Although we college presidents are often expected to play Santa to our multiple constituents, we also have holiday wishes of our own. Mindful that the Grinch is often lurking on or near our campuses, I submit my Christmas list in hopes that Bethany College and West Virginia’s other higher education institutions will be rewarded for being good this year….
First on any college president’s list is an improved economic outlook. Despite the best efforts of enrollment management professionals and availability of privately funded scholarships, continued financial challenges make it difficult for many families to plan for college. Add to that the uncertainty surrounding federal student aid, and the accompanying perception that a four-year undergraduate education may be out of reach financially.
The good news is that consumer confidence is edging back up, and that foretells a slightly more optimistic enrollment outlook for next fall. All things considered, Bethany and many other private colleges are doing well in maintaining enrollment. But admissions-sensitive colleges (and that includes most private institutions) will be wise to remain fiscally conservative as they approach their new budget years in 2012.
Second on my list is the availability of discretionary funds for institutional giving. For college presidents and their advancement officers, gifts are necessary—not optional. But for consumers, even our loyal alumni and friends, a rollercoaster stock market and higher prices can drive down current gifts and delay campaign pledge commitments. Numbers for 2010 giving tell the story: According to the Council for Aid to Education, America’s colleges and universities raised $28 billion in 2010; however, with adjustment for inflation, giving actually declined 0.6 percent.
If institutions ride along with a boost in retail sales during the current holiday season, traditionally a strong time for end-of-year annual gifts to colleges, those numbers may improve for 2011. Meanwhile, it behooves colleges and universities to strengthen their cases for funding and to take no donor or gift for granted.
Third, Santa, will you help us identify new funding programs for international education? The integration of international markets and fast-moving political, economic, and social developments on all continents compel our students to be more engaged than ever in the complex issues that will confront them as global citizens. Bethany College has expanded overseas collaborations, increased on-campus programming for multinational cultural enrichment, and launched a series of initiatives with International Relief & Development, an agency in Arlington, VA, headed by Bethany alumnus and trustee Dr. Arthur B. Keys, Jr. Our first campus Light Up Night presented holiday greetings from students representing various faiths.
Educational institutions must do much more programmatically to make students not only aware of the world, but proactive in it. Their future careers will benefit from the ability to process and understand events and trends with global significance.
Fourth under my holiday tree would be some assistance in preserving the liberal arts by marketing them effectively. Central to a president’s job at a liberal arts college is leading the dialogue about the importance of lifelong, integrated, humanities-enriched education; safeguarding the teaching and funding of such subjects; inspiring strategic planning and institutional programs that recognize and preserve the value of the humanities, and finding innovative ways to communicate their importance to the general public.
Our nation will benefit from sound policy-making and responsible stewardship engendered by the broad perspectives of history and other humanities-based study. Answers to complex, interrelated economic, political, and environmental issues cannot come from a single perspective. Subjects in the humanities, with their emphasis on research, analysis, and communication, invite and permit multiple perspectives for practical problem-solving for the good of all.
Finally, I wish for all colleges and universities—large and small, public and private—the ability to serve our students well amid the myriad social changes and challenges finding their way to our campus doors. Although higher education offers much to many, it cannot be all things to everyone. Today’s college students benefit from technology, counseling, elaborate student centers, new residence halls, career services, and other campus support systems unavailable to previous generations. Living and learning on a college campus are not necessarily easier than they once were, but they are more efficiently accomplished.
It is still up to the student to make the most of his or her collegiate experience, and to take full advantage of the tools of modern education through disciplined study habits and the maturity that comes from responsible social behavior.
I realize this is a tall order, Santa, but our campus resources—like the Grinch’s heart—are sometimes two sizes too small. My fellow college presidents and I would be grateful for the assistance. Our record of success speaks for itself; for again this year, we have been, for the most part, very good at what we do.
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Dr. Scott D. Miller is President and M.M. Cochran Professor of Leadership Studies at Bethany College. A graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College, he has served as president of three private liberal arts colleges during the past 21 years.