“This is a moment of tremendous opportunity,” President William D. Adams said June 4 at his annual State of the College address to alumni gathered for Reunion Weekend. “Many institutions are still reeling from the effects of 2008 and 09,” he said, but because Colby endured less long-term financial disruption than those colleges, it now has “an opportunity to steal some advantage.”
 
The Board of Trustees has agreed to accelerate several initiatives as Colby heads into a celebration of the College’s bicentennial, Adams said.
 
• New teaching faculty positions are slated to be added over the next five years, including in environmental and marine sciences and the humanistic disciplines and to support the College’s focus on developing students’ writing skills.
 
• A biomass-fueled steam plant currently under construction will save “a lot of money,” boost the local economy, and allow Colby to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2015.
 
• Ground will be broken in October for a new museum wing, adding 28,000 square feet including space for exhibition of works from the Lunder Collection of American Art.
 
• Plans for a new science building on the Colby Green have been reactivated with groundbreaking possible next year.

An audio recording of the State of the College address is online. In it Adams described the initiative called Colby 2013 as “our refreshed strategic plan,” tied to the Colby bicentennial, which will be celebrated in the 2012-13 academic year. In addition to academic and physical plant initiatives, “making Colby more accessible to more students” by increasing financial aid resources is a major goal in the Colby 2013 plan, he said.
 
Adams began with a rundown of the latest admissions cycle, which had just wrapped up as the strongest in the College’s history. Colby received a record 5,175 applications for the Class of 2015, up 22 percent over the previous year. Quality and diversity of the pool both held up, and the class will include 20 percent from traditionally underrepresented groups, 10 percent international students, 12.5 percent Maine students, and 54 percent from outside of New England, with 35 states and 42 countries represented in the first-year class.
 
The incoming class includes 196 students—41 percent—receiving need-based grants that average $35,700, with a total financial aid commitment of some $7 million, Adams said. While Colby’s long-term goal is to become need blind, “there is a painful point” near the end of the selection process, Adams said, where financial aid resources run out and ability to pay has to be taken into account. Thus the College’s desire to raise additional endowment to support financial aid and accessibility.
 
Adams discussed finances, saying the endowment has recovered to where it was before the recession of 2008-09 and that annual giving had also rebounded, though more work is needed to reach ambitious participation and income goals.
 
On the academic front, Adams called the new writing initiative being phased in this year “one of the most sweeping revisions to our writing program in twenty-five to thirty years.” Changes in teaching writing in the first year will be followed with a writing-across-the-curriculum initiative next year. Adams also discussed bolstering of the Environmental Studies Program, particularly with the strategic partnership with the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences that will create a semester-away program for students to study at the Boothbay lab and at sea. Efforts to reinvigorate the humanities recognize that they continue to be the core of a liberal arts education, he said.
 
During a question-and-answer session Adams responded to queries about classes in Chinese and Arabic (we have long offered the former and will offer the latter next year), prospects for reintroducing ROTC (Adams would be very receptive, even eager, but feels it’s unlikely the Army would propose a program given the size of the student body), need-blindness (we would need another $75 million to $100 million in endowment to get there), and business education (we continue to offer administrative science as a minor as well as financial markets as a major).
 
Reunion revelers enjoyed perfect spring weather during three and a half days of events and meals on campus. Faculty and alumni described their work in informational sessions, alumni celebrated the life of the late Professor Charles Bassett, and the parade of classes Saturday preceded an awards ceremony honoring a dozen distinguished alumni. Some 1,200 guests participated in reunion events, according to Assistant Director of Alumni Relations Palmer McAuliff ’08.