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Memorandum September 15, 2022

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees September 2022 Meeting and Retreat Summary

The September 2022 meeting and retreat of the American University Board of Trustees brought us together at Airlie, the historic property in Warrenton, Virginia, which was gifted to the university in 2016. The concept for Earth Day was developed at Airlie in 1969; it was the site for the NAACP’s first Civil Rights Conference; and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. met with civil rights leaders at Airlie to plan the 1963 March on Washington and develop concepts for his “I Have a Dream” speech. Today, the facility is a living representation of AU’s commitment to sustainability and inclusive excellence, with a 93-acre working farm and expanding research and educational opportunities.

Throughout our meeting, we also heard about the many exciting developments at the start of this semester. Earlier this week, we proudly saw that American University rose 7 spots in the US News Best Colleges rankings (up to #72) and is now ranked #12 for First Year Experience, #17 for Service Learning, #36 for Best Undergraduate Teaching, #7 for Study Abroad, #30 for Most Innovative, and #41 in Best Colleges for Veterans. Additionally, we are now more than $350 million toward our $500 million goal for Change Can’t Wait, including $9 million raised in the first weeks of this fiscal year. The dedicated gifts to the campaign continue to advance our core priorities in scholarship, student thriving, and community. 

The trustees’ retreat convened experts to discuss key trends and shifts in higher education and how American University is addressing their impacts on our mission and community. The themes included changing student demographics and enrollments, the value proposition of higher education, and market differentiation.

Our first panel, moderated by President Burwell, featured a discussion of how significant changes in enrollment and economics are affecting the higher education sector. The panel included John Katzman, founder and CEO of The Noodle Companies and Angel Pérez, CEO of the National Association for College Admission Counseling (NACAC). Dr. Perez reviewed the demographic changes among US high school graduates and stressed that even those trends will shift again in the coming years, requiring enrollment plans with five-to-ten-year horizons. Mr. Katzman focused on the need to increase student engagement regardless of in-person or online modality. The key is to deliver the best possible student experience, and these elements are foundations of the university’s strategic plan and our commitment to scholarship, learning, and community.

The second panel, moderated by our Vice President, General Counsel, and Board Secretary Traevena Byrd, explored how AU is addressing these trends. Vice President of Undergraduate Enrollment, Campus Life, and Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw; CFO, Vice President, and Treasurer Bronté Burleigh-Jones; and School of Public Affairs Dean Vicky Wilkins reviewed the specific implications for AU of the changing demographics, the resource implications of delivering ROI for our students, and the value proposition of our academic experience. Vice President Aw illustrated the profile of the American University student community, which is evolving based on how and where we recruit students, the institutions we compete with for students, and the increasing academic achievement of each incoming class. Vice President Burleigh-Jones reviewed the university’s increased investment in financial aid and how we continue to align our costs and aid to the needs of students and families. Dean Wilkins talked about AU’s unique differentiators for students, which include our experiential learning, the ongoing innovations in our curriculum, and our emphasis and investments in student thriving (including the planned Well-Being Center and the Meltzer Center for Athletic Performance). These elements will help us address the changing landscape but also require us to continue defining and communicating the many pathways for our students to succeed.

Our final discussion session explored the future of Airlie. Former AU president and chair of the Airlie Board of Directors Neil Kerwin discussed the university’s history with the property since 2016 and the opportunity to expand the connection between Airlie and the university’s core mission. It is a differentiator for AU, as we are the only urban university in the Washington region with a rural property that can support our mission. Vice President Burleigh-Jones detailed the 18-month action plan to enhance operations at Airlie, further incorporate scholarship and learning at the property, and bring more of Airlie to the AU community and campus.

During the trustees’ short business meeting, we elected our new student trustee-elect Jehane Djedjro. Ms. Djedjro is a junior in the School of International Service. She has worked for University Conference and Guest Services and serves in leadership roles with the Kennedy Political Union, the African Students Organization, and the Residence Hall Association.

On behalf of the trustees, our best wishes to all for a successful semester. The Board of Trustees will next meet on November 10–11, 2022.