partnership with Franklin University in Lugano, Switzerland, a highly selective four-year American liberal arts university, well known for its exceptional immersive experiential learning program. The partnership makes possible two accelerated degree programs that will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in three years at Franklin’s campus in Lugano, and a one-year master’s degree in either Publishing and Writing or Public Relations at Emerson’s Boston campus. We will next establish four-year Franklin and Emerson undergraduate degree programs in global communication and international business in which students will study two years in Lugano and two years in Boston.
We are also working toward similar partnerships—or Global Portals—with other institutions around the world. Last spring, we renewed our Memorandum of Understanding with Blanquerna University, with whom we have had a longstanding partnership dating back to the early 1990s. We are also partnering with CAPA: The Global Education Network on the development, management, and enrollment of a new Emerson College Communication Studies Program in Sydney, Australia. This program is expected to launch in spring or summer 2019. And we continue to pursue opportunities in Hong Kong with Hong Kong Baptist University and Lingnan University, where we have established traditional student exchange programs.
Global Portals will allow students without U.S. passports to matriculate to Emerson and earn an Emerson degree, while creating new flexible models for providing an Emerson education to undergraduate students around the world and strategically establishing Emerson as a recognized brand outside of the U.S. We have modeled each program to produce year-over-year increases in net revenue, which will decrease our dependence on undergraduate tuition, room, board, and fees to support our operations and, at the same time, increase our capacity to fund additional financial aid. Equally important, it will allow us to increase our student population without major investments in our facilities, which is particularly important for our institution, located as it is in the heart of downtown Boston, one of the hottest real estate markets, if not the hottest, in the country.
Advancing Inclusive Excellence
We know that it is only through the diversity of people and ideas that we can achieve the highest levels of success both individually and as a community. A focus of our work continues to revolve around inclusive excellence and ensuring that Emerson welcomes, values, and supports diversity in all forms—from faculty hiring and teacher training and support; to our curricular audit; to continued assessment of our campus climate; to making programs and opportunities available that engage the community in dialogue on these important issues.
To that end, we just held our third annual successful Teach-In on Race, underscoring our steadfast commitment to diversity and inclusion and the work we must continue to do. I am proud of the dedicated students, faculty, and staff who presented this year’s empowering programs, and I am proud of the hundreds of Emersonians who attended; several Teach-in events were standing room only.
Earlier this year, in an effort to deepen our work in this area, the College’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion changed its name to the Social Justice Center, and reoriented itself to focus on four areas: Advocacy and Support; Community and Movement Building; Knowledge (Re)Creation and Sharing; and Access and Equity. The Social Justice Center continues to strengthen the College’s ability to address structural inequities and barriers to access; provide high quality advocacy and support to individuals; support community and movement‐building; and lift up knowledge and expertise that is embedded within communities.
Civic Engagement and Innovation
Civic engagement and innovation permeate the Emerson culture, across disciplines and divisions.
Our Engagement Lab continues to be a hub of innovation. Its latest project is a game called “(Port)Land of Opportunity.” Working with the city of Portland, ME, Emerson’s Engagement Lab is helping design a tool to inform and engage immigrants and refugees about available services in Portland.
The Lab was recently awarded a contract for $300,000 from the City of Boston, which will support the development and prototyping of “smart city” technology throughout several communities. The Lab also received its first federal funding in the form of two National Science Foundation grants, each of which focuses on the role of smart technology in catalyzing civic engagement.
We continue to focus on enhancing the College’s culture for collaborative pedagogy, and this fall, we will be searching for a director for faculty development and diversity, identified by the students as a top priority.
This past spring, ArtsEmerson was one of 15 organizations to receive funding from the Barr Foundation’s ArtsAmplified initiative for our work to strengthen the community by encouraging and supporting artistic excellence, relevance, risk taking, and civic leadership.
And in spring 2019, for the third year in a row, ArtsEmerson is taking Mr. Joy on the road into neighborhoods in and around Boston, offering residents free admission to the show. The neighborhood tour of Mr. Joy addresses and attempts to break down some of the barriers that residents feel when art is concentrated in one area of our city.
The Elma Lewis Center for Civic Engagement, Learning, and Research continues to be a hub for community engagement at the College; the search for a new executive director of the Center will be relaunching in the near future.
Emerson recently entered into a partnership with Youth LEAD, a nonprofit based in Sharon, MA, which provides youth leadership development and community engagement for high school students. The program inspires youth leaders to reflect upon their values and beliefs, so they may connect with communities across differences as they address social issues and enact positive change. Youth LEAD will expand its services to youth in Boston in the coming year.
Our faculty are endlessly creative and innovative. In support of their research and creative scholarship, Emerson was awarded $2.75 million in external funding between 2017 and 2018—a 58 percent year-over-year increase. It is also the most external funding Emerson has received since we began tracking these numbers.
Some notable grants and contracts contributed to this growth, including the aforementioned support that the Engagement Lab received. We also saw some of our faculty receive prestigious individual fellowships from organizations such as the Woodrow Wilson Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies.
Additionally, the Office of the Arts received a number of significant awards. These include $230,000 from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation in support of HowlRound and $675,000 from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in support of ArtsEmerson.
I am proud of the progress that Emerson has made, and there are many people who have contributed to this success. In particular, I am grateful for our staff members who support the College in myriad ways, often behind the scenes, ensuring that Emerson continues to be an excellent place to learn, live, and work. I was pleased that the College and the Emerson College Staff Union/SEIU 888 successfully ratified its first collective bargaining agreement last spring.
I look forward to working with the Emerson community in Boston, LA, Kasteel Well, and abroad to remain focused on our core mission to educate the next generation of leaders in their diverse fields.