Friday, February 17, 2012

“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everyone.” Bill Cosby

What Colleges, Universities Want the Public to Know

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

With the current election year, among other topics, capturing  headlines and media analysis, it’s sometimes challenging for other newsworthy stories to receive the coverage they deserve.

A prominent example is higher education. Aside from high-profile scandals, spectacular jumps in tuition costs or significant research breakthroughs, much of the news about colleges and universities escapes the attention of the mainstream media. Not only is this news generally good, but it directly impacts families and their daily lives all across America.

As a former reporter, I know well how and why certain stories are assigned in the newsroom. As a college president, however, I also appreciate the little-publicized but substantial achievements of higher education—as well as their related challenges—that deserve the public’s attention.  Here are some examples:

Service to first-generation and at-risk students. An estimated 30 percent of all freshman college students are the first in their families to enroll in higher education, many coming from low-income backgrounds. In addition to offering plentiful financial aid, many institutions have designed special programs for the “first-generation” students, who can be at higher risk for leaving college in the early semesters. Transitional courses and specialized counseling in the freshman year, such as that offered by Bethany College, first-year learning communities and regular outreach to parents and families improve these students’ prospects for success. Bethany has joined many other colleges around the nation not only in recruiting first-generation students but also forecasting their success once they are enrolled.

Affordability, however, remains a critical challenge. Uncertainty about the future of Pell Grants and other federal student aid has fueled perceptions that a four-year undergraduate experience might be out of reach financially, and lingering effects of the recession have slowed some private giving for scholarships.

Service to communities. During the last two decades, student volunteer service has transformed how many campuses interact with their communities. No longer just an extracurricular option for students, service is now an expected component of career preparation and leadership development. Last year, more than two-thirds of Bethany College students participated in some type of service activity, including projects focusing on the environment, housing and homelessness, hunger, international relief, K-12 education, mental health, tutoring, youth mentoring, services to elders and substance abuse. As a result of the College’s ongoing commitment to service, the Corporation for
National and Community Service recently named Bethany a national leader among institutions of higher learning for its support of volunteering, service learning, and civic engagement.

Because sustainability of volunteer initiatives can be a challenge, many campuses, such as Bethany, engage student managers for their service centers.

Engines of “greenovation.”  Is your business or organization committed to going green? Look to higher education for inspiration—and practical examples of cost-effective ways to conserve resources. Over 670 higher education institutions have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), which is identifying workable campus projects to reach milestone environmental objectives—including drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions. With well-developed tools of research, experimentation and operational role modeling, colleges and universities can serve as innovative resources to help provide transformational leadership to overcome global threats to the environment.  “No other institution in society,” says the ACUPCC, “has the influence, the critical mass and the diversity of skills needed to be successful.”

Institutions need to budget for sustainable projects, however, and financing remains a formidable challenge to green initiatives on many campuses.

Model collaborators. Think it’s impossible for anyone to get along in America today? Look to higher education for models of collaboration that increase academic options and save money for students and their institutions. Bethany’s enrollment initiatives include articulation agreements with West Virginia Northern Community College and the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. The College has also re-affirmed professional articulation, or “seamless study,” agreements with Case Western Reserve University, Columbia University, Carnegie Mellon University and Duquesne University, providing greater options for students with sights set on graduate school. Such initiatives not only enhance Bethany’s marketability and potential enrollment pool, but they also save students time and money in shopping around for convenient and affordable academic options in fields as diverse as engineering, advertising, fashion and retail management, game art and design, hotel and restaurant management and industrial or interior design.

Colleges and universities cannot be all things to everyone, though. The challenge is to focus marketing resources on programs of high enrollment yield—responding to public demand while remaining true, as much as possible, to traditional missions.

Amid the daily blast of headlines competing for attention, the public may sometimes have to search for the less sensational but substantive news generated by colleges and universities. We in the higher education industry can be proud of our contributions to effective teaching, research and service; despite the challenges we face, we can guarantee that our news will generally continue to be welcome and influential.
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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.

Monday, February 6, 2012

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 "Three-Year Baccalaureate Degrees Contain Costs and Accelerate Positive Outcomes." 

Bethany Trivia

What was the first Broadcast on Bethany College's Television Station?

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

‎"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined." Henry David Thoreau

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

No Winter Sleep for Bethany in January

(The President's Letter, February 2012)

January is a busy time at Bethany.  The College has an opportunity to reflect on accomplishments from the fall semester and to interact in a different way with students on campus for January Term.  Freshmen are required to take concentrated courses during “J Term”; upperclassmen may elect to benefit from non-traditional curricular offerings, with some classes offered off campus. Many Bethanians will remember the intensity of J Term  as being pivotal at the beginning of their college careers.

For some seniors,  January Term is also a time of preparation for “comps,” one of the time-honored and most memorable traditions of the College that binds alumni of all generations together.

January is when I visit with higher education colleagues at prominent association meetings, sharing and learning about best institutional practices as well as new trends and initiatives affecting independent liberal arts colleges.   The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Presidents Institute is the largest meeting of college and university chief executives anywhere; this year’s institute saw record attendance.

With the theme   of “Champions of the Liberal Arts,” I was privileged to co-chair a session entitled “The Future of the Humanities and Liberal Arts Colleges.”  Because independent liberal arts colleges are under assault as never before on such issues as access, affordability and career preparation, it is essential that we make a compelling case for student-centered, liberal arts education. Central to our case is the meaningful contribution such education makes in meeting the academic needs of disadvantaged, low-income, minority and other traditionally underserved students.

The rationale for my session was highly relevant. As financial pressures intensify within higher education, the perceived value of the humanities has declined in favor of vocational, career-centered majors. Although liberal arts colleges offer measurable benefit in this area—such as  decades-long relationships established on campus and broadly applicable career skills for a changing marketplace—our colleges do not consistently affirm that value to students and families, especially to first-year students and undecided majors. All of us must continually communicate, throughout the four-year experience, a fresh appreciation of student-centeredness as a tangible benefit at classic, liberal arts colleges like Bethany. 

At the CIC conference, I also attended a meeting of The Council of Colleges and Universities of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the InterAmerican Consortium.  The former is the founding denomination of Bethany College, and its principles continue to undergird our mission today.  At a time when Bethany is strengthening ties with the Church through a revitalized Buffalo Seminary and other initiatives, I am honored to have been elected for a two-year term as chair of the group. Bethany has worked diligently to ensure that our relationship with our founding principles remains vibrant, continuing to grow and guide the College as it encounters each new era.  It is therefore an honor to celebrate the rich heritage of the Disciples of Christ in higher education by partnering with those who share our mission.  I look forward to working with like-minded leaders and institutions.

Bethany is among seven American and 11 institutions worldwide to foster global collaboration for students, faculty and staff through the InterAmerican Consortium, extending and expanding resources to liberal arts campuses.  Through the Consortium, qualified Bethany students may remain registered at Bethany while living and studying for a semester or a full year at institutions in countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Pakistan, Bulgaria and France.

The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) meeting provides updates on the many federal policy challenges impacting higher education and private colleges, such as the status of federal student financial aid.

On the home front, thanks to the success of Transformation Now:  The Campaign for Bethany College, many positive developments are underway. A partial list includes renovations, expansion of technology and improvements to the library, including full implementation of our involvement in the William G. Bowen Central Library of Appalachia, a virtual library of 30 of the member institutions of the Appalachian College Association.  We also continue to extend campus academic technology through our participation in the Independent College Enterprise (ICE), a unique consortium of eight like-minded colleges in five states. 

Our robust record of accomplishment in 2011 makes it possible to look to 2012 with optimism.  Bethany’s continued emphasis will be upon

· remaining affordable to a growing student population,
· upgrading and expanding technology,
· improving the quality of our  education through enhanced student  assessment,
· reaching important milestones in our fundraising efforts, and
· completing the third year of our master plan, Bethany College: From Here to 2020.

This is an exhilarating time to be a Bethanian, and we are greatly indebted to all of you for your continuing dedication to this superb institution.   We look forward to communicating our progress in these and other areas throughout the year.

‎"Upon the subject of education, I view it as the most important subject which we as people can be engaged in." Abraham Lincoln