BETHANY, W.Va. – Bethany College’s Washington, D.C.-area alumni and friends enjoyed an evening of the arts, food and fellowship, hosted by Booz Allen Hamilton and Grant McLaughlin (’91). The evening opened with a guided tour of the Degas/Cassatt Exhibition at The National Gallery of Art followed by a reception at The Source on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Bethany President Scott D. Miller spoke to the group about the value of classical residential liberal arts education, and provided an update on recent progress at West Virginia’s oldest degree-granting institution. He noted that a recent national feature in The Chronicle of Higher Education profiled Bethany’s commitment to student-centeredness, reflecting the College’s initiatives during the past seven years to serving the changing needs and expectations of today’s college students.
Dr. Miller said the College has expanded student-support services, earning national recognition. He 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 was “Building Value: Linking Classroom to Career.”
Bethany is the only private National Liberal Arts College in West Virginia, 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.
Dr. 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.”
“We strive to be a classical, residential, liberal arts college committed to teaching and student success, a place where academics and student life complement each other, for we recognize that learning takes many forms, both inside and outside the classroom,” he said.
He expressed appreciation to a number of Washington-area alumni for their active involvement and leadership, recognizing Bethanians who “devote time, energy and their personal resources to the well-being of the College.”
“During these most difficult economic times, our alumni and friends have remained true to Bethany College,” Dr. Miller said. “While Bethany College has both historic and excellent facilities, its future depends on the ability to grow and serve the students of tomorrow. You have responded to the challenge and supported us in so many remarkable ways.”
Now in his 24th year as a college president and seventh year at Bethany, Dr. Miller provided updates on a number of projects and initiatives:
Over the last seven years the College has invested significantly in physical improvements to be more responsive to student expectations, including the addition of new suite-style student housing, expanded athletic and fitness facilities, and new student-life space.
Dr. Miller discussed two significant national issues impacting higher education nationally (including Bethany) – enrollment and cost. 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, non-profit, 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.
Bethany instituted a tuition freeze this year. The College’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 freeze is applying to all incoming and returning undergraduate students, he added.
“Bethany recognizes that a college education is an investment in the future,” Dr. 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 the tuition freeze for the 2014-15 academic year.”
Dr. Miller also noted the importance of service learning and community outreach as key elements of The Bethany Plan, reflecting a campus-wide commitment to voluntary service. Last year, students and groups exceeded their original goal of 20,000 recorded service hours, he said. Greek organizations reported a combined 3,108 hours of service, clubs and organizations 5,201 hours, individuals 1,298 hours and athletic teams 1,858 hours of service. Additionally, 14,908 hours of service were reported by academic departments.
Originally funded by a grant from the PNC Foundation, the Service Learning Center is directed by Kathy Shelek-Furbee, Chair and Professor of Social Work. The SLC has provided opportunities for service outreach while also tracking engagement in community service by the broader campus community.
The College’s eight fraternities and sororities play an instrumental role in campus life, Dr. Miller noted. Bethany’s Greek organizations include Alpha Sigma Phi, Beta Theta Pi, Delta Tau Delta, Phi Kappa Tau, and Sigma Nu fraternities, and Alpha Xi Delta, Phi Mu, and Zeta Tau Alpha sororities. Over 35 percent of Bethany students are members of Greek organizations.
He also commented on the College’s highly competitive NCAA Division III athletic program, which fields 22 teams and an equestrian club team – the largest number of sports on any college campus in the state. Over 30 percent of the residential population competes in one of these programs.
One of the signature programs of the College funded through private giving is Bethany’s Kalon Scholars Program. Up to 40 students are recipients of the Kalon Leadership Scholarship based on leadership, character, commitment to service and academic performance. The talented young adults provide community service in a variety of ways, Dr. Miller noted. Kalon Scholars also develop useful skills for their future. He said the goal is for students to be prepared for their careers, but also to understand the value of giving back to their communities. Kalon Scholars provided over 1,700 service hours among the students this past year alone.
“Bethany College has a long-established history of meaningful community engagement by our students and staff,” Dr. Miller said. “Teaching and learning form the mission of Bethany College. Central to this broad purpose is providing a liberal arts education for students, including the preparation of professionals, in an atmosphere of study, work and service.”
He closed with comments about the College’s “golden past and bright future.” “We’re proud of our heritage as West Virginia’s oldest degree-granting institution. We trace our origins to the founding of Buffalo Seminary at what was then Bethany, Virginia, in 1818. However, we count 1840 as our founding as a degree-granting college.” He then addressed the topic of institutional growth. “In this challenging higher education environment, we can’t rely on doing things the old way,” Dr. Miller said. “We can’t just pass the cost on to students. Expanding the residential population will create greater critical mass, greater diversity and increased resources. It will also be attractive to alumni and donors.”