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State of the College 2013

The monthly President's Corner is an opportunity to share with you updates on TC's goals, challenges and the good news happening on our campus. For this first column, I invite you to read the annual State of the College address, which I delivered to the campus community on Oct. 23.

Susan H. Fuhrman
  State of the College 2013
  October 23, 2013
  Cowin Auditorium
  3:30 p.m.

Good afternoon. Welcome to the State of the College for our 125th anniversary year.

Thank you, Bobby for that introduction – and for your leadership and dedication to TC.  You may not know that Bobby created the Twitter hashtag “Be The First” for new and current students to tweet their aspirations for their time at TC – and beyond.  What a fantastic way to engage students in the celebration of our legacy.
As everyone in this room knows well, this has been a very eventful year on all fronts. We have been celebrating this milestone anniversary with both fun and meaningful special events and activities. And we have faced our share of challenges. Some challenges are national in scope – such as the continuing economic downturn and the troublesome policy climate that places a premium on narrow definitions of accountability for schools and for education schools. Other challenges are distinctly about how we at TC flourish.      

Today is an occasion to take a comprehensive view of the state of our College – to highlight both the positive developments and our major challenges. And an opportunity to discuss how we’re moving forward to work with faculty, students, and staff to meet our most pressing issues head on. 

When it comes to the positive aspects of this year, there’s no better place to start than with the celebration of our 125th anniversary. There are so many highlights and moments to remember and cherish. At the opening of the month-long exhibit on TC’s history at the New York Historical Society, we brought together the current descendants of the TC founding families.

At our annual Academic Festival in April, we paid tribute to past president Lawrence Cremin, whose broad and pluralistic approach to education continues to inform our work at TC today. Academic Festival this year was the best-attended yet, drawing more than 800 alumni, newly admitted students, and guests, who all had the opportunity to hear about the work of our talented faculty.  

Our celebration continued this summer. Global TC Day in late July brought together TC people in a dozen countries and in more than 20 U.S. cities. The worldwide event proved to be very popular, so we hope to make this a continuing tradition.  

In July we also hosted a New York City Mayoral Forum, where 14 candidates for mayor spoke on the arts and arts education to a packed house of faculty, staff, and students, as well as voters from all over the city.      

Many of you attended the dedication last month of Teachers College Way, where the display of school spirit and enthusiasm was a truly wonderful sight. We were presented with a proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg saluting us for producing “generations of leaders.” The occasion was made even more special by the much-needed paving of 120th Street. Now that certainly is a concrete – or should I say, asphalt – accomplishment this year.

The street naming kicked off TC Week, which was filled with activities for the entire TC community – from a Yankees game to yoga on the lawn to storytime for children. The week was a great way to greet new students and welcome back returning ones.   

But we’re not done celebrating yet. Our anniversary year will culminate with more exciting events like the benefit Gala on November 12 – a fundraising celebration that will fittingly take place on 125th Street at the legendary Apollo Theater. At the gala, we will honor four leaders in fields related to education. They are: philanthropist and TC trustee Laurie Tisch; arts education supporters Susan Benedetto and Tony Bennett; GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt; and school reform giant James Comer. All proceeds from the Gala will benefit TC’s scholarship fund.  

Now we’re looking toward the future, and the stories generations to come will tell about TC at 125 years old. So, we’re taking a high-tech approach to our history by creating the TC 125 Digital Time Capsule. This may well be the world’s first online time capsule. Yes, another TC first!

Because all of you are such an important part of the TC story – and you have stories to tell about the College today, I encourage you to take the opportunity to contribute. You can submit stories, papers, photos, videos – if it can be digitized, it can go into our time capsule. We’ll “bury” the time capsule at our annual campus Holiday Party on December 16. Imagine when the time capsule is opened in 2138 for TC’s 250th anniversary!

These future TC-ers will discover that in 2013, their College was a strong and vibrant institution looking ahead and making a difference in New York City, the nation, and the world. They also will get a glimpse of the lively intellectual and cultural life on campus – at events such as the recent Inaugural Edmund Gordon Lecture or the opening of the fabulous exhibit “Doing and Undergoing,” with 22 site-specific art installations around campus. The halls of TC are always bustling – and rooms overflowing – with people attending conferences, discussions, and performances.   
But this very active anniversary year is also a time for deep reflection on our history and mission. So when we consider what to place in the time capsule that represents the best of TC, so many examples spring to mind of what we’ve achieved together in recent years.  

First, we must think of our students, who are the center of all that we do. TC is continuing to attract interest from talented students from around the world in impressive numbers. Even in a tough market, applications for student admissions are up more than 20 percent.

Among our very remarkable entering class are the young woman who was the subject of the movie Homeless to Harvard, who chose to continue her inspiring journey at TC; a dancer from the renowned Ballet Hispanico; and the great-great granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. 

TC also continues to get more diverse. This year, the proportion of U.S. citizens enrolled at the College who self-identify as students of color is almost 42 percent. This represents a 15 percent increase from where we were seven years ago. Students come from 49 states. Perhaps we can have a contest to guess the one state where we are not attractive and figure out how to remedy that.   

International student representation is at an all-time high, with students coming to us from 81 countries. That means, today 17 percent of our students come from outside of the US – this is up from 13 percent seven years ago. Students entering this year come from 15 countries new to the current TC student body. From Cambodia to the Sudan to Haiti, we’re drawing students from around the globe as never before.
Overall, our faculty are more impressive and accomplished than ever. Their honorifics and leadership positions speak to the depth and breadth of talent and influence. For example, we now boast 22 AERA Fellows, 11 members of the National Academy of Education, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as fellows of the American Psychological Association, members of the Institute of Medicine, the president of the American College of Sports Medicine, president of the Association for the Study of Higher Education, and editors and board members of scholarly and professional journals … the list goes on.

In terms of faculty strength and numbers, 40 percent of our current faculty members have been recruited over the last seven years – which indicates that we are continuing to recruit promising and astonishingly capable scholars and renew ourselves each year.

This year, our faculty members have been widely featured in the media for their influential and forward-looking work.

Perhaps you saw Professor of Clinical Psychology George Bonanno on CBS Sunday Morning last weekend. He was interviewed in a story on human resilience in the face of physical and psychological trauma. Professor Bonanno is a nationally recognized expert on how individuals cope with loss, trauma, and extreme adversity.

Last week Erika Levy, who is Associate Professor of Speech and Language Pathology, appeared on the Today show to discuss the cognitive benefits of raising children bilingual.     

Sandra Okita, from our Department of Math, Science & Technology, was featured last spring in The Wall Street Journal for her research on robots as learning partners for young students.  

Christopher Emdin, Associate Professor of Science Education, was on the PBS News Hour to discuss his program that uses rap music to teach complex science concepts to high school students.

And Lisa Miller, Professor of Psychology and Education, was featured in The New York Times for developing a program that merges spirituality with clinical psychology.

We could certainly be here all day talking about our extraordinary faculty. This year we welcomed to TC another impressive group of 14 new faculty members who bring expertise in path-breaking areas.

One has investigated the potential of using text messages to communicate with parents about their children’s academic progress. Another comes to us having done both a postdoc at Princeton and having founded and directed a preschool for disadvantaged children in Guatemala while collecting data on Mayan families in rural settings. Still another is at the forefront of the field of emotional intelligence, something that is becoming central to our understanding of how children do inside and outside of schools. And yet another new faculty member is even reputed to be the first sociologist to commission a Grammy-nominated album! I look forward to the work this extremely strong group of scholars will produce at TC.     

The diversity of our entire faculty has been increasing as well. Today, 27 percent are people of color, up from 21 percent in 2007. This also reflects an increase at the tenured level, which is excellent news. 

Our research funding also is on the rise – from $34.4 million in Fiscal Year ‘07 to $42.8 million in Fiscal Year ‘12 – a 25 percent increase.

And it’s worth noting that we’ve seen a nearly 50 percent increase in funding from federal sources during a period of fiscal austerity at those funding agencies.

We’ve also made significant progress in supporting our doctoral students. In prior years, only 10 percent of our full-time doctoral students were fully funded. This meant we were at a competitive disadvantage as compared with our peer institutions.  However, this year, almost one-third of our new full-time doctoral students are fully funded. Of course, our goal is to have 100 percent fully funded and to support part-time doctoral students and masters students as well. We still have a huge financial aid challenge, which I’ll turn to later in my remarks.

Our central institutional priority has been to focus the College on living up to our legacy – that is: to pursue our mission of educational improvement and social justice by pushing the knowledge envelope. This means developing new and expanded fields of inquiry and applying that work to make a difference. This is the essence of the TC legacy.  

Several years ago, we participated in a series of “domain dinners” with faculty, gatherings where faculty could meet, argue, and learn, and plant seeds for future collaborations. Since the dinners, we have emphasized developing multidisciplinary and cross-disciplinary fields of inquiry, such as policy analysis across early childhood, k-12, and post-secondary; linking health research and policy more strongly to education; and promoting efforts to assure that pre-service teachers have multiple competencies.
Meanwhile, our research, practice and leadership continues to have impact and influence – as the people of TC work every day toward a smarter, healthier, and more just world for all.

A notable example this year is the opening of the new Laurie M. Tisch Center for Food, Education & Policy. The center was established last winter with a $5 million gift from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.  

The Center connects the dots – as so many of our programs do – by bringing together policy with nutrition education. In this very TC way, the Tisch Center is working to increase access to healthy foods, encourage healthier food choices, and promote a sustainable food system.

We’re also creating another TC first by developing academic programming in the field of education data mining and learning analytics. Associate Professor Ryan Baker developed a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Learning Analytics, using the Coursera platform through Columbia University – and last I heard had 31,000 students. Hopefully, we will start a master’s program in that field; a proposal is currently under review by the faculty.  

We continue to lead as well in applying our work in ways that make a difference. We have a number of examples of TC programs with impact in our communities. The TC Partnership Schools Consortium currently comprises six public schools in Harlem: The Heritage School; Frederick Douglass Academy II; Columbia Secondary School; PS 36 Margaret Douglas; PS 154 Harriett Tubman; and the Teachers College Community School – or TCCS. Our goal is to expand the program to 12 schools.                                                                        

More than 35 TC students work with our partnership schools as curriculum supports, instructors and tutors – during the school day and after-school, with particular focus on enrichment activities in critical areas such as literacy, health, and nutrition.

Our Science Outreach program, for example, brings elementary students from Partnership schools to campus to take science classes for a day and engage in hands-on activities. The students have an opportunity to experience life on a college campus while being taught by TC students in the Science Education program. At the end of their day here, the students receive a TC transcript with their two science classes listed and signed by the program coordinator Felicia Moore Mensah, Associate Professor of Science Education. The program is a terrific way to engage young children in science and motivate interest in attending college.     

There are so many ways that TC maintains an active involvement in schools around the city. For example, doctoral student Barry Goldenberg created a program called Youth Historians in Harlem. The program involves high school students in the practice of doing actual research into Harlem history through guided projects – with the goal to pique and nurture their interest in history and inspire civic engagement.

Barry piloted the program last year in partnership with TC’s Institute for Urban and Minority Education while earning his master’s degree. He became so engaged in his work in Harlem that he decided to stay at TC, pursue a doctorate in History and Education, and expand Youth Historians this fall to include more adults and community institutions. That truly is the TC way.   

Our involvement in schools is clearly seen in professional development efforts for teachers through programs such as the TC Inclusive Classrooms Project. TC faculty experts work with New York City K-12 teachers, administrators, and staff to develop strategies that will help students with special needs and challenges grow and thrive in their classrooms. The program is co-directed by Professor of Education Celia Oyler and Britt Hamre, a lecturer in TC’s Inclusive Education program.

TC’s Reading and Writing Project, directed by Lucy Calkins, has been working for more than 30 years on the ground in New York City schools – as well as with teachers and administrators across the country and around the world. Lucy, TC’s Robinson Professor of Children’s Literature, is also leading the nation in thinking about meaningful implementation of Common Core Standards in English Language Arts.
Last year, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, she and her Project colleagues wanted to assist partner schools to rebuild after the storm. Professor Calkins conceived the idea of the Literacy Lifeboats program, which raised money for supplies and materials teachers needed to reconstruct literacy-rich classrooms. The program is a prime example of how TC addresses the whole child as well as schools, communities, and families.     

Financial literacy education for students is yet another area in which we are blazing a trail. This year, we launched the first annual Financial Literacy Summer Institute for New York City high school teachers. Under the direction of Associate Professor of Social Studies Anand Marri, the program helps teachers to integrate important concepts about finance into history, social studies and other courses to increase students’ financial literacy. The Institute is supported through a gift by longtime TC Trustee and alumna Joyce B. Cowin.

We’re also continuing – and expanding – our impact on the world stage. TC has continuing projects underway with the Columbia Global Centers in Amman and Mumbai, and we’re planning new projects in Beijing, Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago. Our goal is to have active partnerships with each of the eight centers by June 2014, and to expand development, training, and research opportunities for TC faculty, staff, and students.    

For example, our work continues in Jordan, where our partnership with the Queen Rania Teacher Academy is enabling us to refine new approaches to professional development that will benefit many Jordanian teachers and students, while also helping us to strengthen teacher education and student outcomes throughout the Middle East. We have secured funding for a fourth year of collaboration with QRTA, and we are currently working with 400 schools, 1200 teachers, and tens of thousands of students in Jordan. Our partners in QRTA activities will help us in other ways as well.  

As another example, our presence in Brazil is growing, much of it with support from the Lemann Foundation, which is already funding a fellowship program here at TC. We now have a project looking at the dynamics of socioeconomic segregation in schools in Rio and we hope to mount efforts in other areas, such as teacher education and the cost-effectiveness of various policy approaches.   

Our Challenges
Yes, we do have many positive developments this year of which we can be proud. But, of course, any institution of our size, complexity, and rich history faces challenges – and TC is no exception. The last six months have been a learning experience in how we – as a community – must work together to better consult, collaborate, and communicate with one another.   

Communication has long been a major issue in a college of this size. And this issue encompasses so much of the life of this College, from the overall direction of TC, to how doctoral aid would be implemented, to smaller departmental issues. Communication is not just an issue at the college level, but also within departments, across departments, and across major constituencies — faculty, staff and students.

So, it is clear that our goal must be to move toward a more open, collaborative, and transparent environment. This process already has begun in many ways.

Thus far, meetings with faculty members, professional staff, union members, and students have been opportunities for listening and exchange. These discussions have proved so fruitful and valuable to all involved, that we will continue the regular lunches and teas that began this summer that drew people from across the College. 

We also are planning to reinstitute the domain dinners as a way of sparking discussion that leads to more collaborative, cross-department efforts.

To further enhance communication, this month a regular online column will be launched – starting with this speech – in which I will have the opportunity to report our goals, our challenges, and our good news, so that everyone in our community can know more about what’s happening and where we’re going as a College. 

We’re also undertaking actions on a variety of fronts to provide more opportunities for input by faculty, staff, and students in areas of the life of the College, everything from our development and external affairs initiatives to choosing our TC Medal recipients for convocation.

We all want to move away from show-and-tell meetings, where the administration presents – and others listen – to forums where real consultation occurs.

It is very important that everyone continues to share their ideas, their hope, and their concerns for TC and participate in all the communities and structures we have for input and exchange. Only by working together, honestly, and with respect for our diverse opinions and points of view, will we move forward, together, toward a stronger future. 

A second challenge is responding to the changing trends and times in higher education – and how to position TC to compete with new and emerging competitors. These competitors include programs that are not embedded in scholarship and research like ours, such as Teach for America or Teaching Fellows, as well as online degree programs, like those offered by Kaplan School of Graduate Education or Drexel University Online, or those offered by the Relay Graduate School of Education, a non-university-based program.

Everyone is justly upset by the rising cost of higher education. Policymakers and the public are demanding that colleges and universities hold down costs at the same time new burdens for reporting and compliance multiply, and new accountability and accreditation demands pose escalating challenges. We must be agile enough to respond to all these changes while remaining focused on our mission. 

To help secure our future in this tough climate, we’re examining our needs in technology and innovation. Our goal is to enhance what we do on campus and to reach new and remote audiences. In fact, this is a priority for this fiscal year. Again, this priority for our technology future presents us with another opportunity to communicate and collaborate as we plan our next steps.

We also will be focusing on efforts to support faculty in rethinking, redesigning, and changing programs to strengthen our capacity in particular areas – to teach students and do research in the most compelling and effective ways possible. Vice Provost Bill Baldwin will be taking the lead on these efforts this year.

And we must examine our own costs. We have pledged to reduce administrative positions primarily through attrition and administrative burden through streamlined processes. We must focus intently on tuition, which is already increasing at a slower rate than in the past – and we must improve on that record.

A third related challenge – and our most serious one – is financial support for our students. Let me be clear, I am wholeheartedly committed to improving student support as substantially as possible. I would spend all my time on this if I could. In fact, student scholarships and fellowships are the first priority of our upcoming Campaign for TC, which I will discuss in a moment.

Let me give you an overview of where we stand with financial aid. Currently, 44 percent of our students apply for and receive some form of aid. 

On average, the students who apply for financial aid at TC arrive with approximately $40,000 in student loan debt already. These numbers track with the national trends on student indebtedness over the last 10 years.

A typical TC student who receives financial aid takes out about $18,000 a year. This is consistent across masters and doctoral students. Our students graduate with an average total debt of between $50,000 and $60,000. They often will take the maximum loan amount they can – and this may be the case especially for students in New York City because of the higher cost of living.   

Financial aid, then, is a huge challenge for us. We must strategically mine all resources for our students. We must remember that many TC students go on to become leaders in fields that are traditionally not high-paying – but are critical to creating a better future. They need – and deserve – our support.

Fortunately, many of our students go into public sector jobs and are eligible for loan forgiveness eventually, but there is still a challenging repayment burden. While the loan indebtedness situation is difficult, the College has been consistently investing in financial aid.

We’re working hard to increase our scholarship giving to address the serious financial aid challenge. In the last 18 months alone, we have raised nearly $20 million for scholarships – an 81 percent increase over the $11 million raised for scholarships during the prior 18-month period. We intend to continue this momentum in giving for our students.

TC’s Future
With all these challenges in mind: Where do we go from here?

As we move toward the end of our 125th anniversary year, we must focus squarely – and clearly – on the future. What kind of institution do we want TC people 125 years from now to inherit?

So, today we must ask: What’s next for TC?

Our answer from an institutional perspective is the Campaign for Teachers College. This will be a historic campaign for TC, as we will seek to raise $300 million.  

The campaign is titled “Where the Future Comes First,” because it will enable us to build on our historic legacy of firsts to create the future firsts that will help shape this century. We want TC to continue to be the place where visionaries and brilliant thinkers develop new and more multi-faceted fields of inquiry and practice – and then translate that knowledge into policy and practice with real-world influence and impact. The campaign is our roadmap to that future.

The campaign specifically addresses our challenges and needs on three major fronts: our students, our faculty and programs, and our campus and technology future. 

As I said, our students are the first priority for the campaign. We will raise funds for scholarships and fellowships so our students can graduate as debt-free as possible. The campaign will help us continue to attract the best and the brightest students from around the world – and ensure they are financially supported when they are here.

The research and programs advanced by our world-class scholars also need significant funding. The campaign will support our faculty so they can develop and strengthen fields of inquiry across education, health, and psychology – with the goal to apply that knowledge to make a difference.

We also need to renew our campus to meet 21st century needs. We all know our beautiful and historic buildings badly need renovations. With this campaign, we will be able to address our long list of repairs. But also, on a larger scale, the campaign will enable us to plan and create updated – and technology rich – spaces where we can work, study, and gather. For example, we want to build more “smart classrooms” that integrate leading-edge technology that transforms learning into a dynamic collaboration. 
The campaign also will enable us to create a pool of strategic funding to build the TC Fund as well as the Provost’s Investment Fund, which seeds so many promising initiatives.  

We have been making significant progress toward our overall campaign goal. Thus far, in the quiet phase, we have raised $142 million. But we have much work ahead.

When we officially launch the campaign at the Gala on November 12, our campaign website also will go live – along with a mobile app. The website will be our primary vehicle to build support; provide updates on progress toward our goals; as well as share stories of the impact campaign giving has on the people of TC, and our exciting plans for the future. 

A successful campaign is critical to a stronger future for TC – and each of you plays an important role in shaping that future. So many of you already give generously to TC – and your support is deeply appreciated. We also are ambassadors for TC. And now the launch of the campaign gives all of us a great opportunity to tell the TC story – about the many ways we’re creating a smarter, healthier, and more just city, nation, and world.  

This is our time to look ahead with confidence and optimism. Despite our challenges and our – at times – tumultuous year, there is much to be excited about. And that is true because of the extraordinary people of this College – the students, the staff, and the faculty. You remain sharply focused on advancing our unique legacy: the distinctive way we build and shape fields of inquiry that then have local and global influence and impact.

As we envision and work toward TC’s future, who better among our forbearers to inspire us than our founder Grace Dodge?

Grace was described by a New York newspaper as having “the hundred-year look. That is, she looked ahead a century and made her plans accordingly.”

We’re here today because Grace Dodge had that “hundred-year look.” So, let us, too, take her long view. And in this 125th anniversary year, let us recommit ourselves to building a stronger TC. A College we can celebrate as the finest graduate school of education – today, and for the next 125 years.

Thank you.    

Published Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013