Friday, March 30, 2012

College Attainment Is More Than a Statistic

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

Recently released U.S. Census Bureau figures revealing that just 17.5 percent of West Virginians have at least a bachelor’s degree—the lowest rate of college completion in the country—is another wake-up call for the Mountain State.

That kind of statistic is also a call to action for educators who find it increasingly challenging to market what we do better than anyone:  prepare young adults for lives of enrichment in a world of astonishing social, technological, economic and political change. I suspect a lot of us in higher education have been spending our spring breaks this year wondering, nevertheless, how to convince student and parent consumers of the value of such an education.

Investing in a four-year college education is among the most personal and financially sensitive decisions a family can make. To be sure, cost is a critical factor in choosing a college. That’s why when I meet prospective students and their families, I encourage them to think value, not just advertised cost. Bethany College’s tuition is competitive, and over $9 million in institutionally funded student financial aid awarded each year helps to close the deal for our incoming freshmen. The fact that we graduate the majority of our students in four years, as opposed to the nearly five-year national average for baccalaureate completion, is also a positive factor.

Still, we hear the wake-up calls:

Fifty-seven percent of Americans perceive insufficient value for the cost of higher education, according to the Pew Research Center, with three-fourths believing that a college education is unaffordable to most individuals.  Students today also often assume that a baccalaureate degree entitles them to a job—and a well-paying one, at that. After all, they ask, aren’t lucrative careers the purpose of having achieved their degrees?

Adding to the pressure on college admissions offices is the fact that students are making their enrollment decisions much earlier than in the past, many by the end of their junior years. Some begin the search process as early as their freshman year in high school, which means that colleges have to tailor their marketing to multiple ages (including the growing ranks of over-21, non-traditional learners). Blend in the lingering effects of a still-uncertain economy and budgetary challenges to federal Pell Grants, and the pressure is on educators at institutions large and small, public and private, to recruit, retain and reward their students.

Faced with familiar realities about declining numbers of available high school graduates to enroll in college, but armed with technological tools like social media and branding techniques unknown just a decade ago, colleges and universities have to be at the top of their marketing game. The good news is that today, almost every qualified student of any adult age who wishes to enter college can gain instant information about academic, co-curricular, financial-aid and career-preparation opportunities.  First-generation students, among others, receive specialized orientation and advising, and colleges are working harder than ever to make experiential learning, such as internships and international travel, a central component of their curricula.  Donors to college scholarships, building funds, endowments, labs, libraries and other purposes still step up in record numbers at institutions throughout the nation, contributing to the affordability and desirability of a four-year educational commitment.

Higher education also benefits from the endorsements of an army of thousands—committed alumni and friends. Time after time, our graduates and current students say they chose Bethany because of the personal recommendation of a neighbor, teacher, relative or family friend who attended our college. No website, flash video or e-blast can trump the referral of alumni who speak from the heart about their alma mater.

Finally, reflecting the fascinating diversity of students’ ages, interests, cultural, social and economic backgrounds, American higher education offers more opportunities and options than ever—from the small, classical liberal arts colleges like Bethany and West Virginia Wesleyan to the virtual classroom of distance learning.

That spells more competition than ever for America’s colleges and universities. Most, however, are up to the marketing challenge, and have a sound, affordable and user-friendly product to offer. Regardless of why a student chooses a certain college or whether he or she decides to enroll in the first place, a college diploma will always represent a highly prized achievement.

Confronted as we are with the reality of low college graduation in West Virginia and some other states, we need to do all we can as leaders in education to encourage college attendance and degree completion. Statistics illustrating rates of higher education achievement represent more than the sum of their numbers; they speak clearly and unmistakably about what we value as an informed and influential nation in a turbulent 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.

"Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” John Wooden

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bethany Trivia

Which Bison coach helped his team capture a PAC title in his first year at Bethany?

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

“Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.” Barry LePatner

Former Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner visits with granddaughter Emily Jump, standout out pitcher for the Bethany College Bison, Sunday night at Lakeside Sports Grill in Clermont, Florida. We had a large turnout for the annual families appreciation event tied to the softball team's spring break trip. Ruth Ann was govenor of Delaware during most of my 10 years as president of Wesley College and now frequents the Bethany College campus.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Enrollment Outlook Requires Bethany’s Best Efforts

(The President's Letter, March 2012)

Spring is enrollment decision time for many high school seniors, when the best and brightest are making their final college selections.  Increasingly, many are considering Bethany because of its size, secure location close to a major metropolitan area, outstanding academic reputation and opportunity for meaningful, collaborative relationships with faculty and staff. 

Despite Bethany’s strong momentum in enrollment in recent years and many accolades for academic quality, value, outcomes and affordability (the College was recently recognized as 22nd in the nation in the “Most Popular Liberal Arts Colleges” category by US News & World Report), enrollment challenges have never been greater.  Student and family demographics are changing, while financial support from federal and state governments continues to erode.  Competition is becoming ever more intense.  

“Cost pressure, the changing wage structure of the US economy, and the complexity of financial aid policy combine to reduce access to higher education below what we need in the 21st century labor market,” state Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldmen, professors of economics at the College of William and Mary and co-authors of Why Does College Cost So Much?

That Bethany continues to thrive despite these challenges speaks well for the commitment and excellence of our trustees, faculty and alumni as well as our success in adapting the mission of our founders to contemporary needs of a changing global society. 

On the plus side, Bethany continues to attract both talented and increasingly diverse students. Our 2011 enrollment was the strongest since 1976-77; three of the last four incoming classes have been the largest in more than 30 years.  Last fall’s academic profile was the most impressive in 11 years.   Bethany has increased nationwide recruiting of new students from as far away as San Diego and Boston.  Pennsylvania remains our largest feeder state, followed by Ohio.

Moreover, inquiries from prospective students are steadily mounting. In the past four years, the College has received more than 150,000 contacts.  From that pool, we typically receive an annual “yield” of 1,500 to 2,000 applications for an incoming class of 275 freshmen.  Last year, 57 percent were accepted in an increasingly selective process.  In addition, we accept 50 transfer students per year.  

New students cite the beauty of the campus, our remarkable history and rich variety of more than 30 academic majors.   Others appreciate the historic, safe, small-town setting in proximity to cities like Pittsburgh and Columbus.  Students from outside the region value the convenience of campus to the Pittsburgh International Airport, just 40 minutes away. Bethany’s diverse student life program, with a large percentage of scholar-athletes choosing to participate in one of our 22 intercollegiate sports or in the Equestrian Club, is also a major draw.  Some elect to join one of our eight national fraternities or sororities. 

Despite the vibrant state of our campus and growing reputation as a small college of national distinction, however, Bethany joins other independent liberal arts colleges in continuing to face challenges in recruiting and retaining well-qualified students.  Affordability and financial aid issues are often paramount in the college decisions of families.  Last month at a briefing on federal student aid issues at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) on Capitol Hill, I learned that new government policies are steadily chipping away at student loan benefits. The $35 billion Pell Grant program, which enrolls 9.4 million recipients, will see an interest increase effective July 1 of this year, while new eligibility requirements will cap maximum benefits, drop the enrollment period from 9 to 6 years and eliminate benefits while decreasing those who are eligible to receive aid based upon family income.

This program, which has enabled generations of Americans to attend college, needs to be overhauled for long-term stability. Likewise, the Stafford Direct Loan Program, on which many of our families rely, has issued changed guidelines on its grace period for repayment of interest for new subsidies.

Added to all of this is the fact that students are making their college decisions much earlier than in the past, many by the end of their junior years some begin the search process as early as their freshman year in high school.

Bethany clearly needs to maximize all of our enrollment strategies. That includes the proactive involvement of alumni and friends in the admissions process.  Word of mouth from current students as well as others within the Bethany community continues to be the best source of new Bethanians who can flourish in the student-centered environment we offer. 

Our alumni frequently ask,”How can I help?”  Allow me to suggest the following ways:
¨      Bring a prospective student to an alumni event near you;
¨      If possible, bring him or her to campus for a visit;
¨      Serve as an active referral, and let our admissions staff know of prospective students who need to be contacted;
¨      Speak at your local high school and/or civic organization;
¨      Talk about your own Bethany experience to families of high school students who are your friends and associates.

Two decades ago, at the outset of the internet age, the author John Naisbet in his Megatrends described the necessity of “high touch” in a “high tech” age.  His observation is just as true today as it was in 1990 when he wrote the book.  With the possible exception of choosing a career and/or a life partner, the college decision is among the most personal and critical choices most young men and women will ever make.  There is no stronger recommendation than that of a successful alumnus or alumna.

Time after time, our alumni and current students say they chose Bethany because of the personal recommendation of a neighbor, teacher, or family friend. No website, CD-Rom or e-blast can trump the referral of a Bethanian who can speak from the heart about his or her alma mater. Thus, we continue to count on you who know us best to champion the real, lifetime benefits of a Bethany College education.

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 "Six Not-So-Silent Killers of Higher Education." 

Bethany Trivia

Who was the first English professor at Bethany College?

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

‎"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds" Albert Einstein