MCSG on supporting students, SPA analysis

MCSG on supporting students, SPA analysis

Ben Porter, Associate News Editor

On Tuesday night, the Macalester College Student Government (MCSG) met via Zoom. They discussed the MCSG student newsletter and avenues to support its vulnerable communities before hosting a Strategic Planning and Analysis Committee (SPA) presentation. After the presentation, MCSG then introduced a new improvement to the Textbook Reserve Program Bill.

The meeting started with an update from Community Engagement Officer Ayana Smith-Kooiman ’22, who reminded the different committees of the form that they each need to fill out for the upcoming MCSG newsletter.

“Make sure you’re giving enough detail so that I can give students a proper update about the work that people have been doing,” Smith-Kooiman said. “As we saw in the last month, people don’t always know what we’re doing.”

Smith-Kooiman then raised discussion surrounding ways MCSG as a collective can support students that are suffering on campus. The focus was not just on the current crisis in Ukraine, but also on those suffering from other conflicts like those in Ethiopia, Eswatini and Sudan as well as from bigotry around campus. 

MCSG Vice President Jordanella Maluka ’23 suggested that in addition to collective efforts, individual members of MCSG should also be available to offer support and to offer encouraging words. 

Bobbie Pennington ’24 suggested that MCSG look into what it takes for the school or President Suzanne Rivera to make a statement, like the one recently made by Rivera denouncing the Ukraine crisis.

“I’m from Eswatini and last year, the few of us students on campus [from Eswatini] went through that alone,” Pennington said. “We didn’t hear anything from students, [or] from the administration and we didn’t get any emails about that. So I think maybe we should look into what qualifies as enough of an emergency or [seriousness] of a situation to get a statement.”

The conversation then turned to a presentation given by Professor Liang Ding, the chair of SPA, who discussed the results of last semester’s Strength, Weakness, Opportunity and Threat Analysis (SWOT) of Macalester for the strategic plan. These metrics were made in comparison to its peer 40 schools.

SPA found that the college has five primary strengths. The first is its relational campus, which includes a low student-faculty ratio, small class sizes and personal student-to-faculty interactions. The other four include academic programming, student-facing resources in amounts and varieties greater than peer institutions, its service to society fostered by students, faculty and staff and its urban location, which provides opportunities for career exploration and civic engagement.

SPA found that Macalester has four primary weaknesses, with the first being its culture of resistance to change. 

“New challenges require all campus perspectives to embrace innovation and trust campus partners, which we have historically not excelled at,” Ding said.

The second weakness of the college is its rigid academic culture, which causes “students [to experience] burnout and mental stress from academic expectations.” The college also struggles with weak demand, where the number of students admitted to the college compared to the number of students that actually enroll in the college is lower than the peer 40 schools. 

Additionally, the college has faced challenges due to relatively lower revenue growth from sources other than students, like endowment investments and alumni contributions.

The SPA’s next section of focus, opportunities, are areas that they think the college can improve in the future and focused on four examples. First, the college is looking to enhance campus facilities by building a new residence hall that could also house a new admission office and welcome center with land that it purchased several years ago.

Second, the college is looking to build local and international partnerships to help enhance the student experience. Third, the college is looking to re-evaluate J-term and summer programs for the future and potentially find a new model of delivery that is more financially sustainable for the college. Lastly, the college is looking to increase comparatively low alumni engagement by working to create more of a sense of belonging on campus.

The final section that SPA focused on, threats, identifies four issues including those that are both unique to the college and those that are expected to be an issue for all higher education institutions. The first threat is a projected demographic cliff that predicts a 15% decrease in prospective first-year students by 2025. The second threat is Macalester’s perceived price, which Ding describes as an issue because of a growing uncertainty from households with less experience with college generally, and liberal arts-style education particularly. This decreases prospective students’ willingness to invest in colleges like Macalester.

The third and fourth threats, sticker price and tuition-driven revenue growth, focus on the comprehensive cost for a student to attend Macalester. The high sticker price acts as a deterrent for a lot of students, yet tuition continues to increase each year because it is heavily relied upon as an area of revenue growth.

After the SPA presentation and committee updates, Academic Affairs Committee (AAC) member Joel Sadofsky ’25 introduced a revision to the Textbook Reserve Program Bill which would implement a “modest inflation-based increase” to the textbook reserve program’s budget by 30%. The Legislative Body will vote on this measure next week.

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