An Interview with Chris Howard - Part 2

March 16, 2014
Tommy Shomo '69

This is the second installment of a three-part interview with Dr. Chris Howard.  The third installment will be published on March 19.

Dr. Howard with StudentLet's turn away from dollars and talk about students.  How many come here and how many stay?

Howard:  Enrollment numbers are critical.  Tuition and fees account for approximately three-fourths of the total cost of a student's education.  That has not changed in decades.  The freshman class that entered in August after I arrived in 2009 numbered 295, the smallest since 2000.  The freshman class entering in 2010 rose to 315; entering in 2011, 320: entering in 2012, 342, second highest in the history of the College.  Last August we dropped to 292 as a result of lowering the discount rate for freshmen. In the past four years, applications have increased by 15.5% and the acceptance rate declined by 1.1%.  For the freshman class entering in 2014, applications have exceeded 3500; that is the largest number in the history of the College. We anticipate a class of 310.  In the last four freshman classes we have seen a slight increase in high school GPAs and Mean SAT Composite scores.  

The graduation rate is the other part of the enrollment equation.  Anita Garland and her staff do a terrific job recruiting each freshman class only to see a third of them melt away over four years.  This is heartbreaking because every young man who is accepted by Hampden-Sydney is capable, with effort, of graduating.  It is not that our graduation rate is low but that it is lower than we want it to be.  In fact the graduation rate for Hampden-Sydney men is 11% higher than the national six-year average for men at all colleges and universities. Hampden-Sydney's graduation rate has averaged 66% in the last five years and 65% in the last 10.  The Strategic Plan calls for a graduation rate of 72% by 2020.

We don't improve the graduation rate by helping more juniors become seniors, which is too late.  The graduation rate is improved by helping more freshmen become sophomores and more sophomores become juniors.   The Strategic Plan calls for an emphasis on the first and second year experience.  To this end we have launched the Good Men Plan (GMP) and the Sophomore Vocational Reflection Project.  This is the first year for the GMP and the second for Sophomore Vocational Reflection.  We are working on the assumption that before a young man can determine what he wants to do as a career, he needs to understand what kind of man he is or wants to become and how that realization will shape his choices.  This is the essence of a liberal arts education, but Hampden-Sydney believes that reflection is legitimately conducted outside as well as inside the classroom.  The GMP and Sophomore Vocational Reflection stress the interdependence of talents, values, and vocation.  What am I good at and enjoy?  What do I value?  What is my calling?  Answering these questions provides an incentive for a student to succeed academically if we help him see a clear relationship between the classroom and his calling. 

What about after graduation?

Historically, about 50% Hampden-Sydney men go to graduate school within five years of graduation.  This is still true and, frankly, I believe that percentage will increase.

The College has numerous cooperative programs [13] and graduate business agreements [5].  A few are at the undergraduate level but all are designed to enhance professional preparation or advancement.  Four of the graduate business agreements [William & Mary, Duke - Fuqua, UVA - Darden School, Wake Forest] have been negotiated in the past four years.

The Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Inventory indicated a desire for more Career Education services and opportunities.  We provide practical job-search instruction through the recently instituted Professional Development Institute (PDI).  A number of career specific guides call Tiger Tracks were created at my direction  by Drew Prehmus '08.  These are used both in recruiting, advising, and career education.

However, I really believe that the best pre-professional program offered at Hampden-Sydney, or anywhere else, is the Rhetoric Program.  That is certainly what our alumni tell us.  Hampden-Sydney does not just offer rhetoric, we require it.

NOTE: "The Atlantic" Focuses on H-SC Rhetoric Program

What is the Noel-Levitz Student Satisfaction Survey?

Noel-Levitz is a highly respected higher education consulting firm which is working with Hampden-Sydney on service excellence and student engagement.  They conducted a survey of our students to determine those areas students consider of high importance and how satisfied students are in those areas. Their findings will, among other things, help us best utilize the new student center. 

Before we leave the topic of students, I would like to ask about diversity?

Howard:  I have to address diversity on two levels, one more elevated than the other.  Hampden-Sydney admitted its first African-American student in 1968. That man, Alphonso O'Neil-White'72, will join the Board of Trustees this year.   At some time well before 1968 Hampden-Sydney admitted other minorities, including the first Jewish student and the first Asian student.  The diversification of the student body has been going on for a very long time; what has changed is that more recently we have established goals.  On one level, goals represent the belief that the educational experience is enriched for all by the interaction of students of different races and ethnicity just as the educational experience is enriched for all by the interaction of students from different states and countries (we have goals for these too), different socio-economic backgrounds (we have financial assistance for this), and different social, religious, and political beliefs (these seem to take care of themselves).  On another level, we cannot ignore the fact that racial and ethnic minorities constitute a growing segment of college-bound students.  As a southern college, Hampden-Sydney has long looked first for diversity to the African-American population.  The percentage of African-American students has grown from 4.3% in 2008-09 to 8.1% in 2013-14.  That is an impressive growth especially at a time when the number of African-Americans, like the number of white students, who graduate from high school is declining.  The minority student populations that graduate from high school in increasing numbers are Hispanics and Asian Americans.  The percentage of Hampden-Sydney students who are Hispanic has increased in the period indicated above from 1.3% to 2.2% and Asian Americans from 1.3% to 1.9%.  The process of diversification is still very much a work in progress.

NOTE:  All statistics used in Parts 1 and 2 are public and can be found in the 2013-14 Fact Book.

Part 3 will focus on President Howard's mandate from the Board.