As I write, we are in the second week of classes for the new academic year. Standing in majestic Commencement Hall welcoming our new students and their families to Bethany during the annual Matriculation Convocation on August 20, I was reminded of our remarkable history. This magnificent venue, where United States presidents and other dignitaries have spoken, seems to represent the intersection of Bethany’s golden past and a future bright with possibility.
As Bethany begins its 172nd year, the College’s proactive management of change has resulted in notable strides in key areas. These include strengthening enrollment, furthering a successful capital campaign and recruiting talented faculty committed to the core principles of a liberal arts education.
I believe that our founders would look with pride upon Bethany today, fulfilling our mission and thriving amid challenging times. Benefiting from focused strategic planning, we enter the 2011-2012 academic year with momentum and the promise of ongoing success.
Our student population is reported to be the most diverse in the College’s history, including a much wider geographical representation than in past classes. Moreover, thanks to the stellar efforts of Director of Enrollment R.J. Zitzelsberger and his staff the academic profile of the newly-matriculated class is the strongest in 11 years, while the total enrollment of 1,020 this past year is the largest since 1976-1977. After three successive larger-than-usual recruiting classes that have brought us to full residential capacity last year, we focused this year on increased selectivity.
Our capital campaign has passed the $33 million mark after only three years, with total new resources from all sources exceeding $40 million during that time. So, while we continue to face enormous challenges, these quantifiable measures show that we are on the right course, that donors express confidence in our progress through their giving and that our master planning is continuing to show the desired results.
The value of a Bethany education has been reaffirmed, as well, by a number of national rankings. We are especially proud that the College’s financial aid programs resulted in “Best Buy” rankings from both Forbes and Barron’s, and that Bethany students placed 7th nationally in lowest student debt, according to U.S. News and World Report.
In addition, 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. In 2010, Bethany was admitted to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. Over the summer, we were invited to participate in the opening sessions of President Obama’s Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge, held at the White House. Our campus events for the Challenge will include days of service and ongoing dialogue about the strength of community engagement by all faiths.
There is more good news to share:
- The College will benefit from a $100,000 challenge gift in honor of Professor Randy Cooey, who retired last year after 45 years on the College faculty in business and economics, and retired economics Professor John Davis. The gift will honor their years of service while launching a new experiential fellowship for students in business and economics.
- In the academic area, the College is developing interdisciplinary minors in non-profit marketing and non-profit management.
- We are also developing “dual major” pathways in social work and psychology, economics and math and business and computer science and proceeding with plans for “2 + 2” agreements in psychology while exploring a three-year degree pathway.
- To better prepare students for a global economy and increasingly pluralistic society, we are delivering Arabic language and culture courses through the Fulbright FLTA program and further developing global opportunities leading to a study-abroad requirement no later than 2013. In that vein, I am happy to report that Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Gary Kappel will be heading to England next year as a visiting professor at Harlaxton College, one of several international institutions with which Bethany has partnerships.
- Finally, because expanded use of technology in classroom learning and teaching is so critical to student success, we continue to foster partnerships with organizations such as the Online Consortium of Independent Colleges and Universities (OCICU), New York Times Knowledge Network, and the Appalachian College Association Bowen Central Virtual Library to extend student and faculty access and library holdings.
I continue to hear positive comments from returning students marveling at the renovations in Ogden Dining Hall of Benedum Commons and the Bethany Beanery in Morlan Hall. Over the summer, the studios of the Bethany Broadcasting Network (BBN) received new equipment and a sophisticated new look. Each of these projects was funded by private gifts.
Our athletic teams are displaying a positive outlook as they begin their fall seasons. Women’s volleyball and men’s soccer eye NCAA berths after strong conference and ECAC showings in 2010. Bethany football looks to continue its rise to the top of the PAC under the leadership of veteran Coach Tim Weaver.
In 2010-2011, we added men’s lacrosse, with 23 students on the roster, and we will debut women’s field hockey in fall 2012. In addition, we plan to add women’s lacrosse in 2013. Bethany continues to make progress in the area of athletics program enhancements and successes with the completion of the Goin Locker Room and plans for the future construction of a new baseball complex.
By any standard, we are doing well. But numerous challenges remain.
Top priorities for this academic year include:
- Addressing recommendations from the Higher Learning Commission, strengthening finances and assessment. A report is due in spring 2012;
- Continuing to emphasize operational efficiency, control spending, forge synergistic educational partnerships and focus on cost containment;
- Strengthening graduate and undergraduate enrollment and fostering retention;
- Focusing on capital fundraising by securing at least $5 million in new gifts and pledges; and
- Emphasizing Strategic Planning/Image Building.
If all this seems like a tall order, remember that Bethanians have always been resilient pioneers and innovators, building a campus in the midst of rural farmland and surviving the horrific Civil War that closed many colleges permanently. It is this spirit of “grace and grit” that will carry us confidently into the future.
It’s often been said that success lies at the intersection of luck and preparation. With insight, imagination and vision, and with your continued support, Bethany College will thrive and prosper in the new academic year.
P.S. Don’t forget: Homecoming is just around the corner, October 8-10. Watch for details in the Old Main Journal or check the schedule and registration on our web site. Reconnect with friends, classmates and former professors on our mountaintop campus at its most beautiful in the fall season.