The following remarks were delivered by President Mark Volk during his inauguration ceremony on July 27, 2012:
Senator Blake; Representative Staback; Commissioners Wancsak, O’Brien, and O’Malley; Mayor Doherty; BG Gronski; Chairman DeNaples and members of the Lackawanna Board of Trustees; distinguished colleagues; guests; family and friends, I can’t adequately express to you how honored and humbled I feel at this moment. Of course, that statement might lead some of you to think that I’m going to sit down now….but anyone who knows me understands that just isn’t going to happen. I do promise, as I did to Lynn several days ago, I will try to keep my remarks under 45 minutes. So, sit back and relax. We’ll be here awhile.
First, I have to say that when I retired from the Army, I thought I would never have an opportunity to wear a splendid uniform full of rich tradition and vibrant color again – boy, was I wrong. Many of you don’t know that today marks the very first time in its history that Lackawanna College has held a formal inauguration ceremony – and my robe is a designer original; never seen officially before this afternoon. Despite my attempts, however, my wife, Dr. Murray and Dr. Pricci would not let me have Army colonel’s eagles embroidered on the shoulders. So, I’ll tolerate this thing…but these 4 bars smack of some Navy captain’s influence and I wonder if my now-deceased friend and colleague at National War College, Navy Captain Andy Borchardt had something to do with it. Always the mentor and guide, Andy once interjected when I began to say “Do you know what I think?” by stating “Don’t think, Mark. It weakens the team.”
So, who are we here at Lackawanna College and what do we represent? Our college has a long history of service to the community and success in preparing students to enter the workforce or to transition on to four-year institutions. A quick read of the brochure you’ve received will provide the “official” history but the critical information is really that which isn’t readily evident.
As a two-year, open-enrollment private college our institution represents an endangered species in the Commonwealth and the Country. Although we function as a community-college in meeting the needs of our students, we do so without the local and state financial support to offset tuition and building costs that true community colleges enjoy. Our budget is almost totally generated through tuition revenues – and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to look at the communities we support to discern that the majority of our students come from economically disadvantaged situations – over 90% of our students qualify for some amount of financial aid. And, despite what sometimes appears to be the belief of the local public and media, we remain a “local” institution with 80% of our students coming from within the areas we serve.
Our constant challenge, then, is to keep tuition at a manageable level for our students while still generating sufficient income to meet budgetary requirements. In an era of skyrocketing healthcare and utilities costs, and while trying to provide a competitive wage and benefits package for our employees, other necessities such as new program development aimed at emerging community needs and adding new facilities stretch our creativity to its limit. Not only do we recognize that we can’t over-burden our student’s ability to pay for tuition or saddle them with huge loans, we also recognize that our local communities and residents can’t afford to resource a traditional community college. Imagine the reaction in these difficult financial times – or even when times were good – to a referendum seeking to impose a tax on county residents to offset the costs of supporting a local community college.
That’s where Lackawanna College fits into the equation. Being the institution of opportunity, of discovery, of educational and individual growth and of dreams fulfilled is what our mission is all about. We help students from all walks of life, of all ages and economic situation, from under-achiever to high-achiever to grow, to learn and to succeed. Last week, I attended a seminar for new college presidents and one of the things discussed was the topic of “What keeps you awake at night.” Frankly, understanding who we are, what opportunities and a services we provide to our communities and the successes we achieve – our Mission and our Legacy – is what helps me to sleep at night.
It is these very challenges that make our days exciting and meaningful. We are ever mindful that, without the presence of Lackawanna College, many local residents would have never had an opportunity to attend college, to garner a set of skills that allowed them to enter the workforce, to obtain a GED or to return to college years after high school in order to make a better life for themselves or their families.
With a dedicated faculty and staff, we are the institution of hope and opportunity for the communities and residents we serve. We recognize that we must not fail to maintain that fragile balance of tuition to budget because our constituents need us to be here. And we will not fail them.
Traditionally, the inaugural address of a new college president establishes the framework for his or her presidency and addresses key issues facing the institution and higher education. I could spend many minutes discussing the challenges facing education in general, and higher education specifically, in these tough economic times. Certainly, the economic downturn of the past few years is forcing a reevaluation of the overall cost of education and the value-added of a liberal arts curriculum. The rising cost of healthcare, competition for a limited number of students and the rise of the for-profit colleges and universities can all be cited as stressors on a fragile system where institutions try to provide first-class academic programs, state-of-the art facilities and student-expected amenities, all while trying to keep down the cost of education. Tellingly, despite our current economic situation and its impact on college and university endowments the average 4 year institution in the United States discounted its tuition last year by 46%. That one fact alone indicates the fragility of the current tuition quandary facing colleges and universities. But, these discussions are for another day and time for I want to spend a few minutes talking about what I feel is important for our institution and where I see us going.
If we have one major issue for us to address, it is the relationship between our tuition-driven budget and the ability of our students to afford the cost of coming to Lackawanna. Imagine the impact our college would have if we could eliminate educational loans for our students by having sufficient endowment revenue to offset that need. Imagine our students leaving with no loan burden at all. That is a reality at many institutions around the country where their endowments are large enough to generate sufficient revenue to make that possible. I want us to be that institution – we NEED to be that institution for the sake of our community and our students. And making that possibility a reality falls squarely on my shoulders. So, to paraphrase one of the instructors at the seminar I attended last week: “Where there’s a Will, ….Lackawanna College wants to be in it!” You’ll all be hearing from me soon.
Through Ray Angeli’s hard work, our college has grown visibly in the past 18 years. But, unless you’ve been within our buildings and offices, you don’t know that quietly, with growing excitement and lots of hard work and dedication, Lackawanna College has been changing over the past few years. Faculty, staff and administration alike have been working hard on issues related to how we properly address the needs of our student population, how we better help them to succeed, how we help to keep them engaged and in class, how we help them to graduate and to be good citizens and employees. While we remain true to our mission, we stand poised to advance our institution to another level in terms of who we are and what we can provide.
Imagine Lackawanna College as a regionally or even nationally recognized center for excellence in providing developmental education programs of instruction. Imagine our college as a recognized center for teaching and training other educators to address the needs of their own developmental populations. Imagine Lackawanna College as a vibrant community of educators and staff embodying the true meaning of being a student-centered institution while also demanding and realizing higher standards of academic achievement tied to behavioral norms that ensure our students both realize their dreams and also meet the expectations of employers and the community at large. Can you imagine those things?
I can not only imagine them, and other possibilities, but I can tell you that we are already moving towards those goals and have in place meaningful and achievable plans to make them happen. This is the Lackawanna College that we are, the Lackawanna College we are striving to become, and the Lackawanna College we will be. But, no matter who we are we will always remain committed to the needs of our students and our local community. That was true when John Seeley founded Lackawanna and will always be true of our institution.
In closing, I recognize that I have so very many people to thank for having the honor to lead this amazing institution. Our board of trustees demonstrated its commitment to Lackawanna when it opted to conduct a national search to find Ray’s replacement – I truly recognize the tremendous trust they’ve placed in me…and I promise that I will work hard every day to be worthy of that trust.
During my 8 years here at Lackawanna College, I’ve realized how tremendously dedicated and talented our faculty and staff are – and they have given me exceptional support and advice. I would not be here without their patience, guidance and commitment.
36 years ago, I sat on the steps of the student union at the University of Scranton – my hair much longer and brown – unsure of where I was going and how I would be able to support my wife and 1 year old son. That day I met Army captain Ray Angeli. From that day on, throughout my 26 year Army career and throughout my tenure here at Lackawanna, Ray was a guide, a mentor and a friend. While there may have been a time or two standing on a firing point in Grafenwohr Germany in sub-freezing temperatures with snow up to my waist in the dead of night that I had a few unkind thoughts, Ray has always been a role model for me. I know that I can never replicate the legacy he’s left – but he has surely inspired in me the desire to try. Not for me – but because it is what our students, our college, and our community deserve.
Finally, I have to thank my family and friends for all the support, understanding and even the occasional kick in the pants they’ve given me over the years. I can’t thank you all individually, but know that I have done so in my heart. Most especially, I have to recognize my son – the true joy of my life and focus of my pride, and my wife. Lynn, more than anyone else in this world can keep me on track and snap me back to reality. She is my biggest fan and my sharpest critic. I cannot imagine where I would be without her guidance and wisdom – but wherever that would be…I wouldn’t be wearing this gorgeous robe.
Thank you for your patience and indulgence – help us to imagine the Lackawanna College of the future. Our time is now.