Exploring the legacy of the Elon Commitment Strategic Plan
Ten years. An investment of more than $800 million; more than 40 new academic majors, programs and centers; a 25 percent increase in enrollment and 63 percent increase in facility space; and contributions to Elon of more than $220 million. These are a few simple ways to measure the impact of the Elon Commitment Strategic Plan. But mere numbers do not adequately explain the most transformative decade in our university’s history. “Elon was an excellent university when we began the Elon Commitment,” said Ed Doherty p’07, chair of the board of trustees. “But through the hard work of thousands of members of the Elon family, we have achieved a level of quality that surpasses what we dared to dream back in 2009.”
“The Elon Commitment was perfectly named, because it challenged us to be relentless in our efforts to promote student success,” says President Connie Ledoux Book. “Every member of our extended community should take pride in what we have accomplished together.”
As the Elon Commitment concludes and the university prepares to launch the plan for the next decade, this issue of the Magazine of Elon is a celebration of the 2010s. The results of our work have been breathtaking and Elon has achieved a position of national leadership.
Elon committed to what I believe were historic ‘long plays’ during the Elon Commitment years. We committed to endowment building, principally for student aid, and made the Odyssey Program a national model. We committed to having more students and faculty families living on campus, because the best universities are highly residential. We succeeded in becoming the preeminent university in the nation for engaged and experiential learning. Not only has student diversity doubled, but we have built a programmatic infrastructure to support student success. Competition in the Colonial Athletic Association places us with academic peers such as William and Mary, Northeastern and Richmond. We have created outstanding programming for young alumni who are the very embodiment of Elon’s future. Above all, we invested in making Elon a place where life-transforming relationships between students and mentors matter most of all. —President Emeritus Leo M. Lambert
The road to “National University”
When the board of trustees launched the Elon Commitment in December 2009, U.S. News & World Report ranked Elon No. 2 among Regional Universities in the South. There was considerable pride in that position, because Elon had been ranked No. 16 in the South when the previous strategic plan, NewCentury@Elon concluded in 1999.
But what would it take for Elon to make the jump from the regional category to be considered a National University? That question was answered in this, the final year of the Elon Commitment, when Elon debuted among the top 100 of the most prestigious National Universities ranked by U.S. News. The meticulous planning and disciplined execution of the plan has caught the attention of higher education leaders across the nation.
The engine behind this institutional transformation has been a remarkable community spirit. The people of Elon reach ever higher, always looking for ways to better fulfill the university’s mission. Faculty and staff have dedicated their professional lives to teaching and mentoring students. And parents, alumni and friends of the university have invested generously to provide resources for Elon’s growth in size and quality.
“As an alumna and trustee, I am so proud of this great university,” says Kerrii Anderson ’79, trustee and board chair from 2016 to 2018. “Through every generation, the Elon community has shown a remarkable commitment to always be better — to make plans and achieve goals that seem to be beyond our reach.”
The dark days at the beginning of the Great Recession were, indeed, an odd time to start an ambitious program of investment and expansion at Elon. However, we knew there were several fundamental things that would work in our favor going forward. Besides taking advantage of low interest rates, we were disciplined in keeping tuition cost the best value we could provide. Thus, Elon remained an in-demand ‘hot college’ and we took pains to make sure, financially, we could deliver on our value proposition by completing the initiatives in the Elon Commitment. —Gerald Whittington, senior vice president and former vice president for business, finance and technology
Elon has received generous gifts totaling $221 million during the Elon Commitment. The $107 million Ever Elon Campaign concluded in 2011 and the Elon LEADS Campaign was launched in 2019 with a goal of raising $250 million by 2022.
Among the Elon Commitment priorities have been efforts to engage alumni as partners, advocates and investors in the university. The number of alumni chapters across the nation has more than tripled. Particularly important have been programs to connect with young alumni and help them continue their relationships with their alma mater. Elon has established the Young Alumni Council, along with affinity groups for black, LGBTQIA, Latinx/Hispanic and Jewish alumni. Annual program highlight events include the Top 10 Under 10 Awards and Distinguished Alumni Awards.
President Emeritus Leo Lambert once described Elon students as smart students with good hearts. In other words, our students are academically strong and really care about the world. That’s a constant with our students. We see this more today than ever before. Elon is a more diverse community today than a decade ago. The Elon Commitment has created a vibrant campus full of change makers. We can be really proud of that. —Greg Zaiser, vice president for enrollment
Elon moved from the Southern Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association in 2014, and during the Elon Commitment, student-athletes claimed 19 conference championships. Phoenix Club membership grew by 58 percent and generous donors provided funds to construct premier facilities to support athletics excellence, including Schar Center, Alumni Fieldhouse and Hunt Softball Park.
A more diverse and inclusive community
Theme One of the Elon Commitment declared an unprecedented commitment to diversity and global engagement. As a result, Elon is measurably better across many dimensions and is more inclusive and representative of our world. This impressive progress has created a strong foundation for the critical work ahead in the university’s next strategic plan.
“The Elon Commitment facilitated difficult conversations that hadn’t happened before,” says Sylvia Muñoz, associate director for the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education and director of El Centro de Español. “By making diversity and inclusion part of the strategic plan, Elon sent the message that everybody on campus had a role and responsibility in this effort. Everyone gains from having this as a priority.”
It was important for Elon in its strategic plan to articulate not only the importance of diversity and inclusion, but the necessity of working to recruit a more diverse faculty, staff and student body. We have seen the efforts of those initial intentions taking shape in the past 10 years. This focus on diversity, equity and inclusion is essential to an empowering liberal arts education, which, at its core, requires the views and integration of multiple perspectives. —Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for access and success
Stories of progress
In 2014, Elon’s Multicultural Center was renamed the Center for Race, Ethnicity and Diversity Education, providing a vibrant home in Moseley Center and expanded support and programming for Elon’s African American/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American, Alaskan Native and multiracial communities. The CREDE includes the DEEP Social Justice Education, El Centro de Español, the S.M.A.R.T. Mentoring Program, the Phillips-Perry Black Excellence Awards and many other initiatives.
The Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life got a new home when the Numen Lumen Pavilion opened in 2013 as Elon’s multifaith center. Four associate chaplains support Catholic, Jewish, Muslim and Protestant life; Sklut Hillel Center opened in 2012 and Jewish enrollment has doubled to 8 percent of the student body; interfaith dialogue meetings are held weekly; new student organizations support Greek Orthodox Christians, Presbyterian and Methodist Christians, secular students, Buddhist students and Yoga as a spiritual practice; and interfaith student leaders work through the Multi-Faith Engagement Program.
Alumni are engaged at Elon more than ever before, thanks to the strategic vision laid out in the Elon Commitment. We are able to better connect with one another through tailored affinity networks and with university leaders through alumni boards and councils that provide an open channel for all our voices and concerns to be heard. —Jasmine Turner ’15
The Center for Access and Success opened in 2014, bringing together:
• Odyssey Program for talented students with financial need,
including first-generation college students
• Elon Academy college access and success program for Alamance County high school students with no family history of college attendance
• “It Takes a Village“ Project literacy and tutoring program serving hundreds of children in the Alamance-Burlington School System
Elon’s active and growing Gender & LGBTQIA Center has earned four straight years of recognition by Campus Pride as one of the nation’s top-30 LGBTQ-friendly universities.
Through the Elon Commitment, we greatly increased our capacity to cultivate a campus community of inclusive excellence through additional staff positions, faculty hires, community resource rooms, and diversity centers where people express their authenticity, build community and join together. Thanks to these connections, our campus embodies a powerful symbolic message: people of diverse intersectional identities across race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disabilities, national and linguistic backgrounds truly belong at Elon. —Matthew Antonio Bosch, new dean of student inclusive excellence
A national leader in student success
As the nation’s pioneer and leader in experiential learning, Elon moved the standards of excellence even higher during the past decade. Study abroad and internship participation grew significantly, new undergraduate majors (including a four-year engineering program) were joined by additional graduate programs and the university put a special emphasis on revamping career services programs and demonstrating the powerful outcomes of an Elon education. With a new Elon Bound program for incoming students, an enhanced Core Curriculum and an institution-wide Writing Excellence Initiative, Elon’s faculty demonstrated their unequaled commitment to student learning and success.
Elon’s signature global engagement programs evolved over the past decade with a major expansion in the number of students who spend a semester abroad. Semester programs staffed by Elon faculty were established in Florence, Shanghai, Dublin and Dunedin, New Zealand. Study USA launched in 2012 with semester and summer programs, including internships in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C. A special initiative for student-athletes ensured that members of all teams have a university-funded study abroad experience.
The Elon Commitment empowered the Global Education Center to promote global engagement like never before. In 10 years, Elon has more than doubled the number of students studying away, in part through expanding Study USA opportunities and collaborating across campus to engage student-athletes and historically underrepresented groups. —Woody Pelton, dean of global education
Undergraduate majors created during the Elon Commitment
|Applied Mathematics||Media Analytics|
|Arts Administration||Early Childhood Education|
|Astrophysics||Adventure Based Learning|
|Dual Degree Engineering Options||Economic Consulting|
|Engineering (four-year degree)||Entrepreneurship|
|Environmental & Sustainability Studies||Finance|
|Professional Writing and Rhetoric||International Business|
|Public Health Studies||Management|
The Elon Commitment led to the creation of exceptional undergraduate and graduate programs. It is a powerful expression of our ongoing pledge to pursue academic and inclusive excellence. —Gabie Smith, dean of Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences
Elon University School of Law achieved full accreditation from the American Bar Association in 2011, and in 2015 the school adopted a groundbreaking 2.5-year, highly experiential curriculum that modeled a new approach to legal education. Applications to the law school doubled in the past four years, and Elon Law reached
a new enrollment record in fall 2019.
New graduate programs created during the Elon Commitment
- Master of Arts in Interactive Media
- Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies
- Master of Science in Management
- Master of Science in Accounting
- Master of Arts in Higher Education
Elon University is like no other institution in higher education. The Elon Commitment affirmed Elon as the preeminent community for engaged and experiential learning. Our commitment to mentoring relationships is the true disruptive innovation in education. We are proud the Elon educational experience transforms students to be informed global citizens, awakens a passion for learning and prepares students to deal with messy, unstructured problems and, yes, to be able to handle failure. This is the essence of an Elon education, and we believe our graduates will change the world. —Steven House, executive vice president
After a decade of progress, Elon is ranked No. 4 in the nation for undergraduate research and creative projects that engage students in work with faculty mentors on challenging projects in a wide range of fields.
Outcomes of an Elon education
Elon’s Student Professional Development Center was established in 2012, expanding staff and services and locating Elon’s career programs at the heart of campus in Moseley Center. Students engage with the SPDC, gaining career skills during their first year and continuing to receive support as alumni.
It is remarkable to see the progress Elon has made since the Student Professional Development Center was established. For example, in 2012, 288 organizations hired Elon graduates, with Teach for America being the largest employer. By 2019, we had 629 organizations hiring our graduates, with global companies PwC and EY as the largest employers of Elon graduates. In fact, we see an annual change in recruiting trends, with more nationally known organizations hiring Elon graduates. —Tom Brinkley, executive director of the Student Professional Development Center
The nation’s finest environment for learning and living
When historians write the story of the 2010s, the growth of Elon’s campus will certainly be a major focus. More than 75 buildings were built, acquired or expanded, and the total square footage of campus facilities grew by 63 percent. Students who live on campus are better positioned to thrive both academically and socially, so Elon built four new residential neighborhoods and two dining halls during the decade, adding more than 1,100 beds and increasing the percentage of undergraduates living on campus from 58 percent to 64 percent.
Over the past decade, living and learning at Elon has been transformed with the addition of residentially linked courses, the creation of new living-learning communities and an increase in the number of faculty living on campus. These experiences create a campus culture that more deeply engages students of all class years around intellectual and personal development and advances Elon’s strong sense of belonging and community. —Jon Dooley, vice president for student life
Across campus, new academic facilities were designed to support faculty-student interaction and experiential learning. Facilities like Sankey Hall, which allow for collaboration among students and faculty from all across campus with industry partners to imagine new innovative solutions to enterprise challenges, says Haya Ajjan, Gordon Professor in Entrepreneurship and director of the Center for Organizational Analytics. “These spaces are true game changers.”
Flexible classrooms, studios and labs, maker spaces and small group study spaces make up a dynamic learning environment, set on the nation’s most beautiful college campus.
The Gerald L. Francis Center was masterfully designed with a true emphasis on engaged and collaborative learning. Well-appointed classrooms and laboratory spaces support education for graduate students as well as continuing education courses for health care providers. These spaces are complemented by advanced research equipment and laboratories that serve as the backdrop for scholarly collaborations between faculty and students in the School of Health Sciences and the College of Arts & Sciences. —Becky Neiduski, dean of Elon’s School of Health Sciences
Seeing the expansion of the School of Communications during my time at Elon has been amazing. Getting to work in studios with professional equipment has not only prepared me for life after college but has also given me an edge over my peers at other universities. I’ve had internships in real newsrooms that closely mirror the work we do in our facilities, and the experience has been nothing short of incredible. —Grace Morris ’20