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President's Message | Reports & Announcements


September 12, 2013

 TO: Campus Community
 FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
 SUBJECT: Fall Semester Update


With the fall semester firmly under way, we again welcome everyone back to AU—where our campus appearance, academic standing, and student profile are dramatically changing.

New Class
For the first time in AU history, more freshman students hail from Texas and California than from Maryland and Virginia, making our profile increasingly national (and international; see below). In this new class, almost 30 percent come from the southern and western states, 10.6 percent are first generation, and 29.8 percent are minority. The average GPA is 3.74, up from 3.40 only 10 years ago. You can learn more about this year’s freshman class in American magazine.

Other noteworthy numbers show AU’s percentage of international undergraduates climbing to almost 11 percent and the percentage of minority undergraduates increasing to 25.4 percent, a jump of almost 8 percent over the past 10 years.

Faculty Quality
We welcomed 80 new faculty of outstanding quality to campus this fall, including 23 tenured or tenure-track professors. You can read about their research, scholarship, and varied academic interests in a story on the AU home page.

Facilities Enhancements
Our newest residence hall and newly renovated hall (Cassell and Nebraska Halls, respectively) opened this semester, putting us on the path to meet our commitment to the District of Columbia to house two-thirds of our undergraduates by fall 2016. Our AU Eagle student-athletes also returned to campus with updated locker rooms and dedicated space for each sport. New dining options were introduced by AU’s new food service vendor (Aramark), and new venues in the tunnel are on the way in just a few months.

AU’s presence in Northwest D.C. will hit a milestone in late September, when WAMU 88.5 moves its broadcast operations to 4401 Connecticut Avenue and begins airing all programs from this new home, adjacent to the Van Ness Metro site. WAMU 88.5 joins Development and Alumni Relations and University Communications and Marketing in the renovated facility, which is across the street from the University of the District of Columbia.

Next in the queue is a January 2014 opening of the School of Communication’s newly renovated McKinley Building. Meanwhile, demolition has begun on the Tenley campus for the Washington College of Law’s new home, slated to open for fall semester 2015. These projects are among the more than one million square feet of space to be built or renovated over the next five years to support AU’s academic programs, strategic plan goals, and community service commitments.

The start of every academic year brings a number of popular efforts to compare colleges and universities on a variety of measures. While the criteria and accuracy for each foster constant debate, we are pleased with external recognition of AU’s education, teaching, learning, and service strengths that also notes tangible markers of our momentum and progress.

Among those recognizing AU this fall is US News & World Report, whose 2014 edition ranks us 75th among national universities, a climb of some 24 places in the past 10 years, with AU cited among the 31 national leaders for study abroad programs. In the 2014 QS World University Rankings of the world’s top 800 research universities, AU moved up more than 100 positions overall on the strength of nominations by employers and academics. And AU is ranked among the top 200 institutions in the world for subjects including politics and international studies, law and legal studies, and sociology.

In applauding our campus sustainability efforts, the Sierra Club has AU on its Top 10 Coolest Schools list. We also appear on Princeton Review’s 2014 Green Honor Roll. Teach for America cites AU among its top 20 medium-sized universities for students entering their education service program. And AU is identified as a 2014 Military Friendly School (by Victory Media, which focuses on helping veterans transition to civilian life) and ranks in the top 20 percent (among 10,000 schools nationwide) doing the most to embrace military service members, veterans, and spouses as students to ensure their success on campus.

Affordability and Reduction of Student Debt
By limiting tuition increases and increasing financial aid dollars for the next two years, AU is working to help students reduce debt levels. For the second consecutive year, the average debt of AU graduates with loans declined from the previous year. Members of the Class of 2012 who took out loans had an average debt 8 percent lower than borrowers in the Class of 2011 and 15 percent lower than the Class of 2009. Financial literacy programs, the education of families about the cumulative effect of private loan debt, and the tools provided by the Department of Education all helped. The loan default rate of AU graduates is very low (2.9 percent) compared with the national average (13.4 percent), and 45 percent of AU graduates have no loan debt at graduation. For more on AU’s efforts to increase affordability and reduce student debt, please refer to our updated college affordability site.

Middle States Review
Every 10 years American University undergoes an extensive reaccreditation process to ensure high standards and characteristics of excellence in higher education as identified by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. AU began this endeavor with Middle States over a year ago with the creation of a steering committee, the submission of a self-study design, the assignment of subcommittees for each chapter, and the ensuing research and writing of chapter drafts. A first draft of the comprehensive report will be available for campus review and comment in October, after which edits will be made to prepare for the final report completion date of January 2014, in preparation for a site visit by the review team in March 2014.

In writing this report, our objective is to describe how American University is meeting accreditation standards as we outline the transformation of AU now under way and chronicle the progress made and where improvements are needed. More information will be forthcoming in October.

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) completed the annual financial audit of the university and issued a positive unqualified opinion. The PwC team indicated that the university’s financial position is very strong and its financial management first rate. Such an outstanding report on AU’s financial and management structures is a strong affirmation of our past performance, our system of appropriate checks and balances, and future strength.

AU Wonk of the Year 2013

AU’s second annual Wonk of the Year award will be presented to CNN’s Anderson Cooper during the Kennedy Political Union’s event at All-American Weekend on Saturday, October 19. Cooper follows President Bill Clinton, the award’s inaugural recipient in 2012. Free tickets for faculty, staff, and students must be obtained in advance; parents and alumni can purchase tickets to the event as part of registration for All-American Weekend. More information is online.

AU Night at the Nats
Marking the second year of our partnership with the Washington Nationals, we recently celebrated AU Night at Nationals Park. Students, alumni, staff and faculty converged for a proud night of red and white (and blue). Highlights of the event appear online. Fans appreciated WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi throwing out the first pitch, Professor Art Shapiro’s “Wonk challenge,” and the debut of AU’s new video, Sleepy College Town.


At the end of September, the AU Board of Trustees will hold its annual retreat and fall meeting, and I expect to follow up with another update shortly thereafter.

Strategic Plan

AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit for more information. ( login required for some documents)

Read the Strategic Plan

view objectives, years 7 & 8

Building a Better AU

Visit the Building AU website to read about facilities projects that support AU’s academic aspirations and enhance campus ambiance. You can also learn more about AU's Campus Plan.

Building AU

watch video