Monday, January 16, 2012

A College President’s Wishes for the New Year

(The State Journal, January 2012 - by Scott D. Miller)

The arrival of a new calendar year may inspire less celebration at colleges than elsewhere; our “new year” traditionally begins in August. Nevertheless, the start of 2012 is an opportune time to read current trends and, perhaps, to hope for better ones.

This is my new year’s wish list from Bethany College….

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 can benefit from the boost in consumer confidence evident during the recent holiday season, giving numbers may improve for 2012. Meanwhile, it behooves colleges and universities to strengthen their cases for funding and to take no donor or gift for granted.

Third, funding for programs in international education would be welcome. 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.

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 on my list for the new year would be 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.

My fellow college presidents and I would be grateful for positive movement on all of the above. The last couple of years have been challenging, but our record of success speaks for itself. When all is said and done, higher education remains one of the best investments around—giving all of us a reason for optimism at the beginning of 2012.

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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.

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 "A College Education: Systems Thinking and Thinking Systems." 

Bethany Trivia

How tall is Old Main Tower?

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

“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” James Thurber

Friday, January 6, 2012

Partnering for Success: Bethany College Confronts a Changing Landscape

(Enrollment Manager, January 2012 – by Scott D. Miller)

Founded in the rugged foothills of one of the world’s ancient mountain ranges, Bethany College is West Virginia’s oldest private institution of higher education — older, even, than the state itself — with its creation in 1840. Since its beginning, Bethany has earned a reputation as the only liberal arts college in West Virginia to have achieved national prominence. Its long history of resilient response to challenges confronting the nation — the Civil War, the World Wars, Great Depression and more — has developed in the College some of its greatest assets, including flexibility and a keen awareness of the changing realities impacting the liberal arts.
Today, when so many private colleges have been forced to change course in the face of significant economic hurdles, Bethany has instead remained true to its mission, advancing the remarkable vision of its founders while maintaining contemporary relevance.
Guided by a comprehensive institutional review completed in 2008 and a subsequent 10-year Master Plan, Bethany continues to expand strategically upon its educational offerings. As a result, student enrollment — the most vital indicator of college growth — has increased in quantity and quality. Since the implementation of the Master Plan, total attendance has increased from 803 to 1,020, the largest headcount since 1976-77.
Among Bethany’s recent transformative ventures is a series of vital partnerships. Drawing on its national reputation, the College has spearheaded a variety of synergistic collaborations throughout the country and across the globe. Such agreements work to provide greater service to students while strengthening Bethany’s visibility and impact, directly affecting its enrollment efforts.
Bethany’s latest enrollment-related initiatives include articulation agreements with West Virginia Northern Community College and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The plan establishes a Junior Year College Affiliate Program and Transfer of Credit Agreement that enables qualified Bethany College students to pursue specific Junior Year College Affiliate Programs at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh — and defines a path enabling graduates from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh to articulate seamlessly into Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs being offered at Bethany College. After completion of the Junior Year option, during which time Bethany participants study in one of 15 selected programs such as advertising, fashion and retail management, game art and design, hotel and restaurant management, or industrial or interior design, students return to Bethany to complete their senior year and all graduation requirements.
The College has also re-affirmed professional articulation, or “seamless study,” agreements with Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University and Duquesne University, providing greater options for students with sights set on graduate school. Such initiatives also enhance Bethany’s marketability and potential enrollment pool.
Students in Bethany’s engineering program, for example, may choose to earn both a bachelor’s degree from Bethany and a B.S. in engineering from Case Western Reserve University or Columbia University after completing a five-year sequence of study. Participants spend three years in the liberal arts environment at Bethany and then attend one of the participating universities for two years.
Bethany has partnered with Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., to offer an innovative three-three program that allows students to complete three years of undergraduate work at Bethany and then enter the Duquesne University Law School for completion of the J.D. degree after three more years of study (four years in the Evening Division). Students earn a bachelor’s degree from Bethany after successfully finishing their first year of the law program.  
Significant expansion of distance learning and continuing education programs also offer increased marketing possibilities for Bethany. Students can now take summer online courses through Bethany’s participation in the Online Consortium of Independent Colleges and Universities. With up to 12 credit hours to choose from, this program enhances Bethany’s course offerings and availability to students.
Bethany also continues to strengthen key ties with prestigious colleges and universities across the world. With strong relationships in 18 foreign countries, Bethany is moving steadily toward a global studies requirement. The College joined the InterAmerican Consortium, consisting of seven American and 11 institutions worldwide to foster global collaboration for students, faculty and staff. Bethany also has an agreement with Harlaxton College in the United Kingdom in which 15 American colleges partner to offer a variety of innovative programs on Harlaxton’s castle-like campus. Participants study British and European cultures and learn about them first-hand as they complete an extensive travel component throughout Europe.
Closer to home, exciting academic initiatives are flourishing. Business and economic majors, for instance, now have the rare opportunity to serve as investment professionals responsible for a $1 million endowment as part of the McCann Family Student Investment Fund. As participants apply their classroom learning to the real world of investment management, with support from an expert advisory council, they gain valuable experience researching stocks, making responsible investment recommendations and executing trades. The fund, established by dedicated alumnus Robert McCann and his wife Cindy,  made Bethany the first college in West Virginia to offer a student-led investment opportunity of its kind — and one of only a handful of small colleges across the nation to do so.      
Bethany recently launched its first graduate degree, a fully accredited Master of Arts (MAT) in Teaching. This progressive program serves as a valuable enhancement to the College’s ability to serve education majors and liberal arts graduates in all areas who aspire to teach. Degree-holding individuals who wish to advance their careers find significant professional development opportunity through the MAT, which also enables participants to acquire teaching certification in their area of expertise. The program coheres smoothly with Bethany’s liberal arts mission, affirming teaching not only as a profession, but also as an act of service to the greater community.   
Also visible on Bethany’s historic campus are significant physical improvements tailored to the expectations of the modern student. In the past few years, the College has completed more than $3 million in recreation and athletic enhancements, including artificial turf, lights, a rubberized track and field upgrades at Bison Stadium, a new softball field, expanded weight and locker room facilities, and a new 24-hour fitness center. The school also acquired and renovated the town’s former Bethany School, transforming it into the new Judith R. Hurl Education Center, home to the teacher education program.
To support growing enrollment, Bethany has expanded parking  throughout campus, and a $4.5 million renovation of Cochran Hall, built in 1910, was completed in summer 2010. The re-opening celebrated the creation of modern, suite-style student housing for 72 additional students in the heart of the campus.
One more powerful example of Bethany’s ability to strengthen its national and international stature by capitalizing on local resources is the College’s equestrian offering, which utilizes the 160-acre Pegasus Farm Equestrian Center only four miles away. This award-winning program is  a highly visible recruiting and enrollment  feature, with more than 20 declared majors and minors and a membership of over 40 riders in the traveling Equestrian Club Team who earn top placements in competitions throughout the world. 
With the total of new students in each of the past three years comprising the largest classes since the mid-1970s, a current student population reported to be the most diverse in Bethany’s history by federal standards, a much wider geographical representation than in past years, and an incoming class academic profile that was the finest in 11 years, Bethany College is poised for continued success in this new era of higher education. At the heart of the College’s enrollment strategy is its ability to draw upon and develop the energy inherent in both its local and global landscapes in a constructive, forward manner, allowing each to strengthen the other. This cyclical process respects the setting and values in which Bethany was founded while also developing the broad impact that gives Bethany its national and international significance, placing it among the best liberal arts institutions in the nation.
The challenges confronting the liberal arts and potential enrollment pool — including economic distress and an increasingly unpredictable job market — may limit the public’s confidence in the power of a college education. But they also make the founding function and effective enrollment strategy of Bethany as a liberal arts college more necessary than, perhaps, ever before: to educate intelligent, informed citizens prepared to use their talents to benefit humanity as they honor their responsibility to go forth and serve the greater world.
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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.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions at Bethany College

(The President's Letter, January 2012)

The arrival of a new year is a challenge for many of us as we address the latest—and perhaps longstanding—resolutions for our personal well being, and look ahead to the possibilities that begin in January.

For those of us at Bethany College, the start of a new calendar year is actually the mid-point in the annual cycle of classes, exams, and campus activities. Yet with the three-week January Term and the spring semester which immediately follows, we find ourselves making a fresh beginning—rededicating our campus resources to providing the highest quality education possible for our students. Ahead, amid all of the promise and excitement that unfold during the spring season at beautiful Bethany, will be convocations and celebrations devoted to Founder’s Day, honors and awards, the Scott Lectures, Baccalaureate and Commencement.

To paraphrase the poet Robert Frost, however, we will have many miles to travel before we can rest at semester’s end. And so on behalf of the Bethany community, let me offer a few resolutions for the new year as we begin the 173rd year of Bethany’s history—and my fifth as president of this amazing small college of national distinction.

First, let us resolve to do best that which we do best—teach well. Our students choose Bethany largely because of our excellent national reputation. Although the latest science labs, library databases, and campus improvements support learning, it is our commitment to strong pedagogy that transfers knowledge and transforms thinking. Bethany is blessed with an outstanding faculty who bring alive the latest scholarship in time-honored classroom settings.

Second, we must continue to focus on finances. My financial philosophy—being resource aggressive, but fiscally conservative—is helping Bethany weather the challenges of an uncertain economy, a rollercoaster stock market, and families calculating how to pay for their children’s education. We owe our students every opportunity to succeed—and that begins with abundant and available scholarships and financial aid. I offer a special thank you to our alumni and friends who step up every year to fund existing scholarships or to establish new ones.

Third, I hope in 2012 that a sense of common purpose, including a commitment to service, will continue to unite the members of the Bethany College community. Small colleges exist in part because they are not intended to be large universities. The Bethany advantage—small classes, personalized instruction and advising, campus activities that promote leadership—helps to define us, as it has over the 17 decades of our history.

A winter food drive headed by the campus interfaith club, The Connection, raised 250 pounds of canned and non-perishable items. Connection President Annie Grogan reported that “almost the entire student body contributed something to the food drive,” which benefited local families at Christmas. That’s the kind of community effort that makes me proud of Bethany, and enriches the campus experience for all of us.

Finally, I think a good resolution for us all is to be the best ambassadors we can for Bethany. When we speak to alumni, parents and families, prospective students, academic colleagues, and potential funders of our programs, we have a lot to brag about. Bethany is a special place that accomplishes much, sometimes with very little. As student Annie Grogan says of the successful food drive, “something that seems so small for us can be something big for others.”

Conversely, when you consider our past and the almost insurmountable odds that our founders overcame in establishing and then maintaining Bethany College, something that may loom large for us today may prove to be small in the long view of history. Our predecessors endured much to bring us to this exciting point in our institutional story—a narrative of achievement that is still being written in the words and deeds of Bethanians everywhere.

May the year 2012 be everything you wish it to be. And may Bethany College continue to be an inspiring light that shines bright and reaches far from our hilltop home.

Happy New Year!

Bethany Trivia

Which Bethany buildings are listed National Historic Landmarks?

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