In July, Kevin Dyerly ’00, ’04 (MBA) became Vice President for Finance and Chief Financial Officer for the University of Redlands. Mika Elizabeth Ono and Katie Olson of the Bulldog Blog spoke to him about his longtime ties to the Redlands community, the financial impact of enrollment trends and the pandemic, and the most common misconceptions about the University’s budget.
Bulldog Blog: How have your impressions of the University of Redlands changed—and stayed the same—as you’ve moved through different roles at the University—from College undergraduate to MBA student to alumnus, and from associate dean of admissions to VP for Enrollment and now VP for Finance and Chief Financial Officer?
Kevin Dyerly: I think I have a better appreciation for the complexity of our University and the diversity of programs and students we serve than I did 25 years ago. As an undergraduate in the College, it seems the whole world revolves around you and your experience here. But now I’ve witnessed the impact of a Redlands education on first-generation working professionals in San Diego and divinity students in Marin County and doctoral candidates in our School of Education. When you talk to all these students, there’s a common thread to their story and experience; they established deeply personal relationships with both their peers and faculty that they will cherish for the rest of their lives. That’s what hasn’t changed—the quality of people who contribute to our University.
BB: What has been the most rewarding part of your time at Redlands (aside from meeting your wife)?
KD: You’re right—meeting Jennie here was most rewarding. And now being able to raise our kids around the University community is pretty special. But professionally, I’d have to say it was the opportunity to be an integral part of envisioning and implementing the Hunsaker Scholarship Prize program—from the initial brainstorms about a vision for the program to being in the room when Rich and Ginnie made the $35M commitment, working with faculty and staff on building out the program, recruiting the first class of scholars who made an immediate impact on our institution.
BB: You could probably write a thesis—or several—about enrollment trends and their financial effects on colleges and universities nationwide. What are these trends and how much have we been impacted compared to our peers?
KD: Yes, actually a whole book probably. In fact, I recommend Carleton Professor Nathan Grawe’s Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education for those who want to better understand the changing demographics of projected high school graduates and implications for colleges and universities. In short, there’s a so-called cliff in 2025, when projected numbers of high school graduates, nationally, decline sharply due to lower birth-rates during the last economic recession. Grawe argues that regional institutions (both public and private) will feel the impact in greater ways than those with a national draw. But he also presents a case for how institutions can innovate and adapt to position themselves to thrive in this era.
Not all regions of the country will see the same levels of decline in college-going students. In fact, one opportunity for us is expected population growth in the Inland Empire. But the Inland Empire also has one of the lower bachelor’s degree attainment rates in the state and little significant matriculation to private higher education. So there are both challenges and opportunities for us. In addition, families’ ability to pay, based primarily on stagnant income over the past several years, is not keeping up with rising costs at universities (compliance, healthcare, technology, etc.). The average adjusted expected family contribution of an admitted student in 2020 is just 2% greater than it was in 2014. So, net tuition revenue growth is not what it was in the early 2000s.
BB: And then came the pandemic… What did that look like?
KD: It accelerated some of the trends forecasted by Grawe and others in driving down enrollment. Fewer students with higher financial need chose to enroll in college this fall, and many students chose to delay their start. In the previous three years, the College has averaged 14 first-year students choosing to defer the beginning of their college career. This year, we have 80 first-year deferrals.
BB: Recent budget cuts at the U of R have been really painful for faculty, staff, and administrators. What have been your goals during this process?
KD: There’s no question. Room and board revenue represents approximately 20% of our overall budget, so the inability to have undergraduates in residence, coupled with approximately 9% of our College of Arts and Sciences students taking a pause on their enrollment this fall due to pandemic and its implications, caused significant short-term disruption to our revenue streams. We’ve seen a number of articles recently about the many other colleges and universities experiencing similar pain. We’ve tried to approach the ’20–’21 budget cuts with three goals in mind: 1) be consultative (with advice and input from Cabinet, the faculty’s Budget Planning Committee, and University of Redlands Staff and Administrators Association leadership); 2) be pragmatic (many of the cuts are largely a result of the reality we don’t have events or students on campus with food/catering, travel is severely limited, and many offices are staffed primarily remotely); and 3) be empathetic and supportive in the way in which we communicate the decisions to our colleagues.
BB: How have you handled taking on these new responsibilities in the middle of such a historically difficult time?
KD: One day at a time. Be honest and transparent with colleagues. Recognize that I can’t please everyone all the time, but approach the work with integrity and the short- and long-term well-being of the institution we all care so much about at the forefront of my mind.
BB: What are the most common misconceptions about the University’s budget and budgeting process?
KD: That’s easy. That there are “secret pots” of money no one knows about. In fact, one of my goals in this new role is to present a clearer picture to our community about our budget and allocation of resources.
BB: Racial equity, diversity, and inclusion have been prominent issues lately. Since your ties to the University go back 25 years, can you comment on changes over the years? From where you sit, what are the most important things the University has done to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)?
KD: There’s a lot that has changed in 25 years. The composition of our student body, across all schools and programs, is significantly more diverse. We continue to recruit and enroll greater percentages of first-generation college-bound students, preparing these students to change the trajectory of their family and educational attainment. The curriculum has evolved, including the establishment of our first doctoral degree in Educational Justice. The resources and space for programs to support DEI has emerged and evolved. Policies such as the recently expanded equity and Title IX policy have been adopted. And yet, as we’re hearing and reading in recent months from our community, there’s more that needs to change for every member of our community to feel welcome, safe, and included.
BB: What has your role been in DEI efforts?
KD: From where I’ve sat the past eight years, I’ve tried to influence policies that promote greater access and affordability to our talented and diverse student body. We’ve increased financial aid by $25 million, or 48%, since FY2012-13.
In 2017, the University re-instituted the “Cal Grant full tuition guarantee”—a commitment to cover Cal Grant recipients’ full tuition in grants and/or scholarships—to entering students in the College, which has resulted in a 31% increase in Cal Grant recipients from 2015 to 2019. Cal Grants, funded by the State of California, are awarded on the basis of financial need and GPA. In the entering class of 2019, 71% percent of Cal Grant-guarantee recipients identify as first-generation and 83% identify as students of color.
As I mentioned earlier, I had the privilege of helping implement the Hunsaker Scholarship Prize program in 2014-15, meeting full demonstrated financial need for each recipient. In the first five years, 51% of Hunsaker Scholars identify as students of color, and 23% identify as Black. These scholars have made a tremendous impact at the University already, and the retention and graduation rates among Hunsaker Scholars exceed those of the overall student body.
Through generous support from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, the University has established a program that meets 100% of demonstrated need for recipients of the San Manuel Excellence in Leadership scholarship. In the past three years, the average annual number of new Native scholarship recipients has nearly doubled.
Lastly, I’m particularly proud of the fact that a Test Optional Admissions Policy was approved in late February and announced in early March before the pandemic impacted our campus. The policy change is grounded in evidence-based research that shows inequalities in SAT score distribution reflect and reinforce racial inequalities across generations. SAT and ACT scores, nationally and at the University, have a stronger correlation with family income or parent education level than they do with students’ first-year GPA or retention rate. We believe this shift in policy will create more access and opportunity for our most underrepresented student populations, in particular Black and Native applicants.
These policies by no means suggest that we’ve done all that we can. There’s much work to still be done, but it’s important to acknowledge some of the progress we have made through these commitments in recent years.
BB: What is the most valuable thing you have learned over the course of your career?
KD: So much really boils down to two things: relationships and communication. I enjoy working with, supporting and learning from colleagues around me. Investing in those relationships is important for our collective success as an institution. And how we communicate with one another makes a big difference in establishing and enhancing those relationships so that when we do face difficult decisions, there’s a strong degree of mutual trust.
BB: What do you see ahead for the University?
KD: The pandemic has been the largest disruptor to us, and to higher ed in general, in our lifetime. And it has obviously caused significant short-term pain. But one silver lining is that it has freed us from our traditional thinking and encouraged our tendencies to be creative and innovative. We will use what we’ve learned out of necessity to inform how we adapt and evolve moving forward. Yes, some aspects will return to something very similar to pre-pandemic, but others will not. And that is good. Redlands will remain, at its core, committed to personalized education. How we define and deliver on that promise will be positively informed and influenced by our recent experiences and circumstances.