President Anderson’s year in review: Strategic planning process rolls through beginning phase

Michael Blackson

Alexander Geli
Managing Editor

On April Fools’ Day of last year, Dr. Francine G. McNairy bequeathed the Millersville presidential cap to Dr. John M. Anderson. McNairy’s eccentric hat styles, feathers-and-all, were a bit much for the new president, a New Yorker with a Ph.D. in education from Cornell University. Instead, he chose the more rugged route: a helmet.

And did he need it in a hurry.

“Time is flying by fast. It seems like it just started yesterday,” Anderson said about his briskly paced first year in office as Millersville University’s 14th president. “Even before I arrived,” he said, a strategic planning process was put into motion.

An elaborate process that was taken on during his first day of office, it is in its final stages of development and will “provide me with a roadmap” for the future of the university, Anderson said. Neither the plan’s breadth nor its length of time is known; however, the problem since day one was clear.

“Enrollment was slipping,” he said. “I kind of knew right away that we needed to put an emphasis on recruiting students – that was pretty obvious from the beginning.”

This certainly provided the necessary budge for the president-by-day, bicyclist-by-night. He was placed in the middle of last year’s fiscal year, where the University’s funding was completely flipped and began to take effect. Instead of the state of Pennsylvania allocating funds close to 80 percent, they have been significantly reduced to 28 percent. Tuition is now required to cover 70 percent of the University’s expenditures, instead of 20 percent.

“I had to make some rather rapid decisions,” Dr. Anderson said. The situation became an issue when Governor Corbett’s budget plan included slashing school funding to help in alleviating the federal budget deficit. Couple that with the less-than-ideal budget projections downtrodden by low enrollment, Anderson recalled, “quickly having to close a significant budget gap.”

In order to do that, Anderson attacked the problem head-on – thanks to that helmet – and dismissed the generic way of handling these types of conundrums.
Dr. Anderson was miffed by the fact that some personnel had to be cut, “which was unfortunate,” as he stated; however, he chose an approach that allowed some wiggle room: “we reshuffled the deck.”

President John Anderson meets with university students, administration, and community members outside Biemesderfer Center, or the President’s Office. He arrived on campus April 1st of last year, filling his role as the 14th president of Millersville University.
President John Anderson meets with university students, administration, and community members outside Biemesderfer Center, or the President’s Office. He arrived on campus April 1st of last year, filling his role as the 14th president of Millersville University.

“A lot of times, people just focus on cut, cut, cut,” he said. “I like to look at it at generating revenue – increasing our enrollment.”

The issue of recruiting and retaining students has been a problem for the University, and was resolved last semester in the form of a new position. Mr. Brian Hazlett was hired as the vice president of enrollment management and began on September 21. He is responsible for employing strategies to attract students in and outside of Pennsylvania to Millersville and ensure they return in the coming years. Anderson said there is a demand for a quality education because “people want to be educated.” Since day one, Anderson’s focus has been on emphasizing enrollment. In the February 20th issue of The Snapper, an article titled, “University drafts reduced tuition policies” mentions that, as of February 17, 475 out-of-state students were admitted for the 2014 fall semester.

“We start by focusing on different environments: going to high schools, college fairs,” especially trying to gauge out-of-state prospective students, which could change the budget “dramatically,” Anderson stated. Then, why not consider Asia?
“I visited Japan and China, revisiting some of my contacts,” Anderson said, emphasizing the valued American degree over in Asia. Foreign professionals are always looking to hire American citizens. Foreign students can finish their education at Millersville within 1-2 years and return home with the necessary experience to succeed. He also has sent the provost to recruit those who are willing to leave their home for the education in the States.

But there seems to always be one problem.

“The first question they’d ask is, ‘How close are you to New York?'” Anderson said with a smirk. “It was a hard sell.”

To that, however, Anderson states that, with Millersville, “you get the best of both worlds.” He continued, saying, you have the pleasure of getting stuck behind the beloved Amish buggies of Lancaster County, or you could go the quicker route and hop on the Amtrak.

“I can be in Philadelphia in less than an hour and take a train directly to New York City and be there in less than three hours,” he said. “I sell the fact that you have all that proximity to all of those vibrant cities.”

Not only that, but another incentive, Anderson explained, was doing a ‘two-plus-two or three-plus-one’ where international students have the option of starting off a more affordable education in their home country, then finishing it here at Millersville.

And when it all comes down to it, “We have the capacity to bring them all in,” Anderson said. “There’s just not enough room [regarding Harvard, Yale, etc.], so we can benefit from that.”

This increases Millersville’s reputation outside of the region.

The spiffy new buildings surely do the trick, too.

Now, with the first phase of the new residence hall construction project nearing completion, prospective students can be lured in by the revamping of Millersville’s dormitories, which will be completed in five years, respectively. After those few years, new students will have access to eight new-and-improved residence halls – or “living and learning communities,” as Anderson calls them – with an approximate 600,000-squarefoot design for maintaining a more worthwhile and pleasurable experience during their stay.

And the revamping does not end there.

“A lot of [the buildings] were built in the 50s, 60s, early 70s; their design doesn’t fit,” Anderson explained. “This is a fantastic time to replace them in a thoughtful and financially sustainable way.”

Anderson continued to express interest in taking down Gaige Hall due to its high maintenance cost and repurposing Bard Hall, as well as possibly adding off-campus options in Lancaster City to compliment the success of The Ware Center. Anderson plans to discuss repurposing other buildings on campus at the end of the strategic committee process.

Not only has the inner-city building been a hotspot in which budding artists and entertainers to perform, but over the past year, 145 courses have been offered with a total of 2,418 students served.

“We’re replacing some old stock,” he said. “It’ll be much more attractive” – not to mention, safe, as Millersville was ranked eighth out of 23 schools listed for excellent campus safety from also rated Millersville a 92.56 out of 100 – the 16th safest in Pennsylvania.

“All of a sudden, Millersville starts rising in terms of its brand and recognition,” Anderson said, regarding rankings such as that one. “The more we can do that, the more it helps.”

The university was also recognized by for its lifetime return on investment (ROI), placing them 25th in the state and number three for affordability of online courses. Better yet, U.S. News & World Report’s Best Colleges 2014 issue ranked Millersville 81st in the “Best Regional Universities” category in the North region.

“Not everybody can say that,” Anderson said about the university’s achievements during his first year in office, which reflect on his efforts to continuously promote the university while preserving a quality education.

“When you graduate from Millersville, you get a diploma,” he said. “Think of that as a stock certificate. It has value. My job is to make sure that diploma continues to increase in value.”

President Anderson with his wife, Vivian meeting with Kelly Mathieson, former Student Senate president.
President Anderson with his wife, Vivian meeting with Kelly Mathieson, former Student Senate president.

Besides tackling the enrollment issue, Anderson has created an American Dream Scholarship, which $60,000 has been raised for so far and will be “given to a student in financial need.” Anderson – “the poster child of the American dream,” as he called himself – realizes that “not everybody could afford a $400 ticket to go out to dinner;” therefore, a bicycling event may be held in the future to raise more funds for the scholarship.

To go along with the sustainability trend that Millersville has undergone since Anderson’s arrival, he signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in October. The commitment has been signed by 675 other universities across the nation and recognizes the importance of treating the environment in a responsible and respectful manner in order to be sustainable for future generations.

These first notches under his presidential belt are just scratching the surface of what Anderson hopes to accomplish for the university.

“I have a philosophy about planning, and that is ‘You’re never done planning,'” he said, regarding the strategic planning process. “You have what’s called a rolling plan – you’re never really done with the plan, but you accomplish certain things within the plan,” adding, “Everything will have a timeline.”

All-in-all, Anderson is a promoter of the university, and he prides himself in maintaining a successful future for its students. Ergo, one question that is paramount is this: “What makes Millersville special?”

“It depends on who you’re talking to,” he stated, “Safe community, high quality education and a faculty that really cares about its students.”

During his first year, students have recognized Anderson goes out of his way to show he truly cares – whether it is opening his home to different clubs and organizations when they win an award, or simply sacrificing a skid on his bicycle by gesturing a friendly wave to a familiar student or faculty member.

In fact, “hosting students over at the house for dinner” is Anderson’s favorite part of the job. “There’s never enough [time] for that,” he said.

After the Millersville University Robotics Team won its second national championship in four years, thanks to a rolling 300-pound robot called SAMSON (Semi-Autonomous Marauder with Sensor Optimized Navigation), they were rewarded with a free meal and mingling session with the president. Anderson also recalled inviting the women’s field hockey and men’s golf teams over after their successful seasons.

“If you win the championship, I’ll buy you dinner,” he told them. “That’s what I love to do.”

As Anderson peddles into his second year as Millersville University’s president, you may see him loving every minute of it: whether it’s promoting the university, simply enjoying a bike ride around campus, or playing with his new gizmo.

“I bought a radio-controlled quad-chopper,” chock-full-of technologies like a video camera, GPS and even Wi-Fi, he said, emphasizing, “It’s not quite a toy.”

Taking advantage of its wide array of possibilities, “I can control the camera, I can take a picture with the iPad, I can take a picture every five seconds, I can fly it.” He continued, “One time, I lost it – so I get on the little radar thing – and I can just fly it back by doing that. It’ll be an autopilot and it’ll fly home and land.”

For professional purposes, Anderson has flown it above the construction sites to get footage of the work being done on the new dormitories, as well as filming events like homecoming and football games.

For personal purposes, however, “Imagine taking that thing along the Grand Canyon?” he mused.

In his first year in office, though, Anderson has learned that time for fun is very limited. Thinking back on a question his daughter asked once, “What does a president do?,” he simply stated, “I meet a lot.”

On a given week, one day could be inundated with meetings; another could be taken up by speeches; another by various events on campus, in the community or at the house.

“Every day is different,” he said. “I went from Latino music to Moses to Chopin in the course of three days. That’s what the president does.”