Keeping College Affordable the Bethany College Way

BETHANY, W.Va. – Seventy-one students from Bethany College spent their summer on campus working a variety of jobs to help fund their education.  They were recognized for their hard work at a picnic Thursday, August 14, at Christman Manor at Pendleton Heights, the historic home of Bethany President Scott D. Miller.

“We have a long-established history of meaningful student employment on campus,” said Saralyn Dague, Director of Business Affairs and coordinator of the College’s work program.  “Today that means everything from technology to accounting and finance, Bethany Broadcasting Network to cafeteria operations, and working our beautiful gardens to a variety of assignments in the President’s office. Our students do it all.” 

Junior Catherine Breault of Moundsville worked this summer as an assistant in the Office of the President.  She handled a wide variety of assignments, including research in the President’s Library.  An English major, Catherine aspires to a law career.  She is also one of 10 students serving as President’s Assistants/Associates during the academic year.

Bethany has two student employment programs – the typical federal work study program found on most college campuses and the Bethany Education Employment Program (BEEP).  In all, the College has over 900 campus jobs for students each year.

According to President Miller, the College expanded undergraduate student-assistance programs in recent years, committing over $10 million to institutionally funded financial aid and over $500,000 to work programs in an effort to make a Bethany education affordable. Additionally, the College funds 15 graduate-level intern positions – making the Master of Arts in Teaching program equally as accessible. 

Expansion of these programs can be attributed to Bethany’s growing national reputation, Miller said.  It is a major reason that “Transformation Now!: The Campaign for Bethany College” has reached the $47 million mark in gifts and pledges. Launched during the 2008-09 academic year, the campaign has a Phase I, five-year goal of $52 million for capital improvements, endowment and operations. The overall goal is to raise $68 million by 2019-20 to fully fund the College’s master plan, “Bethany 2020.” The endowment has grown to $53 million during the campaign – the best among private colleges in West Virginia.

“Bethany recognizes that a college education is an investment in the future,” Miller said. “As we celebrate our milestone 175th anniversary this academic year as the state’s oldest institution of higher learning, there is no better time to make a Bethany education more affordable. We did this three different ways:  an expanded scholarship program, increased work opportunities and a tuition freeze for the 2014-15 academic year.” The freeze will apply to all incoming and returning undergraduate students, he added.

Bethany’s tuition is already far below that of similar institutions. The average cost of tuition and fees at a private institution is $30,094, while Bethany’s is $25,736.

The cost of a college education in the United States has been rising since the 1970s. According to The College Board, the average increase in tuition and fees for full-time students at private, nonprofit, four-year institutions was 3.8 percent in 2012. More than 90 percent of Bethany students receive financial aid through scholarships, grants, loans and work-study opportunities.

The strategy has appeared to work.  Located on a beautiful, historic, 1,300-acre campus of 45 buildings in the wooded foothills of the Allegheny Mountains 39 miles from Pittsburgh, Bethany enrolled 1,100 students (headcount) in 2013-14.  The College anticipates selectively growing the traditional population from its current level of approximately 800 to 900 by 2017. 

The College will welcome approximately 325 new students this year, including 280 freshmen and 30 transfers. Another 15 new graduate students will enroll in Bethany’s Master of Arts in Teaching program.  This year’s student body will include learners from 23 states and 11 foreign countries.  An additional 300 students enroll in continuing education programs each year through Bethany’s re-established Buffalo Seminary. 

Miller led a Council of Independent Colleges national conference session early last spring on the career focus of liberal arts colleges.  The theme of the session – “Building Value:  Linking Classroom to Career”-- has been a topic of interest to Bethany’s constituents as he and Senior Vice President Sven de Jong travel the country visiting with alumni and friends. 

“The future success of private colleges depends on giving students the tools to succeed in careers after they leave the classroom,” Miller said.  “Increasingly, we on campus ask ourselves, what do we offer to give our students realistic career preparation, and how do we market those institutional strengths to today’s shop-around brand of higher education consumer?” Miller asked.

An example of a unique opportunity that Bethany offers, Miller explained, is the McCann Student Investment Fund, created through a $1 million gift to Bethany by graduate Robert McCann, the CEO of UBS Group Americas, and his wife Cindy.

“The fund is entirely student-managed, employing financial strategies with real dollars, in real markets, with real return,” Miller emphasized, adding that specialized internships and career-focused events campus wide also enrich students’ marketability. 

Kelly Sofka, a Bethany graduate and Wheeling, W.Va., native, was the first CEO of the fund during her undergraduate studies. Resulting from her experience with the unique investment portfolio, Kelly landed an internship on Wall Street, and a full-time job at UBS.  She was recently named an Investment consultant at MassMutual Financial Group.

Miller also discussed the importance of The Bethany Plan, which aids students in identifying with and becoming a part of academic, co-curricular and extracurricular activities. Students can take advantage of global study-abroad trips, career-focused internships and research opportunities. Senior capstone projects and comprehensive examinations round out a student’s education at Bethany.  “We all have 168 hours in a week,” he said.  “A typical student will devote 18 hours per week to classroom activities and sleep between 42 and 50 hours per week.  At a residential liberal arts college, we partner with students for learning activities for the remaining 100 hours.  This might be athletics or recreation, a campus job, a fraternity or sorority, or service learning.”

Miller highlighted other unique Bethany programs, such as the Cooey-Davis Experiential Fellowships, the service-oriented Kalon Scholars, and leadership programs in other academic departments including Communications and Media Arts and Social Work.

He said that employers value students who can adapt to a team environment, meet deadlines and goals, and advance organizational initiatives by thinking globally, not just in a specialized way—all skills that can be attained at liberal arts colleges.

The College was recently featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education for its focus on a student-centered learning environment. Bethany is the only private National Liberal Arts College in the state, and in recent years has received national recognition for quality and cost from U.S. News and World Report, Barron’s, Washington Monthly, Forbes, Princeton Review and Colleges of Distinction. Last year, the College was ranked seventh in the nation by U.S. News and World Report in the percentage of graduates to attend graduate school within one year of graduation.  

West Virginia’s oldest degree-granting institution, Bethany traces its origins to the founding of Buffalo Seminary at what was then Bethany, Virginia, in 1818, Miller said. The institution counts 1840 as its founding as a degree-granting college.

Fall athletic teams arrived on campus beginning August 13. Freshmen and transfer students will arrive on Thursday, August 21, with upperclass students arriving Sunday, August 24.  The College’s traditional Matriculation Ceremony for new students will be held Friday, August 22, at noon in the Tilock Amphitheater of the Pennington Quadrangle. Classes begin for all students on Monday, August 25.