Addressing our September 8 Bethany College Fall Convocation audience—especially our students—Board of Trustees Chair Greg Jordan suggested that as we look over the menu of today’s bad headlines, we hold the despair.
Fluctuations in stock markets, unemployment figures, and other indicators of the nation’s financial health are cyclical and normal, Jordan, a native of Warwood, W.Va., and now global managing partner of Pittsburgh’s Reed Smith law firm, reminded us in his address, “You Can Get There from Here.” None should derail a student’s plans for success.
That’s wise advice for seniors about to enter one of the toughest job markets in American history—symptomatic of perilous economic conditions that nationwide are preventing many other students from committing to a four-year undergraduate program in the first place.
We hear a lot these days about affordability and value of higher education. At a time when our institutions continue to come under increased scrutiny from the media, families, employers, and students themselves, outcomes and perceived value are paramount concerns. A recent survey commissioned by the Pew Foundation revealed decidedly mixed perceptions about the value of higher education that should cause the industry to take stock. On the one hand, alumni themselves believe that their investment in a four-year college education is worthwhile, and long-term salary statistics confirm that assessment. On the other, however, the public increasingly feels that a four-year college education is out of reach economically. As with much else in our economy, consumer perception and confidence drive purchases.
Confronting these challenges, colleges and universities have had to adopt new business models. Writing in Presidential Perspectives, which my colleague Dr. Marylouise Fennell and I edit, President and CEO of the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) John Walda states, “What has changed, dramatically and positively, is the way we in higher education do business. Higher education institutions have been exploring new financial and educational delivery models at an unprecedented pace…finding new and innovative ways to respond to student need, often while simultaneously cutting operating costs.”
Whether partnering with other institutions, outsourcing services, or simply relying on bold strategic planning, colleges and universities have no choice but to manage change before it manages them.
At Bethany, we work hard every day to manage change effectively, and we are succeeding. Our vital indicators are strong—in enrollment, fundraising, outcomes assessment, program innovation, and quality of campus life. Our strengths led again this fall to a top-tier, national liberal arts listing in the U.S. News & World Report annual rankings of America’s best colleges. In a challenging career marketplace, our students benefit from the strength of instruction and mentoring found only at Bethany. Our graduating seniors have secured superb positions with major companies around the nation; right behind them are juniors and seniors whom we’ve placed in exciting internships in New York, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and other cities. Most of our graduates (over 90 percent) are employed or enrolled in graduate programs within six months of graduation.
The College’s reputation as a highly effective undergraduate institution of national distinction is also confirmed through the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), a study that compares Bethany with other colleges and universities. The findings, based on what the students themselves are saying about Bethany, speak to our quality and bolster Bethany’s mission and reputation as a small campus of academic rigor, strong student engagement, and substantial outcomes. Bethany students are outperforming peers in key benchmarked questions, scoring from 11 to 20 percentage points higher than those at similar peer institutions in selected indicators.
Much of the reason is that for the students who make the sometimes difficult decision to enroll in college, we are making every effort to help them succeed. After his Fall Convocation address at Bethany, Greg Jordan hosted an afternoon panel of top-flight business professionals for an audience packed with students. He and his colleagues covered career-wise topics such as clear communication, appreciation for other cultures, keeping up with technology, and the importance of volunteering. That’s the kind of “value-added” feature that market-minded colleges are making available these days.
Bethany continues to lead such efforts, working from a sound, 10-year strategic plan and benefiting from dedicated faculty, a major investment in campus facility upgrades, innovative programs and affiliations, and the comfort and strength of our own special traditions and sense of purpose as a vibrant college community. We need to do more, and we will. But as we proceed through our fall term and look forward to an exciting Homecoming Weekend just days away, we can be thankful that our reputation for excellence precedes us and sustains us.
In our 172nd year, Bethany’s heart beats strong. From a marketing perspective, and many others, that is very good news indeed!