Post-Board of Visitors and Governors Report from the Presidents, February 2021

We have heard from many that this document has often been longer than might be most effective, so we are trying a more condensed version. Our goal is to streamline the report while maintaining our commitment to open and transparent communication. If you have thoughts on these changes, please submit them in this short survey. For much more information, the 2020 annual report is available here.

Reopening Our Campuses

It was nearly a year ago that in-person instruction ended on both campuses and our students were sent home. It has been very difficult for some of our students to feel engaged in their education when disconnected from their peers and the structure provided by campus life. Many students have expressed a desire for normalcy in a deeply abnormal world, and our careful and cautious reopening provides access to the social and emotional benefits of being part of our physical community. Now that students are returning to campus, we can also celebrate the start of some hybrid and in-person classes in both Annapolis and Santa Fe.

Both campuses have faced challenges when planning for reopening. Thankfully, both regions have experienced marked improvements in infection rates and hospitalizations. However, positive trends alone are not sufficient, which is why the college has extensive health and safety protocols in place, including required weekly testing for campus access, mandatory face coverings, and social distancing for all community members.

These requirements are part of our shared commitment to each other’s well-being, and all students are required to agree to these expectations before returning to campus.

In Santa Fe, we expect around 70 students in residence for the spring, with another 90 living in the surrounding community. In Annapolis, there are 146 undergraduate residential students, with approximately 138 living off campus.

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Helping Students Flourish

For years, the Board of Visitors and Governors Visiting Committee and college leadership has been asking what needs to be done to best maintain our transformational and rigorous Program into the future. Based on feedback from alumni and current students, we have realized that while most have deep affection for the Program and greatly value their interactions with tutors and classmates, they also feel that they did not always receive the support they needed to flourish at the college. More than a small number of alumni said they felt they had simply survived their time at St. John’s.

If we reflect on it, we have always known that the more rigorous a program of education is, the more essential it is to provide support of various kinds to help students prosper.

And if we did not know it before, the pandemic has shown us how vital a caring community is to our students and all of us at the college.

Our work to help students flourish includes ensuring that women feel safe on our campuses and heard in the classroom; exploring whether there is more we can do to make sure students of color and other underrepresented groups feel welcome and respected; enhancing academic and mental health support; establishing a summer bridge program for incoming freshmen; offering a faculty advisor to every freshman; building a more robust freshman orientation; and making significant improvements to career services.

We now realize that this work is not at all a distraction from our academics but is actually essential to the sustainability of the college and the Program. We are confident that our efforts will not only help students during their time at the college but will also build a positive and powerful foundation which will sustain them long after graduation.

Some aspects of this work to improve student support has of course been difficult to maintain in the pandemic, and we have experienced an increase in withdrawals and deferrals compared with historical trends. We know that many if not most of these withdrawals are related to COVID-19, and that the student intends to return to St. John’s when in-person classes resume. We continue to focus our efforts on keeping these students connected to the college through targeted outreach by tutors and staff via phone, email, postcards, care packages, and invitations to participate in seminars.

We also streamlined the process for readmission and, in what is a very good sign, well more than a third of COVID-19 withdrawals have already indicated their intention to return in the fall.

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College Finances

It is impossible to maintain a rigorous and engaging education for our students without a solid and sustainable financial infrastructure built on fiscal responsibility and vigorous fundraising.

This year we faced many operational challenges, including reduced enrollment and the loss of room and board revenue, as well as income from activities such as Summer Classics. Lost revenue totaled nearly $10 million. Thankfully these losses were nearly offset by the Naval Academy’s rental of the Annapolis campus dormitories in the fall of 2020 and federal COVID-19 relief funds. The net impact on the college resulted in an operating loss for FY21 of $500,000, leaving us in a far better position than a vast majority of other schools.

In other positive news, the board’s Investment Committee reported the endowment closed out 2020 at a record high of $217 million, up $22 million from the November board meeting. This put St. John’s in the top quartile for endowment performance compared with peer institutions.

And despite a pause in travel and visits, the board’s Advancement Committee reported we raised more than $7 million since the November board meeting, bringing the campaign total to $240 million, or 80 percent of the goal. And we have raised more than $47 million of the $50 million required to meet the challenge grant from the Winiarski Family Foundation. Amazingly, this $47 million comes from more than 15,000 individual donations.

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Annapolis Leadership Transition

At this board meeting Annapolis President Pano Kanelos announced that he has decided not to seek an extension of his contract, which concludes in June, 2022, in order to seek new opportunities and challenges.

President Kanelos was called to his work at St. John’s out of a desire to help guide a college he loves through difficult times, and he has accomplished his key goals of strengthening enrollment and maintaining fiscal discipline for the Annapolis campus.

During his tenure he has been a passionate and highly effective ambassador for the college and the Program. He was an active partner in the development of the capital campaign and a leading architect of the new financial model; forged critical new partnerships that built our admissions pipeline and brought Annapolis enrollment back to historic highs; deepened our relationship with the city of Annapolis; negotiated the rental agreement with the Naval Academy that helped us through the pandemic; and guided the Annapolis campus through the successful return of students this semester.

The Board of Visitors and Governors has begun planning a search for a new Annapolis president, who is expected to be appointed as collegewide president in June, 2023. More information will be shared as the process unfolds.

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In Closing

It has been almost a year since each campus sent students home, and we faced a worrisomely unknowable future. While we are not yet there, we can now see the beginning of the end of this terrible pandemic.

It looks as if we will emerge from these hard times stronger than we entered. This is because of the hard budget-balancing work of the past five years; the success of our capital campaign and our dramatic tuition reduction; the amazing work done in the past year by our faculty and staff to ensure the education, safety, and success of our students; and our students' deep commitment to their learning—and each other—under extraordinarily strenuous conditions.

And, as always, we are very grateful for your passion, your support, and your continued partnership with the college.

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If there are topics that you think we should be covering in the emails that follow board meetings, or if you have specific suggestions on how this message could be more helpful, please email presidents(at) or complete this short survey.

Mark Roosevelt and Pano Kanelos

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