As the excitement from Bethany’s 172nd Commencement recedes into memory, we are busily planning to welcome the Class of 2016 in late August. For the moment, at the July mid-point of our summer as we close one fiscal year and officially start a new one, Bethany looks forward to a new academic year in which we continue to position the College to meet the needs of a highly competitive and volatile marketplace.
The College’s strategic plan for sustainable growth continues to undergird all our endeavors, driving program initiatives. Our recent agreement with Carnegie Mellon University for six dual degrees offering accelerated bachelor’s/master’s programs is a strong example of our growth potential. Another is our new Master of Arts in Teaching degree program. At Commencement on May 12, we awarded the first seven degrees in this program, the first accredited graduate degree in the history of the College. Finally, this summer, 33 students are enrolled in our first online academic session. Bethany students are allowed to take 12 hours of online classes from the College during their four years here.
As we reflect on the new academic year ahead, we note other significant recent developments:
- The incoming Class of 2016 is among the strongest in history. Our enrollment team continues to expand its recruiting beyond our Tri-State region into New England, the Mid-Atlantic and Southeastern United States.
- Nine incoming freshmen have been awarded the prestigious Bethany College Kalon Leadership Scholarship. Dating back to 1984, this competitive scholarship program determines awards based on eligible incoming students’ past leadership achievements, school record, submission of a required essay and an interview with the selection committee.
- Bethany’s capital campaign “Transformation Now!” has reached the $42 million mark in gifts and pledges. The campaign benefits operations, capital improvements and the endowment. Our endowment, while the largest of any private institution in the state, lags behind the national average of $496 million for the top 50 national liberal arts colleges. We seek additional partnerships, auxiliary enterprises and gifts to close the gap while ensuring that a Bethany College education retains its accessibility, affordability and value.
- Alumni continue to give back to their alma mater, mentoring young alumni and current students. It was especially gratifying to welcome several back to campus this spring, including Chad Barnett ‘96, Headmaster of the Linsly School, who was keynote speaker at the Kalon Scholar Service Leaders Leadership Academy; Emmy Award-winning producer Jhamal K. Robinson, ’98, Head of Production, Third Party, Yahoo! Studios, who keynoted the 28th annual Kalon Scholarship Luncheon in March; and Susan Lister ’89, former Assistant Commissioner of The Big Ten Conference and senior specialist in global communications for Whirlpool, who was guest speaker at the 65th annual Darline Nicholson Spring Breakfast honoring Bethany senior women. Formal research has shown that the strength of our alumni network and enduring, close faculty-student relationships represent a significant marketing advantage that Bethany can leverage in the recruiting process.
- Bethany’s strong scholar-athlete tradition continues. Our women’s volleyball team, coached by Courtney Kline, boasted three academic All-Americans and two graduates with 4.0+ grade point averages, while the team won a record 31 contests and earned its second consecutive ECAC championship this spring.
- The Bison men’s basketball team continued a history of success, winning the conference championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. They were led by junior Nick Wilcox, PAC Player of the Year.
Although Bethany is doing all of the right things to remain competitive, it is critical for us to stay on top of the trends that impact the health of private colleges. In April, I was invited to attend a conference, the “Lafayette Group,” convened by President Daniel H. Weiss of Lafayette College who framed the discussion with a detailed opening keynote address that provided a far-sighted perspective on trends in higher education. Sixty of America’s most prestigious private liberal arts colleges, including Bethany, were represented.
Cost, competitiveness and value were dominant themes of President Weiss’s analysis. We learned that college expenses have grown at rates in excess of the cost of living, and that educational costs now make up more than half of median family income. On campuses, the cost-per-student rate has risen faster than the economy.
We are already seeing some results of shifts in consumer confidence toward traditional colleges and universities. These include a proliferation of online education and for-profit providers and growing discussion about the number of years it takes—and should take—to complete a four-year undergraduate degree. A June 3, 2012, article in The Washington Post reminds us of government figures that show a four-year graduation rate of 31 percent for public institutions, 52 percent at private schools. (Bethany’s average is 4.2 years to complete an undergraduate degree.)
The good news for private colleges, according to President Weiss and the Lafayette Group conference, is that those institutions offering a comprehensive, residential learning environment, committed faculty, strong post-graduate outcomes and the formative educational approach offered through the liberal arts, with careful financial management and wise investments in technology, will be sustainable. I would add that sound strategic planning, understanding of shifting demographics in the higher education market and a focus on student-centeredness are imperative. Bethany definitely meets these criteria.
The greatest area of need, of course, is to ensure that a solid liberal arts education in a comprehensive, residential setting such as that offered by Bethany remains accessible to all who can benefit from it. Although the College has kept tuition increases below the level of many other peer institutions, tuition has nearly doubled in the last decade. Tuition revenue currently accounts for 54 percent of our institutional revenue, with income from endowment at 9.6 percent and auxiliary enterprises at 27.3 percent. We continue to explore new sources of revenue, including
establishing a possible Master of Fine Arts degree; expanding the current, highly successful Master of Arts in Teaching program, and enhancing current dual-degree programs such as those we now have with Carnegie Mellon University.
In my August State of the College remarks to faculty, staff, volunteer leadership and friends (to be webcast on the Bethany Broadcasting Network), I will highlight the continued momentum of the College in enrollment, fundraising, academic and student-life programs, while discussing opportunities to prepare us to prosper in a changing higher education landscape with shifting demographics. It’s a tall order for a small private college, but Bethany—consistent with our 172-year history of overcoming every challenge—is up to the task.
Enjoy your summer, and be sure to visit if your travels take you in the direction of A Small College of National Distinction.