Dr. Toro Looks Back, Then Forward in Year Two
There is no shortage of successes to report one year into Dr. Zulma R. Toro’s tenure as president of CCSU, but what she cites as her top achievement goes beyond enrollment figures and fundraising dollars.
“The most important thing has been to develop that sense of community, that sense of the Central family. What I am the most proud of is that I think now it’s more of a family feeling and people are more engaged,” Toro explains.
Toro points to recent enrollment numbers as another point of pride; for the Spring 2018 semester, full-time equivalent enrollment rose 1.2 percent, the highest increase among the state’s four universities for the same period. The University also posted the highest uptick in enrollment compared to its peers in Fall 2017, with an increase 1.7 percent in full-time equivalent enrollment.
“I am very pleased with the way our team has worked with enrollment and the support we have received from all the faculty and staff,” Toro says.
Toro set four major goals for the University at this year’s convocation: to maintain academic excellence; to increase enrollment; to develop new sources of revenue; and to deepen CCSU’s engagement with the surrounding community. She is pleased to report progress in all four areas, plus some additional developments.
Maintaining Academic Excellence
The University will introduce new academic programs, expand some others, and explore additional options in pursuit of its goal toward maintaining academic excellence.
Toro points to changing attitudes among students as an important factor to consider going forward.
“Today’s generation would like to have a more flexible curriculum; because they have so many different and competing academic interests, we are trying to determine if there are other programs that will help or be more attractive to them,” she explains.
New programs will be crafted to better prepare students to fill jobs in-state.
“We have received approval for a number of programs,” Toro says, “but, more importantly, we continue to develop new programs that will meet the workforce needs of Connecticut.”
She cites two new programs as examples: a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering and a Master of Science in Engineering.
The Faculty Senate also is reviewing an academic plan commissioned by Toro and assembled by the deans and the provost. Upon completing its review — likely by the end of the spring semester — the senate will recommend additional academic programs to launch in the next five years.
Other initiatives include the expansion of the Honors and Graduate programs. Meanwhile, the University will continue to build on its strong student-faculty partnerships.
“Faculty continue to excel in terms of their scholarly work and their work with students in different high-impact initiatives like undergraduate research,” Toro says. “That enriches the educational experience we offer quite a bit.”
Enrollment and Student Outreach
The state’s unpredictable budget situation underscores the importance of healthy enrollment numbers, and Toro remains focused on boosting numbers for Fall 2018. Building off the success of last fall’s inaugural and subsequent Admitted Students Days, plans are in the works to host more events for prospective students. Key to the success of such events has been the enthusiastic participation of faculty.
“Thankfully, we have a committed faculty and staff team,” Toro says. “It’s unbelievable how many people were there welcoming our prospective students and their families.”
Toro initially set a goal of 15,000 students enrolled by the year 2022. That goal has been pushed up one year to 2023, based on recent projections. Still, Toro is optimistic the university will achieve that goal, thanks to a number of initiatives under way, including ever-increasing collaborations with schools in the central Connecticut region.
“We are establishing a strong partnership with K-12 schools in New Britain, Hartford, and other areas, and we just concluded a new project with West Hartford, which will facilitate the transition of students from West Hartford to Central,” Toro explains.
The collaboration also includes the community colleges.
“We’re working diligently in establishing a very strong partnership with some of the community colleges,” Toro says. The plan is to establish a clear pathway for students who start in a community college to transfer to Central and ensure all their community college credits will go toward their CCSU degree.
Another enrollment strategy is to integrate diversity-related studies into the University’s curricula in an effort to make Central “a welcoming place where everyone is respected and embraced,” according to Toro. Part of that effort includes the recent allocation of Diversity Curriculum Development Grants to 11 faculty members.
“It is my hope that the programs supported by these grants will spur innovative thinking that will help our students live, and thrive, in our increasingly diverse society,” Toro says. “It’s very important for us to be able to help students from every ethnic group, from every socioeconomic level to be successful.”
Big plans are in the works to expand and strengthen CCSU’s relationship with the greater community. Indeed, one plan will see CCSU acquire some additional real estate downtown to house a community health center.
“This is a collaborative effort including the nursing department, the psychology department, and other departments,” Toro explains. The center, slated to open at 106 Main St., will offer mental and physical health services and wellness programs provided by CCSU nursing students and Psychology Department faculty.
The recently approved Center for Social and Emotional Learning within the School of Education and Professional Studies will complement the work of the health center by preparing teachers and administrators the skills needed to serve students affected by trauma.
Toro also continues to meet with the business community of New Britain to develop ways in which Central might contribute to city’s economic success.
“We hope to better understand how Central can leverage our resources to help them, because if we have a very healthy, for example, manufacturing sector, that will create jobs, and that will help our communities.”
Back on campus, Toro has charged the Faculty Senate’s Community Engagement Committee to launch another grant opportunity for funding that will allow faculty to integrate some kind of community engagement element into their classes. The committee is reviewing grant applications now, and winners will be announced soon.
Fundraising and Alumni
Toro says the University is well positioned financially.
“We have been doing quite well in the area of fundraising,” she says. “Our endowment is increasing, and we are about to launch formally our comprehensive fundraising campaign.”
That campaign will include multiple goals, Toro says, including raising funds to support scholarships, additional facilities, and to increase the University endowment, currently estimated at $80 million.
Toro also will continue to meet with alumni and potential donors in selected cities throughout the United States. Thus far, Toro has visited groups in Colorado, California, and Florida, and plans to visit Atlanta, Ga., among other destinations later this spring.
CCSU alumni, Toro notes, are unique in their dedication to the University.
“They are very proud to have a degree from Central or to have attended Central, and they are very committed to the institution. And they would like the institution to do well and that’s why they give back. They believe it’s the right thing to do and they believe in what we do in providing individuals opportunities for higher education.”
Beyond Toro’s four main goals, she has oversight of multiple construction projects that are under way on campus.
Renovations to Willard-Diloreto Hall are “right on schedule,” Toro says. “We are hoping to move back there less than a year from now.”
Toro broke ground on a new recreation center at the site of the former Kaiser Annex this fall. The center will replace the “Bubble” sports facility.
“Hopefully, 13 months from now, we will be holding the opening ceremony for the recreation center,” Toro says.
Other planned projects in the next two years include the renovation of Barnard Hall and construction of a new engineering building next to the Elihu Burritt Library. “We will be able to connect the library with that building,” Toro adds. “And we will also be working on a small addition to the library.”
Toro also plans to launch a task force that will examine how parking on campus might be improved. A design is ready for another parking garage on Manafort Drive, but construction is about two years out.
More projects are likely forthcoming.
“As we speak we are evaluating other needs we have that were included in the previous Master Facilities Plan that we have not been able to get funding for,” Toro states, “but we are in need of some additional facilities, and we are in the process of identifying those priorities and coming up with a plan for funding.”
Athletics & More
Last May, Toro formed a task force and charged it with studying the sustainability of the CCSU athletics program. Six months later, the University announced its Blue Devil Athletics Sustainability Plan, which calls for, among other things, the elimination of the men’s and women’s golf teams. CCSU will remain a Division I NCAA program.
Toro cites the changing nature of higher education as a main driver of the changes to Athletics.
“The model we had up to now for our athletics program is not sustainable. The landscape of higher education in Connecticut has changed, and we have to adapt to those changes,” she says.
Still, the decision to eliminate any team was not an easy one to make.
“I understand that change is difficult for people,” Toro notes, “but I am always trying to think about the greater good when I make decisions and to consider what is in the best interest of our institution and our students, because that is my responsibility as president.”
She commends the task force for its diligence on a project that required many difficult decisions and quite a bit of foresight.
“I think that under all the constraints we have to work with, the task force did a great job, and we have put a plan on the table that, if we are able to implement every element of that plan, we can have a sustainable athletics program. And that’s what people need to understand.”
Another task force Toro commissioned has members outlining ways in which food services can provide students with better alternatives that will enhance their experience on campus. Since its first meeting in August, the task force has provided Toro with some preliminary recommendations, mainly related to locations and hours of operation. A more comprehensive list of recommendations is due in a few weeks, but based on what she’s read and heard so far, Toro expects ideas that are going to be “very much outside of the box, and I am looking forward to those.”
Gratitude and Lessons Learned
While Toro did not expect certain challenges as a new president — such as the rapid decline of the state’s financial situation — she relies on her 25 years of experience to weather such storms.
“The budget situation was a huge surprise. I needed to really manage that surprise and move on, but it taught me a little bit more about how flexible you have to be as a leader. Twenty-five years ago, I wanted results right away; today I am more realistic and I know that change in higher education doesn’t happen overnight and that’s a lesson life has taught me.”
Despite the year’s challenges, Toro remains grateful for the opportunities her presidency presents every day.
“Every day I am thankful for the opportunity to serve the people of Connecticut as president of Central Connecticut State University,” Toro says. “But I am also thankful for the opportunity to change lives because, after all, that’s what keeps me going every morning: the possibility of impacting the lives of individuals and helping them to achieve their goals in life.”