Showing Strength in Our Ranks

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overstated. But the Wheaton community shared in a number of successes during the academic year that contributed to the strength of our liberal arts mission.

by President Dennis M. Hanno

I would like to begin by congratulating the parents and families of Wheaton’s Class of 2020. I share with you an immense sense of pride for the accomplishments of this special group of students, whose resilience has been tested in ways unknown to virtually every generation that has come before. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their education cannot be overstated, nor can the strength they demonstrated in facing these challenges.

The response from graduates and families to our Virtual Commencement has been extremely positive, with the faculty send-off at the end one of the clear highlights of the event. There were over 5,000 computers logged in to watch, so we estimate that well more than 10,000 people joined us to honor the amazing Class of 2020. My thanks to everyone in the Wheaton community who tuned in online to celebrate our graduating class.

On the eve of Wheaton’s 185th Commencement, I reflected on this most challenging academic year. I do this every year, but the context this time was very different. In September of 2019, Wheaton welcomed to campus its largest ever student body, which represented a ten percent increase in enrollment since 2014. We celebrated the opening of Pine Hall, the first new residence hall built on campus in over 15 years. And we established a new Center for Collaborative Teaching and Learning in the Wallace Library to foster the partnerships between faculty, staff, and students.

Wheaton’s excellence in liberal arts was recognized in a number of the national ranking publications for value and successful outcomes. Times Higher Education’s first-ever University Impact Rankings recognized Wheaton as one of the top 20 colleges in the world (third in the U.S.) in promoting gender equality. Wheaton earned high marks in U.S. News and World Report’s “A+ Colleges” list, which identifies institutions that deliver the greatest learning value to students, and “Top Performers on Social Mobility,” which commends institutions that enroll large proportions of economically disadvantaged students.

Higher education has been struggling through a demographic shift in the college-age population. Costs continue to rise and support from government sources has declined. Yet, Wheaton College has taken strategic action to counter these trends by expanding our academic programs in recent years, such as Business & Management and Film & New Media studies. And, thanks to our loyal philanthropic partners and sound fiscal management, we will continue to make investments in our campus infrastructure.

Looking ahead, enrollment for Wheaton’s Class of 2024 has surpassed our adjusted goal of 450 students. Our efforts to showcase Wheaton to prospective students and families this spring through virtual tours and events proved successful. The decision period, which was extended to June 1, provided more flexibility to students and their families as they assessed the impact of COVID-19.

The college’s COVID-19 Reopening Task Force is deep into the planning required for the eventual return of faculty, staff and students to campus. Phase one begins on June 15. Massachusetts Governor Baker’s Reopening Advisory Group has recently released some specific guidance for colleges and universities in the Commonwealth.

Wheaton is introducing the Compass curriculum this fall, which will provide for personalized pathways from the liberal arts to careers and professional life. We anticipate resuming construction of our new academic center. We are reimagining the former science center to serve as home for our two most highly enrolled majors, Business & Management and Psychology. The facility will add 70,000-square-feet of learning space, and will also host our programs in social entrepreneurship, makerspaces, and the Filene Center for Academic Advising and Career Services.

Despite the challenges on the horizon and the uncertainty of what the new normal will be, I feel certain that the strength of Wheaton’s mission and the resourcefulness of our community will sustain this institution. There is truly something special about this campus, this community. And I cannot wait to welcome Wheaton students back!

Dennis M. Hanno
Wheaton College