The Erskine College and Theological Seminary Board of Trustees gathered for their final meeting of the 2015-16 fiscal and academic year Friday, May 27.
The board began the day with a prayer meeting and committee meetings followed by a training session which included a presentation by David Cathcart ’71 of Merrill Lynch and Chip Smith ’88, Chairman of the Investment Subcommittee, who discussed the role and work of that committee. Vice President for Finance and Operations Greg Haselden then presented a review of annual budgeting procedures and internal budget allocations.
Erskine President Dr. Paul Kooistra gave a report that recapped the highlights from the 2015-16 year. He organized his comments into several categories, including Academic, Enrollment, Student Development, and Spiritual Development.
Topping the Academic category was the removal of all sanctions and full reaffirmation of accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in December. He also noted a successful visit from SACSCOC regarding the fully online track of the Seminary’s Master of Theological Studies degree program and a successful visit from the Association of Theological Schools.
Kooistra announced two new initiatives in the academic arena.
The Erskine Center for Environmental Stewardship, which launched this summer, provides summer research opportunities for undergraduates working with faculty in Chemistry and Biology. Findings from the ongoing research projects will be presented at conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals. This summer, four professors and eight students are working on a variety of projects, several of which focus on a potentially patentable product for water purification. The funds for the Center this year were provided through the Charles M. and Edna S. Bell Enrichment Fund. The first few years of research through this program, according to Professor of Chemistry Dr. Joel Boyd, should provide a strong basis for pursuing large undergraduate research grants from the National Science Foundation in the future.
The second new item Kooistra announced was the intention to start a Master of Science in Athletic Training program. The process, he said, will take about two years to be approved by Erskine faculty and SACS. When launched, the program promises to be one of the first of its kind in the upstate.
Kooistra also noted that in this first year of offering online summer term courses in the college, more than 100 students were registered. This is approximately four times the traditional registration in summer term for college courses.
Under the Enrollment heading, the president said that Admissions was on track to see 240 new students this fall with an overall enrollment target of 644 in 2016-17 compared to 619 in 2015-16. Kooistra reminded trustees of his focus on continuing to move toward an overall enrollment of 700 or more.
Within the Student Development category, Kooistra noted a successful year of transition for the new Student Services staff and announced plans to hire Erskine’s first full-time resident director in 2016-17. He hopes full-time resident directors will become a model for the residence halls going forward. Noting four athletic championships this past year in Men’s and Women’s Volleyball, Women’s Tennis, and Baseball, Kooistra also informed trustees that Erskine had made NCAA history in early May when Heather Vahjen became the first woman head coach of a team in the NCAA National Men’s Volleyball Tournament.
Kooistra commented that from his perspective the spiritual mood of campus was good and getting better. He reported that his chapel and convocation messages had been well received and told trustees that Erskine would be moving from holding chapel twice a month to weekly next year.
The president also reported that the Erskine Annual Fund is projected to exceed its $1.6 million goal for 2015-16.
The trustees approved a final a budget for 2016-17. President Kooistra noted that the two-year financial stability plan, which winds down with this fiscal year, has proven successful in generating a much needed budget surplus to end 2015-16. He also noted that in the 2016-17 budget there is a bonus pool, which will address some of the salary reductions the past two years as well as a reinstatement of the retirement match at two percent.
Responding to requests from seminary faculty and the Seminary Committee of the board, the board voted to establish an ad hoc committee to explore strategies for ensuring long-term sustainable success for the seminary. One of the strategies the committee will be considering is creating a separate legal entity and governance for Erskine Theological Seminary. The seminary and college have operated as one legal entity under one board since 1925.
Upon recommendation of the Student Services Committee, the trustees passed a motion stating that a football program is not an advisable option for Erskine’s future at this time. It also approved a motion recommending that a missional and academic strategy for enrollment be the primary student recruitment focus while increasing enrollment to 700 students.
Through the Advancement Committee, the trustees established the Mazie Spiller Burkett Scholarship Fund for the college and the Eric Scott Wenger Seminary Scholarship Fund scholarship in the seminary.