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2023 President's Report: Powerful Partnerships

President Fry

President John Fry

Dear Friend,

The date is December 2, 2023.

The place is courtside at Wells Fargo Center, where the Drexel Men's Basketball team is about to tip off against perennial national powerhouse Villanova in Philadelphia's Big 5 Classic.

This tournament marks our debut as an official member of this fabled group, and our team is a decided underdog — with analytics giving us a 21% chance of winning during the first minute of play.

In this instance, the predictive analytics have overlooked Drexel's great advantage: Our team is made up of a group of talented young men excelling in athletics and academics, feeding off one another's strengths, and buying into Coach Zach Spiker's ethos of "Sometimes you, sometimes me, always us."

And wouldn't you know: Drexel winds up flipping its 21% chance of defeating Villanova after tip off into a 100% certainty with a two-point upset victory, vaulting our program into the national spotlight and propelling us to our best start ever in Coastal Athletic Association play.

The Dragons' stunning victory put an exclamation point on a year in which Drexel students, faculty, alumni and professional staff rallied to meet every moment through the power of teamwork, collaboration and partnerships.

In March, our students dominated the research poster competition for the second straight year at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, for which Drexel served as the host institution. Competing against peers from MIT, Harvard, Penn, the University of Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, Rice and Georgetown, Drexel undergraduate and graduate students won 17 of 39 honors, including 10 first-place awards and seven honorable mentions.

When a stretch of Interstate 95 in Philadelphia collapsed in June, Drexel engineering faculty and alumni jumped into action not only to educate the media and to help devise a rebuilding strategy, but also to serve as the principal construction contractors who enabled the highway to re-open in 12 days — months earlier than initially projected. Serving as the general contractor for the rebuild was Buckley & Co., the company led for decades by Drexel alumnus and emeritus trustee Bob Buckley, '58, HD '12 and now led by his son Rob. And right in the thick of the action was Aero Aggregates of North America, led by Drexel alumnus and eminent civil engineer Archibald S. Filshill ('95, PhD '10), which provided more than 8,000 cubic yards of foamed glass aggregate to rebuild the collapsed portion of the highway.

The swift, seemingly miraculous reopening of I-95 once more demonstrated the impact of powerful partnerships — and why external officials and stakeholders can count on Drexel to serve as a great partner.

Indeed, powerful partnerships with Drexel continue to take many shapes and forms.

Some build on longstanding partnerships to deepen engagement, as Drexel and Lockheed Martin did last spring to create the Lockheed Martin Launchpad as a hub to foster innovation.

Some strengthen the position of Drexel and its partners to pursue ambitious goals for the greater good, as the dramatic financial turnaround at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children has demonstrated.

Hundreds of partnerships with federal, commonwealth, and city agencies, with nonprofit foundations, and with private industry fuel our steadily growing research enterprise. Over the past 13 years, Drexel has more than doubled its annual research expenditures, propelling us into the ranks of only 39 private doctoral universities that have earned the Carnegie Classification R1 designation for "very high research activity."

Overall research expenditures for FY23 reached $169.6 million, up $18 million over the previous year. Externally sponsored research expenditures in FY23 totaled $153.3 million, up $8.5 million over the previous year, with the College of Medicine ($37.3 million), the Dana and David Dornsife School of Public Health, the College of Engineering ($23.9 million), and the College of Arts and Sciences ($14.3 million) surpassing the $10 million mark.

Drexel got off to a strong start for the 2024 fiscal year by winning $62 million in research grants for the first quarter. As we kicked off the new academic year in late September, we were especially thrilled by the news that the Dana and David Dornsife School of Public Health had received a $20 million award from the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) Common Fund through the agency's Community Partnerships to Advance Science for Society (ComPASS) program to study health equity solutions nationwide.

Beneath and beyond all these impressive numbers, faculty at Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University continue to produce an incredible breadth of groundbreaking and often interdisciplinary innovations, inventions and discoveries in STEM, and across all the arts and sciences — many of which are featured in the current edition of EXEL, the University's outstanding biennial research magazine.

Our faculty ranks have grown even stronger with the arrival of 84 outstanding new scholar-educators and practitioners. They bring great energy, fresh thinking and exceptional expertise to areas of excellence and growth opportunities that include: Health Innovation; Health Equity and Wellness; Advanced Materials and Manufacturing; Computing, Artificial Intelligence and Cyber Security; Sustainability and Climate Resilience; and Urban Futures.

With innovative research partnerships continuing to expand across all our core endeavors, Drexel is on track toward reaching its goal of $250 million in research expenditures by 2030, which will further galvanize our efforts to recruit top faculty and students and to extend the frontiers of applied knowledge across all the sciences for the public good.

And in keeping with the spirit of Drexel, we are continuing to form new partnerships that create a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

This past summer, Drexel formalized a merger agreement with Salus University, which has an impressive portfolio of outstanding graduate degree programs in high-demand fields in the health professions. Under our integration plan, Salus' Pennsylvania College of Optometry will become a standalone college at Drexel, while other Salus programs, including audiology, speech-language pathology, physician assistant studies, occupational therapy, and orthotics and prosthetics, will be become part of the College of Nursing and Health Professions. When this merger is completed, Drexel will offer our students an even wider array of pathways to careers in the health professions and bolster our global reputation as a comprehensive teaching and research university.

This is a challenging time for our world — and for higher education, which has seen public trust and confidence drop at an alarming rate. This places an even greater responsibility on Drexel to prepare our students and deploy our assets toward playing an essential role in the world.

This is also a call to continue seizing challenges that our city, country and world face as opportunities to join forces with neighbors, organizations, companies, and other "eds and meds" in order to learn together, solve problems together and grow together.

Throughout this report you will read stories about extraordinary achievements in our classrooms, research labs and athletics; about Drexel's leadership in experiential learning and co-operative education; and about our progress in promoting innovation and inclusive growth in University City and communities throughout the world.

At the heart of all these endeavors is an unwavering commitment to collaboration and partnership — among students and faculty across multiple disciplines; between co-op students and employers; between student-athletes and coaches; and between Drexel and external stakeholders.

Before you dive into this report, I would like to call your attention to some key milestones and achievements from 2023.

Putting Students First — and Rising in National Rankings

Drexel made impressive gains in national rankings, which are now focusing more heavily on student outcomes.

For example, the 2024 U.S. News & World Report rankings changed its methodology in favor of new criteria, such as first-generation student graduation rates and college graduate earnings, which more align with our commitment to broad access and student success. As a result, Drexel placed in the top 100, ranking 98th out of 435 universities and 50th among private universities.

We should also be pleased by Drexel's strong showing in the Wall Street Journal/College Pulse rankings of best colleges and universities, which focuses more heavily on student outcomes and the learning environment of the 400 institutions that were ranked. Drexel placed 54th overall and 37th among comprehensive research universities with R1 and R2 designations.

Finally, U.S. News & World Report just published its 2024 rankings of online bachelor's programs. Among 339 universities that offer online bachelor's degrees, Drexel ranked #71, making this the fourth consecutive year of improvement from our #99 position in 2020.

Drexel will continue to climb in national rankings as we keep providing the things that matter most to our students — a welcoming and supportive learning environment, and a rewarding experience that prepares them for a lifetime of success and personal fulfillment.

But more important, by putting our students first, we will continue to attract and graduate large numbers of accomplished future scholars, professionals and leaders from all backgrounds.

On that score, we are off to a promising start.

In September, we welcomed new cohorts of undergraduate and graduate students, who come from all backgrounds and parts of the country and world. They are an exceptionally talented and diverse class — with boundless potential to parlay their Drexel experience into a life filled with purpose and high achievement.

Against a sharp 4% national decline in enrollment of first-year students at private, nonprofit four-year colleges, Drexel's first-year undergraduate class stands at 2,850 students, a 1.2% decrease over last year. Current enrollment of 2,483 new graduate, certificate and professional school students, although a 0.7% decrease over last year, nonetheless outperforms national trends that show a nearly 5% enrollment decline.

Meanwhile, I am very encouraged to report that we retained nearly 90% of the fall 2022 entering class, which represents a dramatic 2.5% increase over the previous year's retention figures. That is a testament both to our students and to the excellent work of our new Academic Resource Center, a one-stop campus hub for academic advising, tutoring and coaching.

We have developed robust plans for increasing tuition revenue across our undergraduate, graduate and professional programs, with a focus on accelerating recruitment efforts for next year's entering undergraduate class, generating more than $1 million in additional graduate net tuition revenue through a variety of strategies, and continuing our progress to improve the graduate completion rate, which rose to 82.6% — three full percentage points above our goal.

I am also pleased to report the New Year arrival of Dawn Medley as our new senior vice president of enrollment management. Dawn brings to Drexel an impressive track record of improving selectivity, diversity and yield at SUNY-Stony Brook University, where she served most recently as vice provost for enrollment management and retention.

Teaching and Building on Drexel's Phenomenal Collections

Drexel further cemented its national reputation for innovative stewardship and growth of its incomparable Collections while continuing to mount noteworthy exhibitions.

During the spring, the Writers Room, a unique University-community literary arts program at Drexel, mounted "A New Kind of House," an exhibition of captivating photographs and prose by Drexel students, alumni and community members that were displayed alongside paintings from the Drexel Founding Collection in the A.J. Drexel Picture Gallery. The exhibition provided a genuine illumination and reflection of many different ways that our University and neighborhood have changed over the past eight years.

Over the summer, we mounted "Seeing Philadelphia," our first exhibition of the Atwater Kent Collection that Drexel is now privileged to steward, at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Drexel also received an $850,000 grant from Pew Charitable Trusts to continue broadening public access to the collection.

During the fall, we presented "Electrified: 50 Years of Electric Factory," a thrilling, multimedia exhibition at the Paul Peck Alumni Center Gallery and the Bossone Research Enterprise Center that celebrates the legacy of Philadelphia's legendary Electric Factory and Electric Factory Concerts.

And to ensure the long-term success in bringing ever greater innovation, creativity, interdisciplinary collaboration and inclusivity to our exhibitions, collections and programming, we established a permanent endowment for the position of Cara Keegan Fry University Curator, and awarded the position to Derek Gillman, distinguished teaching professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and the executive director of University Collections and Exhibitions.

The Cara Fry University Curator was one of four newly endowed chairs that will enable our faculty to further drive advancements in engineering, computing and informatics, biomedical engineering and collections.

Creating a More Beautiful Campus and a Vivid Innovation Neighborhood Skyline

Noted architect and urbanist Alan Greenberger, who is Drexel's vice president of real estate and facilities, recently published a compelling review of the major campus and innovation district partnership projects that were begun or completed in 2023, or are well on the way toward completion in 2024.

From the major new recreational field and quad-like green spaces that will unify most of our residence halls … to the completion of the 3025 JFK Boulevard complex in Schuylkill Yards and One uCity Square at 25 N. 38th Street … to the construction well underway for the game-changing projects of Spark Therapeutics' Gene Therapy Innovation Center and Gattuso Development Partners' Life Science Research facility at 3201 Cuthbert Street … and so much more, the beautiful campus and vibrant innovation ecosystem that we envisioned in our 2012 Campus Master Plan is becoming a reality before our eyes.

Another Strong Year in Fundraising

Fundraising remained a critical part of our work to grow our endowment and fund operations. This past fiscal year, we raised nearly $77 million in gifts, much of which will support student scholarships and programmatic innovation.

Major gifts included:

  • $10 million from the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation to establish the Wilbur C. Henderson Real Estate Institute in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business;
  • $2.5 million pledge from alumnus Barry Silk to establish endowed scholarship funds in the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Computing & Informatics;
  • $1.875 million from The Howley Foundation to support scholarships for West Catholic Prep students enrolling in engineering at Drexel; and
  • $1.5 million from Janet Burkholder to create the Barry C. & Janet E. Burkholder Family Head Women's Basketball Coach endowment.

Drexel's strong performance in fundraising for the current fiscal year featured several seven-figure gifts, including:

  • A $1.5 million gift from Drexel University trustee and longtime supporter R. John Chapel Jr. '67, and his wife, Jinnie, has established the John and Jinnie Chapel Learning & Tutoring Center in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business. The commitment supports Drexel's ongoing efforts to create and utilize campus spaces to support academic activities and improve the overall student experience;
  • A $2.5 million gift from alumnus and former trustee Dominic Frederico '74, MBA '82, is transforming the finance trading lab in the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business into the Dominic J. Frederico '74, '82 Finance Trading Lab. The commitment will enable Drexel to enhance students' activities with hands-on, experiential education in portfolio management, equity modeling and other key areas in finance;
  • A $2.5 million commitment from trustee Thomas "Rick" Berk '86 and his wife Christine has established the Thomas E. & Christine D. Berk Professorship in the College of Computing & Informatics;
  • A $1.25 million pledge from John Martinson to enhance the Pennoni Honors College's "Honors with Distinction" curriculum; and
  • $1 million from Trustee Pat McGonigal '86 to support the construction and fit out of the Academic Resource Center in the Korman Center.

Ending the Fiscal Year with a Positive Operating Margin

Notwithstanding strong financial headwinds across the higher education industry, Drexel ended Fiscal Year 2023 with a positive operating margin as we continued to implement strategic initiatives that will position the University to meet the challenges of an increasingly competitive environment. Our revenues exceeded budget by $40.5 million, grants and contracts activity were ahead by $3.9 million, and other income was ahead by $43.3 million, with $27.7 million of that portion coming from additional funding from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Factoring in all other revenue indicators, including an overall $13.6 million increase in operations and a $45.0 million increase in net assets, the University ended the fiscal year in a strong position.

Looking Ahead

Despite our many successes and accomplishments, 2023 represented a new inflection point for higher education. Even before the fateful day of Oct. 7, when the terrorist group Hamas instigated a deadly war with Israel by launching a horrific brutal attack on innocent Israelis, higher education was already under heavy financial stresses. College and university enrollment has fallen by 11% nationwide since 2010, and with the number of high school graduates expected to drop between 10% and 15% from 2026 to 2037, the competitive pressures on tuition-dependent institutions like Drexel are expected to increase exponentially. Those pressures have been further exacerbated by increased costs, constraints on universities' ability to raise tuition to keep pace with those costs, the need to increase tuition discounts to meet enrollment targets, and the competition to generate more revenues in new markets.

Now, with public confidence and trust in higher education eroding further, the colleges and universities that will prevail and flourish must develop and execute bold strategic plans and measures across their entire academic and administrative operations. They must be unafraid to take a critical look at themselves in upholding core values and principles. And they must seek to engage all stakeholders as partners in reimagining their institutions into more innovative and inclusive versions of themselves.

Fortunately for Drexel, we embarked on that path several years ago by developing our bold, foundational 2030 Strategic Plan, which we have been implementing for three years. We are now in the thick of implementing a series of proposals that will better position Drexel for academic success and institutional effectiveness. And we are charting a roadmap toward long-term financial sustainability and margin improvement.

By this time next year, I look forward to reporting on our tangible, measurable progress toward achieving these goals. I am quite confident that our 2024 President's Report will contain many more captivating stories of incredible, indeed dazzling accomplishments by our faculty, students, alumni, professional staff — and all our partners near and far. To borrow from Coach Spiker, "It's always going to be us."


John Fry


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We expanded our portfolio of academic programs and bolstered student access through thoughtful alliances with other institutions.


We affirmed our dedication to practical, impactful research through support of community organizations, entrepreneurial science and global collaborations.

Experience & Partnerships

We contributed to the wellbeing and resilience of our region working alongside citizen activists.


We launched new initiatives dedicated to equity, participation and the future of Philadelphia.


We competed at higher levels than ever, scoring an underdog win against a nationally ranked rival in the Big 5 Classic.

Fundraising & Financials

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Enduring Support from a Generous Community

After our record-breaking campaign concluded in 2022, we hoped to maintain momentum to advance Drexel's key initiatives through 2023, and we did. Alumni, partners and friends remained engaged, demonstrating a deep commitment to the University as a powerful force for higher education and a greater public good.

Again and again, our alumni and friends showed their loyalty through volunteering, attending events and donating to Drexel. More than 46,000 individuals who had taken part in The Future is a Place We Make campaign continued to step up.

Alumni built a robust record of activity and generosity in 2023, when 9,284 graduates participated in scores of events and made donations supporting Drexel’s ambitious goals. Membership in the Anthony J. Drexel Society, which recognizes leading annual donors, rose to 1,433 households in fiscal year 2023 — the highest in nearly a decade. For a third consecutive year, we exceeded the $1 million threshold within a single day of fundraising. A record-setting 6,261 donors raised $1.3 million for Drexel during 24 Hours of Impact in May 2023.

Gifts large and small are empowering students from all backgrounds, spurring innovative research into next-generation therapies, animating partnerships and strengthening our civic connections, as envisioned in the “Drexel 2030: Designing the Future” strategic plan. These contributions allow us to plow new ground in educating graduates to be impactful professionals, while deepening ties to the community and enabling more students than ever to benefit from a Drexel education.

New Opportunities in Business and STEM

Benefactors were especially supportive in the disciplines of business and science this year. A generous gift from the Wilbur C. and Betty Lea Henderson Foundation allowed us to establish the Wilbur C. Henderson Real Estate Institute at the Bennett S. LeBow College of Business, advancing our efforts to leverage real estate development as a vehicle for civic engagement and to train current and future professionals to promote equity in the evolving industry. Student-centered experiential programming will expand at LeBow through the newly endowed Dominic J. Frederico '74, '82 Finance Trading Lab. We have also established the John and Jinnie Chapel Learning & Tutoring Center, building on a legacy of support LeBow has received from emeritus trustee R. John Chapel Jr. '67 and his wife.

In the scientific domain, a new Cell and Gene Therapy Technology, Engineering, Analytics, Manufacturing & Science program supported by Bristol Myers Squibb will prepare students for careers in cell and gene therapy, introducing them to manufacturing procedures, regulatory requirements, immune engineering, genomics and more. A major grant from the Waverley Street Foundation to Drexel's Environmental Collaboratory is helping academics partner with community organizations to address climate change. Through a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Drexel will devise strategies to enable students from diverse backgrounds — including those traditionally underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math — to flourish in STEM fields.

Enhancing the Student Experience

New opportunities came online to support our students from day one and through to graduation.

At the start of the year, we reorganized academic support systems across the University into a central learning and support hub: The Academic Resource Center. The ARC launched in January 2023 and subsequently received a generous gift from Trustee Patrick McGonigal '86.

Alumni and friends were inspired to create several generous new scholarship opportunities. Charles A. Chada '72 and his wife, Joanne, committed to establish a scholarship fund at the College of Engineering and Barry Silk ’74 pledged to aid future students at the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Computing & Informatics.

A generous gift from John Martinson will enhance the Honors with Distinction program at the Pennoni Honors College.

We’re also grateful to our alumni hall of fame group, the Drexel 100, for launching the Drexel 100 Endowed Scholarship Fund to nurture future leaders who demonstrate active engagement in campus and student life.

Four Endowed Positions Created

Alumni also demonstrated strong support for the intellectual pursuits of faculty. Three colleges and the Office of University Collections and Exhibitions received financial support to create new positions bolstering Drexel’s excellence and expertise in a variety of fields.

  • Thomas E. and Christine D. Berk Endowed Professorship: A $2.5 million commitment to support a professor in the College of Computing & Informatics will help CCI keep pace with increased student interest in the in-demand field of computing.
  • Cara Keegan Fry University Curator: A $2 million endowment will support the University Curator position in the Office of University Collections and Exhibitions. The position, which is newly held by Derek Gillman, distinguished teaching professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and the executive director of University Collections and Exhibitions, was established by a lead gift from President John Fry as well as contributions from 38 trustees and friends.
  • The URBN Endowed Professor of Biomedical Innovation and URBN Biomedical Research Fund: A contribution from Drexel trustee and vice chair Dick Hayne, chairman and CEO of Urban Outfitters Inc., established the URBN Endowed Professor of Biomedical Innovation in the School of Biomedical Engineering, Science and Health Systems, and will create the URBN Biomedical Innovation Research Fund in the Provost’s Office to advance Drexel’s work in the field of cell and gene therapy. The inaugural chairholder is Kara Spiller, PhD, a professor in the school and a Drexel alumna, with a research focus on the role of immune cells in tissue repair and regeneration and the design of immunomodulatory biomaterials.
  • Richard Woodring '54, HD '10 Endowed Professorship: An alumnus of the College of Engineering made a leadership gift toward establishing a professorship in honor of Richard Woodring and his 40-year career at the University.

Supporting Civic Engagement

Our commitment to engagement in our city remains strong with the help of generous civic partners. Our stewardship of the Atwater Kent Collection, which Drexel proudly restored to public access this year in person and online, received grants from The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage.

The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University also earned Pew's support for its inclusive upcoming exhibition, The Botany of Nations: Re-collecting the Lewis and Clark Herbarium with Indigenous Perspectives. During the last two years, membership at the Academy has jumped by 38%, and 121 libraries and regional organizations have joined the Museum Pass Program, which provides day passes to area residents.

A gift from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Good Samaritan Foundation will support the Science Shop, a new partnership between the Academy and Drexel’s Environmental Collaboratory to provide scientific and policy expertise to community-initiated projects that address the environmental consequences of systemic racism and climate change in Philadelphia.

St. Christopher's Hospital for Children continues to serve vulnerable children with ongoing support from the government and a host of community partners. An unprecedented show of community support has provided short-term financial stability as St. Christopher's works to solidify other funding support for a hospital that provides vital services to an underserved community facing significant, longstanding obstacles to accessing quality health care.

Energizing Athletics

Two notable gifts will fuel the Dragons' fire on our athletic fields and courts. Amy Mallon, the 2022 Coastal Athletics Association Coach of the Year, became the inaugural holder of the Janet E. & Barry C. Burkholder Family Head Women’s Basketball Coach position — Drexel's third endowed coaching position. And Steve and Sandy Cozen built upon the naming gift for the Sam Cozen Court at the Daskalakis Athletic Center, ensuring that the memory of one of Drexel's winningest men's basketball coaches is honored, in perpetuity.

The generosity of our alumni and friends goes a very long way in enabling the University to advance pathbreaking research, innovation and education. Just as importantly, their support helps increase access to a Drexel education among promising students in our community. We are immensely grateful for their support.

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Maintaining Stability in Turbulent Times

Increased revenues and strong returns on managed assets helped Drexel withstand demographic and global financial headwinds.


Drexel had a successful year, with revenues exceeding the budget by $40.5 million and net assets growing by $45 million. Grant and contract revenues exceeded expectations by $3.9 million, while additional income exceeded projections by $43.3 million, including $27.7 million provided by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Overall, Drexel's operating margin grew by $13.6 million.

Endowment assets, which include the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, stood at $984 million at the end of the fiscal year. Managed assets delivered strong returns despite volatile market conditions and while higher levels of liquidity were maintained. For fiscal year 2023, the trailing one-year return was an impressive +7.23%. Five-year annualized returns reached +8.12%, putting Drexel's performance in the top 4% of endowments and foundations within the Wilshire Endowment and Foundation Survey. Since inception in 1991, annualized returns were +8.32%, placing Drexel in the top 20% of the Wilshire survey. For the fiscal year overall, endowments contributed $50.4 million to the University's operating budget.

We launched a five-year initiative in 2023 to improve margins to achieve long-term financial stability amid shifting demographics and an intensely competitive global higher education market. This effort — guided by the Drexel 2030 Strategic Plan — will allow the University to identify opportunities for revenue growth and permanent cost reductions across the academic and administrative enterprise. We are confident Drexel will address these challenges with determination, fresh thinking and collaboration.