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STATE OF THE INSTITUTE 2022: PRESIDENT FRANCES BRONET ADDRESSES THE PRATT INSTITUTE COMMUNITY

Colleges like Pratt own this experiential, embodied model of learning, but even for us, this COVID-prompted moment demanded a review—and a deep dive—now and well into the future.  What is an experiential or embodied or immersive pedagogy with the new tools and techniques? What are the consequences of the technology, its tools, techniques, and social systems? Your own experiences and knowledge are key. The incredible, compassionate, and intellectual generosity that defines the Pratt community exists precisely because you are so central in the building of the academic enterprise. And that takes time.

Read the president’s State of the Institute:

Hello and welcome. Welcome back. Two years ago this month, I had prepared a very different message. And we, also, could have had no idea what the next two years would do. We certainly could not anticipate the march of COVID nor the situation Ukraine, Europe, and the world faces now.  

But now that we are physically and more virtually together, I will start the way my first State of the Institute addresses began:

The mission of Pratt Institute is to educate artists and creative professionals to be responsible contributors to society. Pratt seeks to instill in all graduates aesthetic judgment, professional knowledge, collaborative skills, and technical expertise. With a firm grounding in the liberal arts and sciences, a Pratt education blends theory with creative application in preparing graduates to become leaders in their professions. Pratt enrolls a diverse group of highly talented and dedicated students, challenging them to achieve their full potential.

There is a reason I begin with the mission statement—with you, with families, with the Board—we are first and foremost a world-class art and creative professional learning environment. We are committed to the full, embodied education of an extraordinary and motivated, very determined and deliberate student population. Students who know that “Pratt is the place for them.” We do this through teaching contexts, aesthetic judgment, professional knowledge, collaborative skills, and technical expertise. We are accountable to this immersive and complex model to prepare our community to contribute and to lead; to responsibly make an impact; to build consequences into a lifetime of making and thinking. This mission is profound and clear and it positions Pratt in a very unique way in the higher education landscape of 1,500+ four-year undergraduate accredited colleges and universities.  

We sit on a spectrum defined by open-ended critique, understanding that the college education is about learning to learn, as well as leaving with skills and knowledge that will significantly enhance the professions our students will occupy. With our students having multiple individual journeys (we hear that graduates in 2022 will have 10–20 career shifts), today’s technical expertise can only be a base for continuous learning and application.

This shared understanding is how we make decisions and how we support our priorities. Our deans and VPs, along with all of you, are deeply reviewing the strategic plan we spent over a year preparing just before COVID took root. The pandemic, of course, had the opportunity to ignite what Clayton Christenson called: Disruptive Innovation and Catalytic Change in Higher Education. At Pratt, we have always had porous boundaries between the classroom and life experience, (so many of our faculty are practitioners, after all) along with building contexts of integration. We are anchored in investigating new modes of inquiry, using the unpredictable and unfamiliar as context.  

Christensen defines “disruptive innovation” as a process “by which a. . . service takes root initially in simple applications at the bottom of a market and then relentlessly moves ‘up market,’ eventually displacing established competitors.” 

The “disruption” for other institutions comes in their own recognition that embedding the growing body of experiential modes of learning into their traditional curricula is essential. From humanities to entrepreneurship, experiential learning is moving from margin to center, and proving to be critical and powerful in the overall quality and meaning of the general undergraduate experience. 

Colleges like Pratt own this experiential, embodied model of learning, but even for us, this COVID-prompted moment demanded a review—and a deep dive—now and well into the future.  What is an experiential or embodied or immersive pedagogy with the new tools and techniques? What are the consequences of the technology, its tools, techniques, and social systems? Your own experiences and knowledge are key. The incredible, compassionate, and intellectual generosity that defines the Pratt community exists precisely because you are so central in the building of the academic enterprise. And that takes time.  

So with that, let me begin by reviewing the last few months.

Return from COVID Disruption

The spring 2022 semester is in its second half. The COVID Omicron surge of late December and early January informed our decision to run the first two weeks of the semester online. Our vaccination rates are almost 100 percent across the board. We are now back on campus with more than 75 percent of classes running in person. The fall 2022 semester will be primarily in person.

Thank you for the resilience, dedication, and passion you have all shown. How, despite the many changes and challenges of the past two years, the staff has adapted, adjusted, and found a way to thrive. Just before COVID, we established a Staff Council (chair Chris Ruggieri)—an incredible resource that represents staff and any concerns or questions you may have. . . . With our Academic Senate, our SGA, Staff Council, and the Board, we have opportunities to learn, share, and lead together.

We continue to operationalize our strategic plan. The COVID disruption impacted projects, priorities, and alignments, but not our overarching structure. 

Technology challenges created innovations and a Pratt without traditional limitations. Whether it be virtual labs, “on-the-fly” room and equipment reservations, hybrid teaching spaces, Pratt has shown its “maker’s ethos” to be in full effect. You have now become a hybrid workforce with broadcast spaces and lecture capabilities while ensuring the safety of our data and networks with cybersecurity policies and infrastructure development. Do we have more to do? Of course.  

Thank you for your willingness to adjust and adapt. And now we have more systems that allow for in-person and online services. 

Our students continue to be highly engaged. You have made this happen. We have heard about the challenges of coming into first year from having spent over a year online, and we know you have been there for the students, in classrooms, studios, Zooms. They are so grateful, excited, and hungry.  

Attendance at events is high and feedback from students has been positive. Programming initiatives span from a focus on international students to first generation college students. The students, as the extraordinary leaders that they are, have many programs; they are epitomized by their concern in the world, including for example, their recently created support networks and donation pipelines for Ukraine. This is in tandem with the work of staff and faculty looking after our students whose families are overseas.

Student Affairs also continues to provide support services in counseling, learning access, and advocacy, and the demand for each of these services is on the rise. For most services, students have options via Zoom or in-person and are utilizing both modes. Our students are regularly testing and reporting COVID-19 concerns and this has helped us keep our positive COVID numbers relatively low. And now that preparation will continue to keep us safe as new variants emerge.

Building an environment that represents our community is critical for our strength and for retention. The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, in collaboration with many organizations around and beyond the campus, has built events and communications for National Disability Employment Awareness Month; for Native American Heritage Month, including a campaign honoring the Lenape people and sharing land acknowledgment resources and introducing the Pratt Land Acknowledgment; for Dia de los Muertos; for the festival of Diwali; for first generation students; Veterans Day. It seems eons ago—we celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Legacy Week as well as Black History Month with, for example, the publishing of a Black Resource Guide. Numerous projects are going full blast for the students. Right now, Women’s History Month is upon us.  

Many of you know how incredible the Center for Teaching and Learning is, providing essential resources to support pedagogical innovation and inclusive excellence, enabling Pratt to be the model for other schools of art and design, and for liberal arts and comprehensive colleges interested in creative education, as well.

And the number of users has grown exponentially since it opened just a few short years ago.  This year, the CTL, the Provost’s Office, and the Center for Equity and Inclusion collaborated on the first workshop of the Supporting Faculty Series: Building an Inclusive Classroom.

Inclusivity and accessibility are key priorities for all of us. The Accessibility Committee created an advisory group of students, faculty, and staff to highlight the voices, concerns, and experiences of Pratt community members with disabilities. And work to make the campus accessible is pressing and ongoing, from the new accessible website to plans for new elevators.

New Leadership and Planning

As many of you know, since you are involved on a team, planning work for Pratt’s re-accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is happening right now. This is a multi-year process with our site visit in spring 2024.

By now, I hope you have met our two “newest” vice presidents, Delmy Lendof, VP Student Affairs, and Rick Longo, VP Enrollment Management, who are now more than seven months into their work at Pratt. They are amazing, bring extraordinary expertise, and we are delighted that they are here.

Searches are well underway for the provost (candidates are on campus NOW!), the dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, chairs, and a center director. Let me be clear that this is where the excellence of our academic programs sits. It sits with the faculty, who are led by a department chair, led by a dean, led by the provost—who is the chief academic officer, and is supported by our remarkable staff. All for our students.

Gaia Hwang is the new chair of graduate Communications Design. Adam Friedman has joined the Research and Strategic Partnerships team in the Office of the Provost, as its chief strategy officer. Stephen Slaughter will be the new chair of Undergraduate Architecture and Rosetta S. Elkin the inaugural academic director of the Master of Landscape Architecture (MLA). 

Climate has been key to many of our initiatives, and we continue to work on a Governors Island proposal for climate resilience; we are currently in discussions with the Governors Island finalist teams as potential partners. 

Pratt Institute and Bank Street College of Education have received grant funding to collaborate on the creation of a new public secondary school that brings together the power of design thinking with a drive to social justice. Seed funding from the DOE and the NewSchools Fund is to develop the school and ready it to open in a couple of years. It will be about a mile from our campus.

Our Navy Yard foothold that began with entrepreneurial centers like Robotics has been enlarged. The Pratt Research Yard has become a public/private partnership now called the Research Yard of Pratt, City Tech, and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Funding from the New York City Council was doubled, thereby enabling us to lease more space and have a more diverse research community. It is amazing to imagine that one of the centers for design research will be just down the block and what our role might be in preparing future leaders in an ecosystem with the 600+ businesses and startups. Not to mention the opportunity to program art installation across the site. Pratt>Forward from the School of Art is also now at the Navy Yard.

In addition to the above, there are dozens of community groups, from NYC to Singapore, that Pratt faculty and provost centers have worked with over the past few years. 

Meetings are starting with the newly elected NYC representatives for Pratt, including Borough President Reynoso, Councilmember Hudson, etc., with a focus on how we are supporting communities across the city and helping to build a more equitable creative economy. And Pratt’s very own Laurie Cumbo is now NYC cultural czar.

The Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships plays a critical role here. Just last week, we received almost $2 million for an initiative developed by Pratt Center to reduce energy consumption and costs for small homes in Brooklyn, primarily Fort Greene, Bed Stuy, Prospect Heights, East New York, and Cypress Hills.

The Office of Research and Strategic Partnerships is developing a self-sustaining financial center model for the research centers in its purview. For the year ending December 2021, we raised $7.3 million, significantly higher than last year.

Enrollment and Retention

Nationally, across the 37 AICAD schools, we have seen an overall decline in enrollment from 2019–21. Of all AICAD schools with over 500 students, Pratt grew the most from 2019 and actually increased 6 percent.  

Of course, our rankings continue to be strong—still top tier in the world overall, and with multiple programs in the top 10 in the US—our growth is not surprising.  

Reviewing this and understanding the larger context is part of our own assessment—what are the influencing factors, from location, price, discount, ranking, etc., that are key to our enrollment planning? Addressing these questions, while keeping the composition of specific classes in mind, drives our recruitment strategies with a 3-to-5-year enrollment focus.  

The current enrollment target for 2022–23 is approximately 4,900 students, which aligns with pre-pandemic numbers. We had gone over 5,000 this year; and had gone under 4,200 in 2020.  A bit of a roller coaster. I know you felt the surge, and again, another thank you for managing.

These numbers are important to all of us. The Provost’s Office is working very deliberately to support departments as we educate this large class moving through years 2, 3, 4, and 5 of the curriculum. Our new VP for enrollment management, Rick Longo, has also been meeting with department chairs, capping new student enrollment based on department recommendations and reviewed with the Provost’s Office. Interim Provost Donna Heiland and team are in the midst of space planning, working closely with departments, and are aware that there will be faculty needs and parallel demands. The goal is to be as responsive as we can. 

The Provost’s Office will work with the Schools to gather information and discuss what middle- or long-term strategy might make sense to balance in-person/online learning (assuming one does). For the fall, we are planning to be primarily but not exclusively in person—classes will be online when it makes pedagogical sense. Work to determine this balance is ongoing. For example, the School of Information in their recent newsletter noted that they “have initiated student surveys about the future of online learning in their school. From this research, a view has emerged that a certain percentage of courses stay online for the long-term for courses where it works well (e.g., the work created by students is digitally based), and that it should be concentrated in courses that students may take in their second year of study where some flexibility might be welcome.” 

The Provost’s Office also envisions opening conversation with the deans whether a small suite of complementary online programs would make sense, and there are School for Continuing and Professional Studies possibilities in a very nascent stage. Experimental curricula in the SCPS, including a pilot on fashion marketing, new certificate programs, and stackable credentialing, are ongoing. Offerings are being held in both online and in-person modes and include domestic and international learning options.

The charge to recruit and retain diverse, extraordinary students is parallel to our priority of bringing and keeping excellent leaders and faculty and building significant and relevant programming. 

Admissions and enrollment are strong. The data changes by the minute, so here is the hot-off-the-press information: Our current spring 2022 enrollment totals 4,856. Undergraduate students returned from fall at a rate of 95 percent while graduate students returned at a rate of 91 percent.

Our graduation rate is stable but our goal is to retain our students at an even higher rate. Yes, some of our students are poached to industry before they graduate, but many leave for financial, social, or environmental reasons. We are working hard on recruitment and retention.

Pratt is now using the Common Application for all new first-year/first-time undergraduate applicants for fall 2022. The shift to the Common App for new first-year/first-time applicants has produced very positive results. Submitted applications are up 32 percent from last year for a total of 9,266 (vs. 7,046 last year). Completed applications are up 60 percent for a record total of 7,249 (vs. 4,590 last year). The completion rate is currently running at 78 percent for FA22 vs. 65 percent for FA21.

Overall graduate submitted applications and completed applications are both up minimally, except for School of Information’s completed applications are up 25 percent over last year.  

Commitment to Diversity

In terms of the family incomes of our students, we are very diverse, thanks to the generous financial aid program we began years ago and our continuing fundraising efforts, which enable us to provide additional funds in endowed scholarships to students in need to make Pratt affordable. We are continually raising more money for this, as well as examining other sources of funds.

And while we are a national and international school, a quarter of our undergraduates are from New York State, with most from New York City. Our numbers of New York students enrolling at the Utica campus is strong. Brooklyn sees an increase in the fall of New York and underrepresented students with around 100 Utica students coming as juniors annually. This is a key opportunity as we offer multiple pathways for success at Pratt. 

Our commitment to diversifying our community continues with focused outreach and programs. Applications from Black applicants are up 60 percent over last year, growing from 429 to 685, and up 41 percent for Latinx applicants, growing from 976 to 1,380. Each of these outperform the 32 percent growth of the overall pool. 

Completed applications are up 80 percent for Black applicants and 74 percent for Latinx applicants, each outperforming the 60 percent growth of the general pool. The completion rate for Black applicants is running at 61 percent for FA22 vs. 55 percent for FA21. For Latinx applicants, the completion rate is running at 68 percent for FA22 vs. 55 percent for FA21. Understanding and working on completing applications and increasing yield are key priorities.

Resources and Facilities

The annual budget process has begun for the FY23 operating and capital budgets. This year, we are resuming our normal schedule and a budget will be presented at the May Board meeting for approval. 

The January financial report shows tuition revenue tracking closely to budget projections. In total, expenses are expected to hit projections by year end. Our endowment increased substantially by year end 2021 and has hit a $300,000,000 market value from $200 million just 3½ years ago. Although the market is, as you know, fluctuating, and our endowment has dropped over the past few weeks, we have good investment strategists. Moody’s has continued Pratt’s upgraded financial rating at A-2, while also shifting their outlook for higher education as a whole positively. 

Resources for our physical plant are critical. The campus must house and celebrate our programs and our priorities. Our strategic plan, a campus master plan, a financial real estate plan, an energy plan, and a deferred maintenance plan are feeding a holistic framework. We are now examining the changes and the close synergies of the physical and digital demands and infrastructure—numbers of students, staff, faculty, classes, and volume in face-to-face, hybrid, flex, online—these determine our future physical planning—connected to a much more fluid future. This is an extraordinary project, and many of you, as part of your own investigations, are looking at what work looks like tomorrow and 10 years from now.

Before COVID, we had completed a major part of a campus plan with Sasaki. We are revisiting the last version of the campus master plan. We also have a very heavy lift (well over $300 million) in deferred maintenance to fit cohesively into a larger campus strategy. We will be budgeting more aggressively to address an annual infrastructure investment.  

In 2019, Pratt engaged a consultant to assist with the development of a carbon and energy reduction master plan for the campus.  

The study recommended decentralization of the heating plant. The existing system will be converted to a smaller low pressure steam plant and serve buildings in the main core of campus. A transition to electrification will provide heating for buildings outside the main core and cooling for the entire campus. 

This multi-phase project begins this summer with rebuilding the smoke stack, replacing boilers, and replacing the plaza deck. Plans are being developed to activate the new plaza deck with seating and an outdoor classroom. We expect to complete this work by winter 2023.  

Implementation of additional phases of the energy master plan will further reduce our CO2 consumption. These include lighting upgrades and retrofits, implementation of energy management systems, and improvements to the exterior envelope of many of our buildings (windows, roof, and facade). 

Some work must be done as these plans coalesce. Considering that we are launching a BFA in Game Arts and a Masters in Landscape Architecture, we do now have spaces for them—Game Arts in Myrtle Hall and MLA in Higgins. We have completed the conversion of Cannoneer Court 1st floor south wing to a new home for the Writing Department. The Pratt Manhattan renovation is finished and I invite you to see our amazing new first floor gallery and repurposed gallery space to create additional classrooms. The lobby and façade have been upgraded—it feels like Pratt! This was supported by a fabulous gift from Hiroko Nakamoto.

Fundraising and Engagement

That gift and many others have brought us, halfway through our Pratt 135 Campaign, inches from our goal. 

Notable gifts include the first named professorship in the history of the Institute, the Jane B. Nord Professor of Fashion Design, $3.5 million endowed funding from philanthropist and 1945 Pratt alumna Jane B. Nord to recruit and retain incredible faculty (congratulations to our inaugural named professor Jennifer Minniti!); the Hauser & Wirth Institute funding School of Information graduate student full-ride scholarships in support of diversity; Diamonstein-Spielvogel Fellowship Program to Honor Dr. Thomas F. Schutte, by funding six graduate students from underserved communities with a focus on climate change in their academic work, three each in the School of Design and the School of Architecture; continuing scholarships; and funding from a Trustee, alumnus, and parent to launch Pratt’s Food Insecurity Fund. This focus on access and strategic diversity fundraising initiatives is part of the Institute’s efforts for a more diverse, equal, and inclusive campus. Centerpieces will be scholarships, infrastructure, support for faculty and strategic planning priorities, research, etc.

Just 11 days ago, we awarded the second class of five Wallace Augustus Rayfield wrap-around scholarships—tuition, fees, room and board, and materials for four or five years depending on the program. The Balenciaga, Chenault, and Rayfield awards are emblematic of our commitment to supporting our diverse scholars in as robust a way as possible. Coupled with this is structural scaffolding, including programming, through the Diverse Scholars Program (BIPOC peer mentoring support) and the Alumni Engagement Office. We have a long way to go but know that many offices and people have a clear direction of this critical priority.

We are well engaged in alumni work from New York (tri-state), Miami, Los Angeles.

And tomorrow is Giving Day!

Telling Pratt’s Stories

In Communications and Marketing (PCOMM), the design concept for the new Pratt.edu website has entered the “build” phase. With the consulting firm Upstatement, the Digital Communications team in PCOMM is working with Institute stakeholders to prepare content. An enterprise-grade system will host the new website in the cloud to ensure excellent maintenance and searchability.

The Creative Services team is nearing completion of a two-year project to refresh Pratt’s visual identity for greater flexibility and for new digital communications platforms. I hope you love the new issue of Prattfolio magazine (available outside and online), which is dedicated to the “Power of Place.” The issue highlights Pratt initiatives that engage with and shape New York City, and Brooklyn in particular. 

As I am sure you all know, the Back to Pratt website and weekly newsletter continues to serve as a centralized repository of all pandemic-related guidance. 

I could spend hours here announcing the remarkable accolades our students, alumni, faculty, schools have received—and I would, no doubt, still leave some out. Books you have written, installations and shows, public presence, practice awards, Guggenheim, Fulbright, stunning research grants, communities engaged, curricula transformed, and more incredible student work. And I worry that the density of your work deserves a huge amount of time in this address—but instead I ask you to please go to the News section at news.pratt.edu, which features highlights of the work of Pratt’s students and faculty. As great as these stories are, what you bring to Pratt exceeds all words.

The new Pratt Shows 2022 website has launched with a list of exhibits, which have already begun and will culminate with the thesis and design shows.  

Looking Ahead

The Board of Trustees recently asked, “what is affecting higher education, writ large,” and then continued to drill down to “AICAD, peer, and aspirational institutions.”  

Some of this context is so present in your daily lives, from aligning pedagogical initiatives to mental health and needs for services, to equity and race relations, and to recruitment and retention of a more diverse student and faculty body.  

The array of pressing concerns in higher ed is vast, and goes from domestic and international demographic shifts to the value of art and design education and the complexities of cost. 

Clearly, the shifting nature of work and home and altered employment policies (that exist here and you are experiencing) will also impact our students’ lives. 

Evaluation is ongoing of career journeys, physical/virtual balance of pedagogy and physical/digital infrastructure, alternative and adapted practices for non-traditional students and programs, and as we seek our new provost, much of this sits in that portfolio.

As president, I learn every day from the work Pratt does experimenting with technological futures, data-informed decision-making, strategic external collaborations and consolidations, and developing climate change and justice-embedded curricula.  

The work you do is central to understanding and positively impacting our physical and social world.

The pandemic presented us with immediate challenges: a rapid shift to online learning, enrollment fluctuations and with that, concomitant revenues and a full review of physical and social requirements. This gives us an opportunity to evaluate an unpredictable landscape and to be prepared for transformative changes in higher education. As we plan for the upcoming year, our inquiry will include what we have learned and what we will pursue or edit.

In order to proceed—I remind you again of two intersecting, salient projects—operationalizing the strategic plan and completing the Middle States accreditation—both taking us from academic excellence to student success and the shepherding of resources to support people, build programs, virtual and physical infrastructure. 

Inside Higher Ed’s 2022 annual survey of presidents indicates an optimism that is confirmed by “assessment ratings agencies like Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard & Poor’s, all of which have predicted stability for college and university finances in 2022. . . .” But much can shift rapidly as the world context has shown and is now demonstrating.  

Planning responsibly means being prepared for unexpected complexities and opportunities, for flexibility, and for both predictable and uncertain futures. 

Thank you all for everything you do to keep us ready for this evolving and present condition.  With wishes for peace and health. See you outside. . . . Provost candidate meeting trustees, I apologize for running off.

Happy birthday, Nicole! Many of you have not met my chief of staff in person—just a shoutout to her.

Statistics, initiatives, and achievements were provided by Pratt’s academic and administrative leaders who report this information on a regular basis to the president and the Board of Trustees.