Monday, October 31, 2011

Presidential Perspectives

(This month's issue of Presidential Perspectives, a presidential thought series, published by Scott D. Miller and Marylouise Fennell with support of Aramark Higher Education). 

This month's chapter is titled "Circular Innovation in Challenging Times." 

Bethany Trivia

What is the Millenial Harbinger?

Click here to see the answer and other Bethany Trivia questions.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Faith of Our Founders: A Personal Homecoming

(West Virginia Wesleyan College Founders Day Convocation Address – by Dr. Scott D. Miller)

Good morning and thank you for that kind introduction, Bishop Weaver.  During my years as president of Wesley College, I had the pleasure of working with Bishop Weaver in extending the mission of United Methodist Higher Education.  It was an honor for me to work with him as a trustee of Wesley, a fellow graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan, and, at that time, President of the Council of Bishops nationally. 

The Wesleyan campus community is also fortunate to have the commitment of Pam and Patrick Balch.  President Balch is known and respected nationally by her peers.  The fact that she is an alumna of our Alma Mater brings special meaning because she “bleeds Orange and Black.”  I admire her for the wonderful job she has done leading West Virginia Wesleyan in extremely challenging times. 

To Trustees, faculty and staff, students, fellow alumni, and friends, it is an honor for me to return to my Alma Mater and to be with you this morning for the celebration of the 121st anniversary of the founding of Wesleyan.

I bring you greetings from Bethany College, in West Virginia’s Northern Panhandle—an institution defined, like Wesleyan, by the courageous work of founders who foresaw the lasting value of private, church-related higher education. It is a tribute to their founding vision, decades of tradition, and the quality of leading, teaching, and advising on these scenic and student-centered campuses that our institutions have endured so much, adapted to the times, yet remained true to our missions and values.  

Wesleyan and Bethany are among those small liberal arts colleges which have survived the tumult of wars, economic depression, and changing demographics. And so each Founders Day is an opportunity to affirm our promises of continuity to those who have gone before us, and have conveyed to us the gift of their trust, their labor, and their dreams.  

I am personally grateful to this College, and to the ones I have served as president, for the opportunity to participate in the ennobling,
yet humbling, tradition of independent higher education.

To be sure, I was very humble the first time I traveled to Buckhannon in August of 1977 to enroll as a freshman. There I was, a shy, skinny kid from a small town driving down Interstate 79 from northwestern Pennsylvania in my AMC Pacer—some of you remember the Pacer, it looked like something out of science fiction—hauling a cargo of less than half the belongings the typical freshman of today brings to college—alone, anxious, knowing no one upon arrival, not sure what to expect, what to do, where to go.  

I mulled the advice of my parents.  My father told me, “Have fun.”  My mother added, “Don’t hang around your room all the time. Get involved.” 

“Have fun.”  “Get involved.” I could do that.   

Because of pre-season cross country, I arrived on campus earlier than most freshmen.  The first face to greet me was veteran coach Hank Ellis.  Wearing a bright orange Bobcat sweatsuit, he met me with the same smile and warm feeling that he has thousands of prospective students over his decades of association with the College. 

Within a few days, I had settled in to the third floor of Jenkins Hall.  Half the floor was empty, awaiting other freshmen.  The remainder of the occupants were athletes, the likes of football standouts J.J. McGuire, Myron Williams, and Danny Williams and basketball stalwarts Jim Brogan, Tim Dixon and Rich Cameron who were all there and casting various impressions on the newbys. Although I was an unformed Bobcat, I knew I was at the right place.

My first class was something called the “Humanities Experience,” taught by Arminta Baldwin.  The syllabus stated that a major goal was to understand world cultures—which included Japan’s.  I am afraid that much of the content of the Japanese unit of the course was lost on me—that is, until years later when I found myself sitting in a Tokyo skyscraper negotiating with my counterparts from that nation. The “Humanities Experience” indeed had served me well. 

Wesleyan holds many wonderful memories. Watching college and professional football, World Series games and much more at "events" at the Phi Sig, Theta Xi, Theta Chi and Kappa Alpha houses; whitewater rafting on the New River; weekend trips to Audra Park and Stonecoal Lake; road trips all over West Virginia to away football and basketball games, including memorable trips, yes, to Morgantown.  Then there were the local “eateries”—The Center, Bobcat Lounge, the Depot, Pizza Shak and much more.  I could have been the poster child for the fun times in “Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.”

On-campus activities included all the latest Disco hits at dances at the “Top of the S.C.O.W.”; Vic Genre and the Stone Mansion Band was a campus favorite. I joined the debate team, talked sports and DJ’d on WVWC-FM, attended Community Council, took pictures and did page layout for the Murmurmontis, and joined the staff of the Pharos, writing a sports column titled "Miller Time," and eventually becoming editor-in-chief. My then-advisor, Mort Gamble, and I reminisce today about long Sunday nights at the Record-Delta proofing stories and pasting up layout sheets by hand for the next sensational edition of the Pharos. Digital graphic design was years away.

Through it all, Wesleyan worked its magic, and I was well on my way to being a proud alumnus of this institution. Although I could not imagine the specifics of what lay ahead in my life, I had the assurance of many on this campus, and in the wider Wesleyan community, that my four years here would be rewarding, influential, and just a lot of fun. And they were certainly right.

Most of all, the College’s liberal arts mission helped me to transcend my small-town roots. I left here with a working knowledge of different subjects, a curiosity about the world, and the tools of communication and research that served me well, first as a reporter and later as an educator.

Alumni of Wesleyan and other vibrant colleges tend to carry with them a sort of passport of their onetime campus identity. We may become citizens of our nation and world during the course of our lives, but somehow we always remain,
first and foremost, citizens of our undergraduate experiences. It is a tribute to the kind of enrichment that I found here that I have chosen a career in private higher education. Wesleyan inspired me to work to make that opportunity available to thousands of others for whom the independent college experience is nothing less than transformative.

But the world has profoundly changed in the three decades since I sat in these classrooms, and I would like to devote a few moments to sharing with you a bit of the independent college experience from another perspective—that of a college president of three institutions, for a total of 21 years.  In these years, higher education has come under increased scrutiny from the media, families, employers, and students themselves.   Stark realities have emerged that none of us in this Chapel can afford to ignore. And yet we find, too, the kind of opportunity that perhaps only the small, private, residential, liberal arts college can realize.

A recent survey commissioned by the Pew Foundation revealed decidedly mixed perceptions about the value of higher education that should cause all of us to take stock. On the one hand, alumni themselves believe that their investment in a four-year college education was worthwhile, and long-term salary statistics confirm that assessment. On the other, however, the public increasingly feels that a four-year college education is out of reach economically. Families fear that student loan interest rates will skyrocket, and the continued uncertainty surrounding Pell Grants adds to the perception that a college education may not be affordable. The opening of fall term this year, for me, represented the most unusual, unstable, and anxious recruitment cycle I have experienced in my entire career in higher education.

Meanwhile, colleges and universities struggle to define and communicate the worth of some disciplines, such as the humanities, that are often shelved in favor of more attractive—that is, lucrative—majors. As employers point to what they see as a mismatch between needed skills and preparation of college graduates, colleges must find creative solutions to marketing themselves in an economy slowly recovering from recession while remaining accessible for students who can benefit from a first-class, liberal arts education.

To borrow a phrase from Thomas Paine, and I’m sure President Balch will agree, these are the times that try college presidents’ souls.

Yet as my colleague Dr. Marylouise Fennell and I have discovered in editing the contributions of our colleagues for the publication Presidential Perspectives, many institutions are not only adapting to the new realities of higher education, but thriving.  As some economists are fond of saying about seizing opportunity amid uncertainty, higher education, too, can benefit from tough times. Dr. Jo Young Switzer, president of Manchester College, states: “A crisis is an opportunity to talk about change.”

Change we must. Around the nation, small colleges like Wesleyan and Bethany are discovering that if they do not manage change, change will manage them. Successful institutions are building collaborative partnerships with campus peers and professional associations; developing selected online, distance-learning, and graduate-degree programs; investing in continuing education options; benefiting from the value of energy conservation and sustainability of resources, and upgrading facilities to serve student expectations and support retention of enrollment. These institutions recognize the changing demographics of student populations—often older, non-traditional, career-established. Students may be multi-lingual, or come from other nations. And many of our new students represent the first generation in their families to attend college.

To thrive in today’s volatile higher-education environment, all of us in our campus communities must continually scan the landscape, and be alert to new possibilities and areas of vulnerability. The “window of opportunity” often closes rapidly; the margin for error is increasingly slim.

While our instructional tools and delivery systems may change, our greatest strength as a small-college community lies in our original reason for being—to communicate to our students the value and process of exploring our humanity, to convey the tools needed to roam purposefully across the range of knowledge and endeavor, to adapt to the ever-shifting career marketplace, and to pursue ongoing education in a world of astonishing change.

Bethany, like Wesleyan, annually hosts presentations by alumni and others with cutting-edge careers in business, communications, law, public service, and other fields. Without fail, our speakers underscore the value of lifelong study of more than just narrowly vocational subjects. The benefits of such mental discipline, they say, can range from holding one’s own in conversation at business functions, to thinking and communicating clearly, to establishing and managing multimillion-dollar companies. The ability to process the world through skills gained in the study of the liberal arts will sustain students regardless of how many jobs they hold—and for today’s college graduates, there will be many.

For me, coming “home” to Wesleyan is more than a sentimental journey. It is a very real continuation of the exploration of who I am, and I am here often in spirit. The friendships I developed through Wesleyan, both during my time as a student and thereafter, have continued to shape my life and career…Hank Ellis, Jim Warner of the Record-Delta, the late Betty Van Kirk, former president Tom Courtice, Harold and Sylvia Elmore, Bishop Peter Weaver, LeRoy Jones, Kent Carpenter, and Mort Gamble—my former advisor at Wesleyan, who 33 years later still serves as a senior advisor to me in the role of Assistant to the President at Bethany College.  Much like my own homecoming today, I welcome Mort Gamble back to the campus where he began his tremendous career in higher education that included vice presidential posts at three colleges.   Four of the trustees at my previous institution were Wesleyan graduates, including the President of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church. I proudly embrace the values and traditions of this College, enriching all of our lives.

I think we can contribute no greater good to our students than respect for the timeless ideals and faith of our founders. That is the gift that was given to me. Had I realized in 1977 the exciting possibilities arising from my time here, I would have driven my AMC Pacer much faster to “Sunnybuck.”  I did not know then, of course, what awaited me. My education proved to be the necessary intervention that informed, disciplined, and has sustained me in my personal journey.

To you, this special community of scholars across the generations, here in the heart of West Virginia, I therefore offer my profound gratitude for all that you mean to me, and all that you represent to those whom you serve so well.

Thank you for the opportunity to share this day with you, and may God bless our “home among the hills.”

#     #     #

October 14, 2011, Wesley Chapel, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Buckhannon, WV.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bethany Trivia

What championship did the women’s volleyball team win in the fall of 2010?

Click here to see the answer and other Bethany Trivia questions.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Bethany Trivia

What famous entrepreneur provided funds to build a library at Bethany College?
Click here to see the answer and other Bethany Trivia questions.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bethany Trivia

 Which opponent has Bethany defeated the most in football?

Click here to see the answer and other Bethany Trivia questions.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Presidential Perspectives

(This month's issue of Presidential Perspectives, a presidential thought series, published by Scott D. Miller and Marylouise Fennell with support of Aramark Higher Education). 

This month's chapter is titled "Cutting Our Way to Excellence? Unlikely." 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Bethany Trivia

What were the first buildings at Bethany College?

Click here to see the answer and other Bethany Trivia questions.

Bethany Meets the Challenge of Marketing in Tough Times

(The President's Letter, October 2011)

Addressing our September 8 Bethany College Fall Convocation audience—especially our students—Board of Trustees Chair Greg Jordan suggested that as we look over the menu of today’s bad headlines, we hold the despair.

Fluctuations in stock markets, unemployment figures, and other indicators of the nation’s financial health are cyclical and normal, Jordan, a native of Warwood, W.Va., and now global managing partner of Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith law firm, reminded us in his address, “You Can Get There from Here.” None should derail a student’s plans for success.

That’s wise advice for seniors about to enter one of the toughest job markets in American history—symptomatic of perilous economic conditions that nationwide are preventing many other students from committing to a four-year undergraduate program in the first place.

We hear a lot these days about affordability and value of higher education. At a time when our institutions continue to come under increased scrutiny from the media, families, employers, and students themselves, outcomes and perceived value are paramount concerns.  A recent survey commissioned by the Pew Foundation revealed decidedly mixed perceptions about the value of higher education that should cause the industry to take stock. On the one hand, alumni themselves believe that their investment in a four-year college education is worthwhile, and long-term salary statistics confirm that assessment. On the other, however, the public increasingly feels that a four-year college education is out of reach economically. As with much else in our economy, consumer perception and confidence drive purchases.

Confronting these challenges, colleges and universities have had to adopt new business models. Writing in Presidential Perspectives, which my colleague Dr. Marylouise Fennell and I edit, President and CEO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) John Walda states, “What has changed, dramatically and positively, is the way we in higher education do business. Higher education institutions have been exploring new financial and educational delivery models at an unprecedented pace…finding new and innovative ways to respond to student need, often while simultaneously cutting operating costs.”

Whether partnering with other institutions, outsourcing services, or simply relying on bold strategic planning, colleges and universities have no choice but to manage change before it manages them.

At Bethany, we work hard every day to manage change effectively, and we are succeeding.  Our vital indicators are strong—in enrollment, fundraising, outcomes assessment, program innovation, and quality of campus life. Our strengths led again this fall to a top-tier, national liberal arts listing in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of America’s best colleges. In a challenging career marketplace, our students benefit from the strength of instruction and mentoring found only at Bethany. Our graduating seniors have secured superb positions with major companies around the nation; right behind them are juniors and seniors whom we’ve placed in exciting internships in New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and other cities.  Most of our graduates (over 90 percent) are employed or enrolled in graduate programs within six months of graduation. 

The College’s reputation as a highly effective undergraduate institution of national distinction is also confirmed through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a study that compares Bethany with other colleges and universities.  The findings, based on what the students themselves are saying about Bethany, speak to our quality and bolster Bethany’s mission and reputation as a small campus of academic rigor, strong student engagement, and substantial outcomes.  Bethany students are outperforming peers in key benchmarked questions, scoring from 11 to 20 percentage points higher than those at similar peer institutions in selected indicators.

Much of the reason is that for the students who make the sometimes difficult decision to enroll in college, we are making every effort to help them succeed. After his Fall Convocation address at Bethany, Greg Jordan hosted an afternoon panel of top-flight business professionals for an audience packed with students. He and his colleagues covered career-wise topics such as clear communication, appreciation for other cultures, keeping up with technology, and the importance of volunteering. That’s the kind of “value-added” feature that market-minded colleges are making available these days.

Bethany continues to lead such efforts, working from a sound, 10-year strategic plan and benefiting from dedicated faculty, a major investment in campus facility upgrades, innovative programs and affiliations, and the comfort and strength of our own special traditions and sense of purpose as a vibrant college community.  We need to do more, and we will. But as we proceed through our fall term and look forward to an exciting Homecoming Weekend just days away, we can be thankful that our reputation for excellence precedes us and sustains us. In our 172nd year, Bethany’s heart beats strong.  From a marketing perspective, and many others, that is very good news indeed!