Board Chair's Report

Members of the Union Community:

The winter meetings of the Board of Trustees, held virtually and in-person the last week of February, included in-depth and lively discussions among Trustees and with senior administrative leaders, focused primarily on Union’s current and future financial health.

Like most colleges and universities, Union faces notable headwinds including increased competition for a shrinking number of college age students, the rising cost of college and increasing questions about the value of a college degree. While the College’s overall financial health and position in the market remains strong, Union is not immune from these and other pressures.

Applications remain strong, with more than 8,400 students applying to Union for the fall of 2024. Much of the discussion at the meetings focused on Union’s work to improve admissions yield rates while holding the line on the amount of financial aid required to attract students to the College.

The College’s overall enrollment is expected to rebound somewhat in 2024-2025 as the small class that entered in fall of 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic will graduate and be replaced by what should be a more typical entering class. As a result, we expect to enroll more than 2,100 students across all four classes next fall – the first time in five years we have reached that level.

The Board also discussed at some length the current financial challenges facing the College and the steps the administration is taking to address those challenges. In many ways, Union’s financial health remains robust – as indicated by the recent decision by Moody’s to affirm the Colleges debt rating at A1, which is considered “investment grade,” by the agency. At the same time, Moody’s did revise the College’s short-term outlook downward to “negative,” mostly as a reflection of the broader economic challenges facing higher education in general, as well as our budgetary challenges.

As a tuition-dependent institution - approximately two-third of Union’s operating revenue comes from student charges - it is incumbent upon the College to not only meet its enrollment targets, but also do so in a way that maximizes the revenue generated net of financial aid. Controlling the “discount rate” (the amount of financial aid the College has to provide in order to attract a full complement of students) has become more challenging as less healthy competitors offer ever bigger discounts to attract students.

To address this, the administration is considering a number of strategies related to financial aid – both need-based aid and merit awards – in an attempt to increase the net revenue generated by student charges. Additionally, the College has been trying new ways to promote Union to prospective students, especially qualified students who have little or no need for financial aid.

Even as we work to generate more revenue for the College, the administration is closely examining our cost structure and the long-term budget implications of actions being taken or considered today. As part of this work, the College has developed a long-term budget model to help guide its decision-making. Additionally, Trustees and the senior team held a spirited discussion around ways the College can become even more efficient in its operations.

The meetings also contained several moments of Union joy. Among the highlights shared by President Harris and others:

  • An outstanding collection of campus speakers and events during the winter term, including a Constructive Engagement forum featuring members of the Schenectady Clergy Against Hate; a Founder’s Day address by Rabbi Matthew Cutler and a lecture to commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day by NAACP President Derrick Johnson.
  • Wonderful performances by Union theater and dance students that showcase Union’s ongoing commitment to the arts.
  • The November 2023 unveiling of the Garnet Chargers mascot duo. The two Chargers (our costumed mascot and our Labrador puppy) were unveiled to a crowd of 300 students and employees, and both have proven to be extremely popular with current and prospective students.
  • Karson Saunders '23 of the Union softball team was recognized in Phoenix at the annual
  • NCAA Convention as an NCAA Woman of the Year Top 30 recipient, emerging from a pool of 619 nominees.
  • Cat Dacey '25 became the first Union women's cross-country runner to individually qualify for the NCAA Div. III Championships after earning the program's first All-Liberty League first team and USTFCCCA All-Region honors.
  • The announcement that actor and comedian Ben Schwartz ’03 has agreed to serve as Union’s commencement speaker this year. The news has generated considerable excitement among students and other members of the campus community.

Committee highlights

Academic Affairs

The addition of environmental engineering and the reinstatement of civil engineering as majors have yielded immediate benefits as we have seen strong interest in the disciplines from both current and prospective students. The Templeton Institute, now under the guidance of co-directors Ashok Ramasubramanian (dean of Engineering) and Andy Burkett (English) has begun to support the creation of courses at the intersection of engineering/computer science and the liberal arts. The first such course was a team-taught effort last fall by members of our Classics, Computer Science, History, English and Biomedical Engineering departments and as many as three additional courses are planned for the upcoming academic year.

We continue to provide robust study away opportunities for our students. For example, seven mini-term programs last fall – six of them outside the U.S. – supported the academic goals of 125 students. In addition, approximately 125 more students will complete full-term study away programs this academic year. Next year, we are excited about the return of our Holocaust Studies international program, which will move to the winter term after a three-year hiatus.

As part of the College’s broader effort to provide students with a greater range of opportunities and generate additional revenue, the VPAA and her team are exploring the feasibility of certificate programs, and other non-degree options.

Administration and Finance

After more than two years of negotiations, the College reached a deal in February to serve as the primary tenant for a new hockey arena and events center being built at Mohawk Harbor. The new arena will be home to the men’s and women’s hockey programs and will be open in time for the start of the 2025-2026 season.

For the past several months, the College has been working to prepare for the launch of a new enterprise management system, created by Workday, which will greatly enhance our administrative capabilities and lead to increased efficiencies in finance, purchasing and human resources. The project remains on time and on budget, and is expected to go live on July 1.


The first round of early decision admissions rose slightly from last year, with 52 percent of those admitted identifying as female. This is another promising sign related to the College’s efforts to attract more women students.

Our efforts to build a large applicant pool received a significant boost in late January when Admissions and Communications and Marketing teamed up to create a social media campaign designed to encourage those who had started their applications to complete them. As a result, the College received more than 8,400 applications, virtually the same as in 2022 and materially behind only last year’s record number of applicants.

College Relations

The Union team continues to actively engage alumni and donors as it seeks to maintain fundraising momentum following last summer’s successful completion of our $300 million “Powering Union” capital campaign. For the last six months of 2023, the College hosted 47 events attended by more than 1,700 alumni and Union parents.

Annual fund giving this year has been hampered by the decision to cancel our October Challenge fundraising activities due to the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel. Still, total annual fund giving through the end of January was only slightly behind last year and ahead of 2022. The team is working closely with Communications and Marketing on a robust promotion plan for A Day 4U (April 16-17) to further support our annual fund efforts.

Communications and Marketing

The team is deeply engaged with Admissions on a broad range of marketing activities designed to help attract students for next year and to engage future prospective students. That work features extensive use of our updated “True to Our Name” brand messaging and look, and includes A/B testing to help determine the extent to which greater personalization in our admissions outreach resonates with no/low need prospective students. Additionally, the team launched its second annual admissions yield social media blitz on March 1. This year’s focus is on using TikTok and YouTube to share Union “moments of joy” to prospective students. Last year’s trial, which ran solely on Instagram, resulted in a significant increase in followers and engagements on the channel.

The branding implementation is fully underway. New campus banners have been created with the brand language and feature engaging photos of students involved in a range of activities. A new “brand anthem” video has been created and is being used to promote the College in a range of settings. The mascot program is off to a strong start, with both the costumed dog and the live puppy generating considerable excitement on campus and in the community.


Work on renovating the Reamer Campus Center Auditorium, which has been off-line since the major flooding the building incurred in February 2023, is scheduled to start in March and should be substantially completed by Commencement in mid-June. The project will return a valuable large meeting space to campus and include a number of upgrades, including making the space ADA compliant.

The team has been working hard for more than a year to complete several much-needed deferred maintenance projects. In fact, of the $20 million in projects identified in this program, 95 percent have been completed. Additional projects have been identified for fiscal year 2025.

Student Affairs

We continue to make good progress on a number of important initiatives designed to improve the Union student experience. Just a few examples:

  • For sophomores, the Halfway There Project asks students to complete a series of activities designed to deepen connections with campus resources, help them reflect on their Union experience and plan for the next two years.
  • Juniors were invited to participate in a revamped two-part internship workshop In partnership with the Career Center. The first part will focus on identifying and securing internships with a goal for each student to apply to at least two internships. The second part will focus on preparing for interviews and related etiquette.
  • GarnetGrove, our new networking and career focused platform, has now reached 940
    active users, consisting of 179 alumni, 711 students, 39 faculty & staff and 11 friends of Union. The Career Center collaborated last fall with Athletics and Student Affairs to create community groups including, men’s soccer, field hockey, the Scholars community, swimming & diving, lacrosse, Women of Union and AOP among others.
  • Eighty Union student-athletes were recognized for academic success on the Liberty League Fall All-Academic Teams. Student-athletes must be a sophomore or higher and achieve a cumulative GPA of at least 3.30 to be honored.
  • Dionis Polanco '24 of the Union football team attended the 2024 NCAA Convention as part of the NCAA's Student Immersion Program. Polanco was one of 40 student-athletes from across the country to be selected for the program, designed for underrepresented students who are passionate about athletic administration or pursuing coaching careers.

In terms of student health and wellness, our campus counseling center has seen only a modest increase in usage this year compared to last year, while more students are engaging in telehealth mental health care services. It has been a busy year for the Health Center so far, with total visits up 21 percent from last year. The increase mostly reflects a jump in flu and other respiratory illnesses.

As always, thanks to all our staff, faculty and alumni who continue to work tirelessly in support of our students. Your efforts are making a measurable difference in the lives of many, and are deeply appreciated.


Sincerely, Julie Greifer Swidler ‘79
Chair – Union College Board of Trustees