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Focus on the Future for 2017-18

September 19, 2017

Dear Colleagues:

As we begin another exciting academic year, we can look to the promise it holds for students, faculty and professional staff, and the University itself as a thriving center of learning and discovery. Our growing undergraduate student body, Drexel’s tradition of outstanding teaching, use-inspired research and entrepreneurship, the humbling generosity of trustees, alumni and friends, and a growing spirit of civic engagement all signal a great year ahead.

At the same time, I hope we can focus not only on the immediate future — but on a timeline for academic achievement and innovation that stretches beyond.

The increasingly competitive higher education landscape continues to demand our very best efforts to see that Drexel prospers on all fronts. We are in the midst of a multi-year transition to a new student enrollment and retention strategy that admits students prepared to succeed at Drexel. All the early signs point to this strategy working well — notably, the record incoming class of more than 3,200 freshman students. Yet, this is a process that will take time.

I know that the influx of so many new students has raised questions about our plan to continue controlling costs and realigning academic programs and administrative activities to ensure greater effectiveness. I want to assure you how important it is to stay the course. There are many good reasons to do so, and I invite you to discuss our plans further and share your ideas and concerns at a town hall meeting on the University City campus on Thursday, November 16. Please mark your calendar.

For now, welcome back if you have had time off this summer, and welcome also to those new colleagues joining us. What follows is a snapshot of just some of what we are focusing on now and for Drexel’s future.

Focus: Student Success Strategy

The incoming freshman class for 2017 of approximately 3,200 is the largest ever, and these new undergraduates are highly qualified and more likely to remain enrolled and go on to earn their degrees. They hail from across the region, the nation and internationally, and, in their diversity, they fulfill the promise of inclusion and opportunity that is central to our educational mission. More than one in 10 are international students. Asians and Asian Americans comprise 20 percent of the class, and African Americans, Hispanics or other minorities account for approximately 13 percent.

Just as important, we welcome back a record-setting number of members from the incoming class of 2016. Their projected retention rate of approximately 90 percent is expected to be an all-time high.

Academic achievement continues to be the watchword at Drexel, which The Wall Street Journal and Times Higher Education ranked in the top 40 among private research universities. And more Drexel students and alumni were offered Fulbrights than ever before, with eight receiving the prestigious award in the spring — further evidence of our global engagement.

Also, this year we will be working in close cooperation with Greek organizations to conduct an external review to ensure that our sororities and fraternities are being led and operated with the highest standards.

Focus: Budgeting for the Long-Term

Just as the news about student enrollment is encouraging, steps taken over the last year to remain on a firm financial footing are showing results. By determining what investments are needed to support growth in undergraduate and graduate degree programs, and research, we have been able to identify necessary expense reductions to balance our budget. That remains our focus — supporting our academic programs while operating the University at peak efficiency.

For FY18, the additional revenues generated by a larger incoming class will be offset by accompanying increases in financial aid and student support services, making careful expense management a continuing fact of life. Thanks to these and other initiatives, the state of Drexel's finances is strong.

Focus: Research and Scholarship

The University’s high-caliber research continues to grow, with new awards for research up 6 percent. We won highly competitive awards from the Wellcome Trust ($12 million) to study urban health and from the U.S. Department of Education ($30 million) to study and support urban education in West Philadelphia. We will also be announcing shortly the establishment of a Fabric Discovery Center, which leverages the University’s national leadership in smart-fabric manufacturing through our participation in the Advanced Functional Fabrics of America.

In 2017, Drexel was ranked by The Milken Institute among the top 50 universities in the country for commercialization of inventions and innovations developed at Drexel, and we were acknowledged once again for our success in securing U.S. patents. Drexel's patent portfolio includes nearly 400 issued patents, and the University has more than 400 additional technologies at various stages of patent application.

We welcome a new dean to Drexel this academic year, with the arrival in February of Dr. Laura N. Gitlin as dean of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. The Academy of Natural Sciences also expects an exciting announcement soon about its a new president and CEO.

Focus: Civic Engagement

Helping us aspire to Drexel’s goal of being the most civically engaged university in the nation, more than 200 Drexel employees performed more than 600 hours of community service through the new Dragon Volunteers program, launched just last December. The volunteer efforts of many faculty and professional staff also helped make our second Commencement at Citizens Bank Park a rousing success.

Our commitment to inclusive economic growth in Philadelphia is centered around plans for Schuylkill Yards, which we announced last year. The first phase will enhance the public realm through the creation of the 1.3- acre Drexel Square at the corner of 30th and Market streets; construction by our development partner, Brandywine Realty Trust, is slated to begin by the end of 2017.

Our campus also continues to grow with the addition of new amenities: a high-quality preschool at the newly-built Vue32 development, which includes 164 new market-rate apartments; and The Study at University City, bringing high-quality, full-service lodging and dining to the Drexel campus.

Focus: Student-Athletes’ Court, Classroom Triumphs

Drexel student-athletes continue to excel both on the field, with title-winning performances, and in the classroom, with 3.33 grade-point averages. This year, more than 450 student-athletes will compete in 18 varsity sports and another 9,000 students will participate in club or intramural sports.

Drexel crew won its fifth-straight overall title at the Dad Vail Regatta, taking gold in both the men's and women's varsity eight. Men’s squash scored its best result in the short history of the program, finishing sixth in the country. The women’s basketball team had a 20-plus wins season for the fourth time under coach Denise Dillon. Rachel Bernhardt became the first Drexel swimmer to earn Division I Honorable Mention All- American status after qualifying for her second-straight NCAA Championships. Recent Drexel alum Chris Crawford qualified for the second time for the U.S. Open, becoming the first Philadelphia amateur golfer to advance to back-to-back U.S. Opens in more than 30 years. The men’s lacrosse and women’s soccer teams both picked up notable victories in season and postseason play, respectively. And under head coach Matt Azevedo, Drexel wrestling earned its first national ranking.

Focus: Gifts of Learning

The growing excitement surrounding the November launch of Drexel’s largest-ever fundraising campaign is buoyed by donors’ support during the past year. The University secured more than $100 million in new gifts and commitments for the third straight year in FY17. Our second annual Day of Giving proved to be a great success, exceeding all predictions by raising $824,534 from 3,707 gifts. The campaign will leverage this growing confidence in Drexel to fuel our efforts in research, education and service, and will enable us to rise to future challenges.

The pride we share in Drexel University is built upon progress made in all these areas of University life. Our faith in the future only grows when we see the progress that our efforts have yielded. “What is now proved was once only imagined,” the English poet William Blake told us. I hope you will join me in remaining focused on building a better future together — and wish for all of us a productive and exciting academic year ahead.


John Fry