Below is the full text of President Matthew A. Scogin’s 2020 State of the College Address, as prepared.
HOPE vs. THE WORLD
Today marks the beginning of our 159th academic year. On the occasion of a new school year, we typically take time to reflect on the state of our college and outline aspirations for the coming twelve months.
This year, we can’t fully assess the state of our college without reflecting on the state of our world.
Evidenced by the fact that I am here in an empty Dimnent Chapel and you sitting at your computer screen watching yet another Zoom call, we are forced to confront the reality that the so-called “bubble” of Hope College is profoundly impacted by the world out there.
In recognizing this, we find ourselves wondering one thing: Is it too much to ask for some precedented times?
Throughout our history, Hope’s leaders have, with God’s guidance, led this college through many unprecedented periods — the Civil War, two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Great Recession, 40 presidential election cycles, and even the potential visit by VP Mike Pence last year (for a while, I thought that would be my biggest challenge during my first year).
We’ve seen a lot. And opened in the midst of many challenging periods. Yet we’ve never begun an academic year quite like this.
You have worked all summer long to prepare for opening in the midst of these unusual circumstances. You made plans – and adjusted those plans as circumstances changed. Many of you sacrificed vacation time. And all of us – in the season we usually feel most refreshed – are feeling exhausted.
That’s understandable. The work is not easy. There many unknowns. And the world out there is exasperating.
And somehow, we are expected to prepare our students for lives of leadership and service in the world – when the world as we knew it just six months ago has been completely turned upside down.
- We’re in the middle of a pandemic that will make COVID-19 the third leading cause of death in the US this year (behind cancer and heart disease)
- Our country was rocked at the murder of several Black Americans earlier this summer, bringing into sharp focus the very real issues of racial injustice that continue to haunt us
These headlines have exposed even deeper issues, which have been percolating for a long time. Like:
- Widening economic inequality
- Uneven access to good healthcare
- A plague of discrimination and bigotry that continues to allow the color of one’s skin to influence the kind of experience one has in this country.
All of these issues are actually just symptoms of a much deeper and more fundamental issue — we live in a broken world.
That brokenness is more apparent today than it has been in a long time.
When looking at the state of the world and trying to understand what it means for us, our question has to be more than just “how do we survive?” As we’ve discussed in the past, that is not the right question for us.
Rather the question we should consider is this: How should we engage with this broken world, knowing that we are actually citizens of another kingdom?
As our world is being disrupted, it is being reshaped. And we have the opportunity to provide influence.
We don’t have to accept the way the world is – or the way it used to be. When things are shaken up, they fall back into place differently. We have an enormous opportunity to shape what the world could look like as we come out of this.
How we do that – and what exactly we want the world to look like – are important questions. They are also scholarly questions. Academic questions. Question that requires maturity, understanding and true spiritual wisdom.
In Luke 16, Jesus is talking to his disciples and he says “the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than the people of the light.”
That line is a criticism of the people of the light. It’s a criticism of us Christians. What he’s saying is: Christians, you are getting outsmarted. Outsmarted by the world. Christians, you are too often characterized by simple thinking and naiveté.
That shouldn’t be the case here. As an organization made up of Christian intellectuals, we are built for this moment.
As we talked about a few weeks ago, this moment gives us opportunities – opportunities for teaching moments, opportunities for growth, and opportunities for innovation.
Last summer, I quoted Isaiah 43 and told you that I felt God setting us up to do a “new thing” here at Hope. I feel that all the more acutely now.
And the opportunity for “new things” fall squarely within the three areas of focus I have been highlighting since last year: the future of learning, the future of work, and the future business model of higher education.
Opportunities at Hope
Higher education has been disrupted like no other time in history. And we have the opportunity to be shrewd people of the light in how we navigate this.
Rather than being takers of circumstances, let’s be makers of circumstances.
To help make this specific, let me give you four observations regarding trends that I see developing in higher education as a result of what we’re going through now and how we can use these as opportunities.
1) The growth of online learning will accelerate
As this happens, I expect we’ll see new entrants into the field of higher education. In particular, watch for large technology companies to enter our space. Google is already investing millions in educational services and expertise. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some institutions partner with these companies — imagine “Ohio State University powered by Google.” It would allow students to take online courses, powered by a name-brand tech company, at an institution with a nationally-ranked football team.
What does this mean for us? Well, some have heralded this as the end of traditional liberal arts education. But I don’t believe that is going to be the case. As supporters of the residential liberal arts experience, we certainly do not want that to be the case. And guess what. We can do something about it.
Let’s be shrewd people of the light.
The world of higher education is heading very quickly in one particular direction right now – online learning. And the easy thing to do, would be to follow.
Because the traditional model has never been more complicated or more expensive than it is right now.
But if we believe in the traditional model – which we do – let’s do something counter-cultural. While the world goes in one direction. Let’s go the other way and double down on residential liberal arts learning.
Our students have demonstrated they want to be here. Consider the fact that 92% of our enrolled students will be learning on campus this semester putting up with – let’s just be honest – some fairly unpleasant things.
So if our students want it and we believe in it, let’s double down on it. And instead of following what others are doing, let’s look for opportunities in the midst of this time to innovate and improve our on-campus, residential experience. And, by the way, part of how we do this — as Gerald Griffin likes to say – might be “infusing” our traditional curriculum with some new technological and digital expertise.
2) The growth of online learning will mean more uniformity in curriculum
An online education is highly scalable. Remote classes and online universities have the ability to accommodate thousands of students at one lecture, in one class.
Here’s what this means: more students, learning the same thing, from the same people and places.
As education becomes more high tech it inherently becomes less high-touch, less personally transformative.
Online programs are also oriented toward ushering students in and out, quickly and practically, so they can get a job. Neglecting thoughtful reflection, the life of mind.
This again presents an opportunity for us.
As the world moves toward curriculum that is more standardized, more uniform, we could go the other direction and make our curriculum more customized, more high touch, more individualized to the passions and curiosities of each student.
One could even imagine the possibility – at some point in the future – when Hope, rather than offering a traditional selection of majors, offers an abundance of high quality curricular resources and building blocks that empower students to shape a highly personalized educational journey based on their fields of interest and discerned calling.
3) The average age of U.S. college students will increase
This was already happening. But now, with students around the country taking gap years, the average age of a college student will rise further, as more people go to school later in life.
Further, a Brookings study published in June showed that, as a result of economic uncertainty, fewer babies will be born next year than previously expected. At one point, people thought the stay-at-home orders might result in more babies. But I guess it turns out that, with lots of uncertainty, people just aren’t in the mood. (and let’s be honest, when times are stressful, it’s a lot easier to turn on the tv than try to turn on your partner!)
Brookings estimated 10% fewer babies born in 2021 than previously predicted. The same phenomenon happened during the Great Recession.
These demographic shifts will impact higher education for the long-term. With less students overall, and less in the 18-22-year-old age range, we have the chance to think creatively about reaching a demographic beyond the traditional college-age student.
We could develop opportunities to foster life-long learning, such as offering unique educational tracks for people at all stages of life and career. This could be especially compelling as the future of work evolves and we enter what is very likely to be a sustained economic downturn.
To summarize what we’ve said so far:
- The world says residential liberal arts education is dying. We (HOPE) say let’s lean into our model and make it better.
- The world says it’s cheaper/easier to scale up, one-size fits all. We (HOPE) say let’s improve our technological capabilities, but see how we can use that to customize, empowering each student to find a bespoke education that uniquely fits them.
- The world says learning is for young people to get jobs. We (HOPE) say learning is a life-long shaping of the soul that doesn’t stop when you reach a certain age.
These are just possibilities, and they’re just SOME of the possibilities! Join with me in finding more and dreaming bigger.
This is living as people of HOPE!
Let me mention one more observation, which I believe presents a very big opportunity for us to apply a unique Christian approach to this disruption…
4) Sustained financial challenges in higher education will result in more inequality
As we all know, the financial challenges for higher education stemming from the pandemic will be significant and have long lasting and wide-ranging implications. Here’s the headline: in aggregate, revenue will decline significantly and costs will increase.
On a small scale, this is true at Hope College. We anticipate revenue impact of less than 5% this year, primarily due to students who are deferring and summer programs we had to cancel. (Of course, if we have to pivot back to fully remote learning, the revenue impact would be much greater.) Further, our additional expenditures related to COVID will cost $3-4 million year.
On a national level, however, the numbers look much more dire. (which highlights the fact that we’re in a uniquely good place) According to one recent article from Inside Higher Ed, higher education revenue in aggregate could be impacted by as much as 30% this year. At the same time, operational costs across the board will increase by billions of dollars.
Here’s what this means: less revenue and higher spending will inevitably result in less scholarship money for students.
With less scholarship money available, the real costs of education (specifically residential learning) will go up – yet again. This year and likely for several years to come.
The impact of that? Greater inequality.
The kind of education we provide at Hope will become less accessible to those who aren’t otherwise wealthy or privileged.
Those who can’t afford an expensive education will default to weaker programs (probably online programs). Graduates of schools like ours will have a leg up in a challenged employment environment, and the result will be even greater inequity and a deeper wealth divide.
We have a chance to do something about that, starting here at Hope College. Which is why I believe it is paramount that we work diligently to bring down the cost of a Hope education.
We’ve already started this work. By offering a record increase in new scholarship money last year, we significantly reduced the net cost of a Hope education. The average net tuition cost for a first year student last fall was $19,000. The average net tuition for a first year student this fall is $17,000. That’s a decrease in cost of around 10% in just one year.
It’s a good start, but we have a long way to go. Because – while priceless – a Hope education is still unreachably expensive for too many families.
We’ll change this by being smart about how we spend money, and aggressive in raising new scholarship dollars in the endowment. I am more committed to this than ever before.
Here again, we can uniquely distinguish ourselves from the rest of the world. Everybody else is retreating financially, reducing scholarships, and deciding to hold off on capital campaigns.
What are we doing? We’re preparing to launch a billion dollar, decade-long fundraising campaign toward a new pay-it-forward tuition model that no one has ever tried before.
Who would do this now? Who would set such an ambitious goal – to raise this ridiculous amount of money in this kind of economic environment?
Only a group of people who believe God is trying to do a “new thing”.
And maybe this “new thing” is an aggressive pursuit of equality and justice at a time when it has never mattered more.
The world says it’s impossible to make higher education affordable. This perpetuates injustice.
One of the most tangible ways an institution of higher learning can respond to injustice in the world is to make what we do more affordable and accessible.
It’s a matter of equality. It’s a matter of justice.
And it’s central to the heart of God. The Bible says in Amos 5 that God doesn’t even want to hear our worship – he can’t stand our praise of him – unless we are a people who let justice roll down like a river.
That’s what I want for Hope… I want us to be a place that lets justice roll out of us like a river, like a never-failing stream!
This means fighting against injustice and inequality where ever we see it.
One of the major places we see injustice and inequality today is racial injustice.
Racial injustice takes many forms. One way racism perpetuates itself is through structures and institutions.
As an institution, one way we can respond in a powerful way is by doing what we can to close the education and wealth gaps.
It’s a way for us to let justice roll out of us like a river.
But there’s more we can do.
First, as Christians, we have to be particularly enthusiastic about racial diversity.
I think it is nearly impossible to overstate how much God cares about this.
God likes racial diversity. All throughout the Bible we see that God has preferences. There are things he likes and things he doesn’t like. Diversity is one of the things God likes.
That means God prefers diverse communities – mixed race communities. He likes mixed race churches, mixed race schools, I would even go so far as to say that he likes mixed race families.
In Numbers 12, Moses (a Jewish man) marries a black woman. God not only approves of it, but he punishes the people who don’t like it.
God likes diversity. And that means Christians must be especially enthusiastic supporters of diversity.
But we also have to recognize that the Christian church doesn’t have a lot of credibility on this issue.
Tragically, Christians (specifically white Christians) have historically been slow to speak and work against racial injustice.
In 1963, MLK was arrested on Good Friday and while he was in the Birmingham jail, eight white pastors criticized him for being unwise and untimely in his methods, calling on him to be more patient in his efforts to promote civil rights.
It was in response to this criticism from white pastors that he wrote that famous letter from jail… “In the midst of blatant injustices…, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.”
I don’t want anyone to look back on us and say that we were standing on the sidelines in the midst of today’s “mighty struggle” against racial and economic injustice.
We have work to do. Because today, the Christian church is one of the most segregated institutions in America. 95% of whites attend predominately white churches, and 95% of blacks attend black churches. Churches have not only NOT helped bridge the racial divide in this country, but every single week churches are reinforcing the divide. That’s not OK.
Christians – because of how near this is to God’s heart – should be leading the way, working the hardest to create multi ethnic, mufti race communities.
But, I have hope. And I believe we have a shot to pull this off here at Hope College.
The world says Christians have lost credibility in fighting for racial justice. Let’s show them that with Christ at the center of Hope College, we can do this.
I believe we have a renewed commitment to enhance racial diversity in our student and employee populations – and to truly make Hope a culture of belonging.
Also, because we are a residential college our students have the opportunity to model what it can look like for a beautiful mosaic of people to live together, eat together, learn together, worship together and play together.
That’s something very few adult communities have been able to model. We can do it here.
It seems to me the starting point should be with ourselves – looking at our own lives first. I’ve been on my own personal journey recently. I know that I have my own blind spots and I know that in many ways I am part of the problem. So I’ve been asking myself “what can I do personally to get better? And how can I use my influence to advocate for racial justice?”
We can all ask ourselves the same question. And I think we can be of great help to each other through example, discussion and encouragement – through belonging, understanding and grace.
As an individual, I’m committed to leaning into my own discomfort, and as we say in the Belonging/Grace/Understanding document, to get past my “usual social patterns”.
The disruption taking place gives us the opportunity to change our status quo, both as individuals and as an institution.
From an institutional standpoint, as you know, we formed a steering committee over the summer. We wanted to respond to today’s struggle for racial justice with the same kind of urgency and structure that we deployed in response to the COVID pandemic.
Vanessa is leading this committee, we have a great group of people serving and they are taking a gospel-centered approach to their work. I’ve asked them to give us some bold recommendations as to how we can promote racial justice on campus, and they will report back within 6-8 months.
The possibility of making significant improvements at Hope in this regard excites me.
The challenge and the opportunity is to live into the full depth and impact of a mature understanding of the Christian ethic.
When you boil it all down – the teachings of Jesus – come down to a radical devotion to God and a radical love for each other. That’s what I want our community to embody.
Speaking of boiling things down… For me this season has been grounding… It has given me a new appreciation for the simple things – like handshakes – that we once took for granted.
It has put things in perspective, and tragically over the last few months it seems we’ve had too many reminders of how brief life can be.
Currently our campus community is grieving the loss of our own Dianna Machiela, who passed away last week. Dianna will be remembered not just as our payroll manager whose quiet, dedication kept us paid on time. She will be more importantly remembered as someone who served our institution and her colleagues with kindness and care.
That’s ultimately what matters. And when someday they are writing about the history this season, that’s what I want them to say about us.
As we enter our 159th year, I’ve reflected on my own history at Hope.
For me, it marks 23 years since I first experienced fall on this campus. I came here for the first time in the fall of 1997 for a visit. I was with my dad.
Never in my wildest imaginations would I have predicted this job being in my future. In fact, at that time I thought I would study at the University of Michigan.
I only remember two things from that visit. I remember attending one of Joel Toppen’s political science classes – and I remember stepping foot into this building for the first time.
God stirred something in me that day. Something that continues to stir in me today. It’s a fundamental belief in this institution and what we stand for – HOPE.
I never properly thanked my dad for dragging me here that day, but that visit changed my life. Next month will mark 7 years since he passed away.
My dad was a PhD chemist. He worked at UpJohn in Portage, which ultimately became Pfizer. He too was a quiet, dedicated employee. He showed virtually no career ambition. He was content to have the same job for decades. (All the ambition I have came from my mom)
He was an introvert. But he was an introvert who loved people. I’m not sure he really liked people. But he sure LOVED people.
At his funeral visitation, several people showed up who we had never met. We had no idea my dad even knew these people. One of them was a gas station attendant at the Shell gas station in Portage. He introduced himself to my siblings and me. Said he had seen the obituary in the paper and recognized my dad’s picture.
“How did you know him?” we asked
“Oh your dad used to come to Shell regularly. Every time he came, he would ask about me. He remembered my name. He remembered my kids’ names. And he would ask about them too.”
At the end of the day, that’s what matters. An institution like ours is nothing really but a collection of people.
My prayer is that we would be a collection of people characterized by true love for one another.
This year has, in different ways, been hard for all of us. You know what the hardest part of this year has been for me? Missing my parents. They’ve been gone for several years, but I’ve missed them this year more than ever. I can’t tell you how many times I would have liked to pick up the phone and call them and say “this is crazy!’
My mom had ambition. My dad had love. And that has made me strive – on my best days – to be a person characterized by ambitious love for others.
And just as my parents influenced me, I’m striving to pay-it-forward and influence as many people as I can.
Sociologists remind us that even the most introverted people will influence 10,000 others in an average lifetime. Because hundreds of new students come onto our campus this time every year, we have the opportunity to influence countless more than the average person.
We have the opportunity to love others, and to let justice roll out of us like a river.
Here’s the thing: it’s contagious. Because when you see it in others – like in Dianna or my dad – it changes you. And our students, seeing it in us, will be transformed.
I know these are trying times. And I know achieving what we aspire to be as an institution will not happen in a smooth easy way. It will be hard. But James says:
2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
The world is broken. We can be a people who change the world by exuding joy, love, belonging, understanding, grace, and HOPE at every possible corner.
Let’s do this. Let’s finish the work so that we may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Thank you for who are and what you’ve done. I’ve never worked with a group of people I respect more than all of you.