“I’m asking you to strive to be someone our students remember 10 years from now – someone who made them excited about learning,” Butler told a crowd of about 950 attendees at the ICI Center on Clyde Morris Boulevard.
Mentoring a student “is not something a single person can do,” he added. “It really takes input from a lot of people.” With the influx of new students in the coming week, he urged everyone in attendance to try to have “at least five interactions with a student” every day.
Currently, Butler noted, only six out of every 10 Embry-Riddle students who enter as freshmen wind up graduating from the University. Embry-Riddle needs to significantly improve upon this retention rate, he said. In a media interview following his State of the University address, Butler said that the reasons for Embry-Riddle’s current retention rate are currently being investigated so that effective programmatic responses can be developed based on real-world evidence.
In the meantime, he told the Daytona Beach Campus community, the collective focus should be on “mentoring, mentoring, mentoring” – in formal as well as informal ways. He shared data from a Gallup-Purdue survey that linked positive faculty and staff engagement with students to long-term life outcomes.
A STRONG PRESENT STATE
Butler stressed that the State of the University remains strong.
Enrollments increased by 23% between fall 2012 and fall 2017 (projected), he said. Butler noted that this trend demonstrates “recruiting strength” and a “proven reputation.” With two residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., as well as 135 satellite campuses offering award-winning online programs through the Worldwide Campus, Embry-Riddle also provides students with diverse geographic options and a range of educational-delivery modes, he added.
For students, the return on investment in an Embry-Riddle education is positive: More than 97% of graduates are employed or continuing their education within one year of graduation, a University Alumni Survey revealed. Moreover, graduates earn higher median salaries than many of their peers at other institutions.
Because of Embry-Riddle’s Board of Trustees, infrastructure represents another strength, particularly with the opening of a new STEM building and residence hall on the Prescott, Ariz. campus, as well as the recent debut of the John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex (“MicaPlex”) and the emergence of a towering new student union in Daytona Beach, Fla.
Embry-Riddle’s financial foundation is also “very strong,” Butler said, noting that the institution’s credit rating was recently upgraded from Baa1 to A3, by Moody’s Investor’s Services. Further, he lauded the recent approval of the Embry-Riddle Athletics program to become a full-fledged NCAA Division II member. He pointed out that the university benefits from a supportive and engaged Board of Trustees; a “positive attitude” across the institution; a strong reputation across the aviation and aerospace industries; a large and successful alumni base; community and military partnerships; and more.
CHARTING A COURSE TO 2022
Noting that even the most robust institution can always improve, Butler said that student success – and specifically, retention through graduation from Embry-Riddle – will be a primary goal, under his direction. “If it wasn’t for the students,” he noted, “we wouldn’t be here.”
Although philanthropic donations to the university increased by 94% between fiscal year 2016 and 2017, Butler acknowledged that annual giving, relative to peer institutions, remains low. He therefore proposed an expansion of fund-raising activities, to be aligned with campus strategic goals. Effective philanthropy efforts can help lessen the financial burden on students and should make it possible for Embry-Riddle to bring in at least $25 million per year in gifts, he said.
More externally funded research must also be pursued to ensure that Embry-Riddle is “the unquestioned higher education leader in aerospace education and select areas of research,” Butler said.
The university will further need to “attract more students to live on campus in an environment that encourages vibrancy and 24/7 interaction,” he added.
Senior leadership at Embry-Riddle have formed committees to develop strategic plans related to research and economic development; philanthropy; student experience and success; global strategy; corporate engagement; and enrollment management, he reported.
The goal of all such efforts, he said, is to continue improving the value of an Embry-Riddle degree for students; to enhance the University’s rankings and reputation; and to diversify revenue sources.
YEAR-ONE ACTION STEPS
As first steps toward Embry-Riddle’s longer-term goals, Butler said that he will soon outline plans for a Presidential Fellows faculty hiring initiative, to recruit new faculty members within key fields of research.
The university will also soon announce plans to provide assistance in developing successful grant applications, particularly involving multiple investigators, he said.
Plans to ramp up corporate engagement as well as a “First Time in College” program, to be offered by the Worldwide Campus, will also be described in coming months.
In an interview with the Daytona Beach News-Journal, Butler summarized some of his Year One priorities for Embry-Riddle as follows:
“In the area of student success, we’ll be looking at a Student Leadership Institute to try to identify areas where we can add to a student’s degree … to help them build their portfolios and their careers,” he said. “On the faculty side, we’ll be launching soon a Faculty Fellows program that will allow us to go out and be very selective in hiring faculty with established research programs to help us build some of our areas of research excellence. And, I’ll be working hard in the areas of Philanthropy as well … particularly in the area of student scholarships.”
In closing, Butler told the Daytona Beach Campus community, “I’m really proud of this place, and I’m looking forward to what we can do in the next five years.” Butler, who joined Embry-Riddle on March 14, also expressed thanks for the warm welcome that the University community has extended to him and to his wife, Dr. Audrey Butler.
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, the world’s largest, fully accredited university specializing in aviation and aerospace, is a nonprofit, independent institution offering more than 80 baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its colleges of Arts & Sciences, Aviation, Business, Engineering and Security & Intelligence. Embry-Riddle educates students at residential campuses in Daytona Beach, Fla., and Prescott, Ariz., through the Worldwide Campus with more than 125 locations in the United States, Europe, Asia and the Middle East, and through online programs. The university is a major research center, seeking solutions to real-world problems in partnership with the aerospace industry, other universities and government agencies. For more information, visit erau.edu, follow us on Twitter (@EmbryRiddle) and facebook.com/EmbryRiddleUniversity, and find expert videos at YouTube.com/EmbryRiddleUniv.