Building for "Return"

I have worked since the fifth grade. I began in farming for 50 cents an hour, then shifted to carpentry work at $4.75 an hour, and topped out at $8.75 an hour in my last year of college before I began my now 37-year career in higher education. The carpentry and woodworking side of me is something I have continued to pursue as an avocation (e.g., home remodeling and furniture making), which reminds me that these are skills many deploy to make a living.


Post-pandemic unemployment rates are down sharply, and average hourly wage rates are up substantially. Some WP students who might normally have chosen to enroll or come back to college are choosing instead to work, with starting wages in New Jersey averaging $18 an hour for a warehouse position, by way of example. Such a choice ($37,000 in full-time earnings per year vs. a $14,624 tuition outlay and what could be nearing almost twice that with a room and board plan) has some rational basis in a moment when the perceived value of a college education has also declined (20 percentage points since May 2020, according to a recent survey).

As a faculty member, one of the courses I taught was Resource Management in Higher Education. Early in the course, we talked about the “value” of college as having both public and private benefits and that come in economic and social forms (see the below diagram).

Invariably, the wage differential argument from the upper right quadrant was the easiest to convey (roughly a $1.2 million average difference over a lifetime of earnings between a high school degree only and a bachelor’s degree). The others all made intuitive sense, although the public side benefits in my view have not persuaded legislatures to increase investment despite the returns an educated populace provide to a society and a state. In this current moment, the wage benefit argument is weakened with our students, a dangerous combined state of affairs.


To grow our market, and by extension our institutional vibrancy, we need new ways to signal value to both students and the Legislature. The new Strategic Plan is designed in part to serve this purpose, including by reminding that our students are both traditional-aged and adults, and that what is obtained is not just a bachelor’s or advanced degree, but rather documentable value along the way. And, in the case of an undergraduate education, we will show that it does not take four years to achieve. More to come with details in coming weeks.


Returning to my introductory point, all of us made choices in life to pursue a path, sometimes at a crossroads where we could pivot to the right or pivot to the left. My choice was to leave carpentry and woodworking as a job to be a student affairs professional and later a professor and administrator. That is my foundation. Let’s be more intentional in helping students find theirs in ways that they see has connection to the world of work and achievement of their dreams.

All the best for a collective good start to the academic year!

Academic News

Strategic Plan. The Academic Deans Group met this summer to engage the elements of the Strategic Plan to prepare for a strong launch this fall. With the help of EAB, we explored the current state of affairs nationally and regionally, with regard to student attrition, alternative credentials, adult learners, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice. All are invited to browse the slides and presentation associated with that retreat session.


Division of Academic Affairs Presentation – Sept. 9; 12:30-1:15 p.m. Similar to last spring, Provost Powers and the four college deans will make a presentation via Zoom to the campus community entitled Building the Academic Affairs Future. Designed as a follow-up to President Helldobler’s State of the University Address, the intent is to discuss how those in Academic Affairs will be executing the plan in the framework of the divisional goals of enrollment, student success, resource generation, resource stewardship, and people investment. All are invited to attend.


New Executive Director of OSP. We are pleased to announce the hire of a new executive director of the Office of Sponsored Programs, Dr. Anthony Mayo, who will join us on September 12. Dr. Mayo brings extensive experience in the grants and research arena, including a background in informatics coupled with an MBA, and comes to us from the Rutgers University School of Health Sciences. He is excited to provide leadership for the unit and in support of the exciting grant activity opportunities of an HSI and MSI.


Draft Mission Statement. President Helldobler charged a faculty and staff working group last spring with drafting a proposed new mission statement for the University. Such an exercise is important about every 10 years and the moment had arrived to take a close look at ours vis-à-vis our peers and what we are today as an HSI and MSI. See the President's website to read this draft and supporting documents.

Facts & Figures

5.4 % vs. 10.9 %

Average percentage change in graduate student enrollment from 2019 to 2020 among all four-year master’s institutions in the U.S. (N=240) vs. WP (Source: IPEDS).


-3.8 % vs. -7.4 %

Percentage change in undergraduate student enrollment from 2019 to 2020 among all four-year master’s institutions (N=240) vs. WP (Source: IPEDS).


As of 8/30/22, 27% of WP enrollments are graduate students.

In Fall 2019, 15% of WP enrollments were graduate students.


115,000 vs. 1 million vs. 2 million

The number of estimated New Jersey high school graduates in 2021-22 vs. the number of New Jersey residents in 2020 with some college and no degree vs. the approximate number of New Jersey residents with only an associate’s or bachelor’s degree (Source: 2022 Chronicle of Higher Education Almanac & U.S. Census Bureau).


“The unprecedented societal turbulence caused by a pandemic, the worst recession in a century, and a national reckoning over racism have accelerated and added urgency to the development of alternative pathways to career and life success.”


Paul Fain, Inside Higher Ed


“Higher education represents our best hope for the advancement of both individuals and the collective.”


Michael Crow, Designing the New American University

The Provost’s Office is Meg, Lissette, Claudia T., Claudia C., Jonathan, Kara, Sandy, and Josh. You can reach us at 973.720.2122 •
Office of the Provost | 973.720.2122 |