Another busy summer at Bethany College has come and gone. In just a few weeks, our students will return to campus and unpack their semester’s worth of belongings in the residence halls. How times have changed, when those of us who departed for college a generation ago brought little more than a suitcase or two!
Much has changed in higher education in many other ways. As we “unpack” our agenda for the 2013-2014 academic year, I’d like to offer a preview of how Bethany’s leadership amid these changes is already shaping our future for the better.
Affordability remains a paramount concern for all of higher education, with students and families challenging institutions as never before to justify an investment of tuition dollars. A report on college trends by The Lawlor Group, a leading higher education marketing firm, states, “Higher education has become less an end in itself and increasingly a means to an end—primarily an economically viable career path. In calculating a college’s value proposition, families factor in outcomes as well as cost and prestige. They expect proof of high graduation rates and graduate employment at acceptable salary levels.”
Bethany recognizes its responsibility to deliver that “viable career path.” As one student put it so well recently, “Comps are proof of that. What more can an employer have than the knowledge that this student learned something in four years and passed a test to prove it?” Our responsibility as a college is to find the most productive and meaningful balance for students of preparing for a career while learning for life.
We value the life preparation that our liberal arts tradition offers. One of our alumni, a prominent attorney on the West Coast, summarizes the Bethany experience this way: “I have a lot of affinity for Bethany because it does such a good job of focusing on individuals…Bethany gave me opportunities to see what I wanted to do, to grow, with personalized attention.” That perspective, echoed by many of our alumni, reflects a significant, value-added feature of a Bethany education.
Another important trend is how personal technology and social media are shaping the campus experience—even before students enroll. The Lawlor Group points out that students use technology to “instantly verify any claims a college makes.” Another study by Inigral Insights shows that 72% of new high school seniors have used social media in the college search process.Bethany continually updates our marketing to ensure that we reach our preferred audiences with the messages they prefer.
Once in the college classroom, students today absorb information quite differently, responding less readily to traditional lectures, relying more on online sources, and learning new rules that govern Web-based research, verification of facts, and etiquette. The possibilities posed by technology are also very exciting, however. “Smart” classrooms, videoconferencing, and other innovations now permit students to interact in real time with their counterparts thousands of miles away, in other classrooms around the world. This is important as we continue to prepare Bethany students for the global career marketplace. As I often advise our students, they will be as likely to compete with graduates from Delhi and Tokyo as they will Pittsburgh and Columbus.
MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), along with many social and economic factors, are challenging colleges and universities to rethink their traditional strategies of teaching and transferring credits. Bethany is participating in that discussion to discover new opportunities for college access while preserving the classical, residential campus experience that we treasure.
Devoted faculty members, of course, remain at the heart of a Bethany education. We are fortunate to recruit talented, creative faculty each year to our mountaintop campus. These dedicated individuals truly go above and beyond what is expected of them as they guide and mentor their students, arrange internships, and open career doors—often with the active assistance of Bethany’s worldwide alumni network. As I travel around the country each year visiting Bethanians in major cities, most credit the leadership and friendship of our College’s faculty as the most influential and enduring factors in their personal success.
Part of our agenda each year, however, is finding the resources to recruit and retain faculty, to provide the tools of contemporary instruction and research, and to assist students with the shifting norms and values of a fast-paced society. Although we often stress the need for scholarship dollars to underwrite student opportunity, gifts dedicated for faculty research and development are equally welcomed and valued in meeting the true cost and contemporary needs of a Bethany education.
Finally, each year we recommit ourselves to enhancing the beauty and learning environment of Bethany’s historic campus. Today’s students expect comfort, convenience, and contemporary features, where they live, work, and play. The continued success of our “Transformation Now!” campaign for Bethany College, now at $45 million in support, will ensure that we remain competitive in attracting some of America’s best and brightest to our campus.
Much progress has already been achieved in enriching the academic, residential, recreational and athletic facilities of Bethany College; as we work through the next phases of our strategic plan, your support as alumni and friends of Bethany will foretell the pace of our improvements. Thank you for your gifts and pledges thus far. We hope you will visit soon to experience the dynamic “new” but traditionally beautiful and inspiring campus of Bethany College.
The success of any higher-education agenda depends on a proactive view of the internal and external forces that influence success. Bethany’s fundamental goal as a national liberal arts college is not simply to react to those forces, but to lead the necessary process of planning for change that will anticipate and prevail over them.
I am confident that the new academic year will see significant contributions to our standing as a leader in American higher education—indeed, a Small College of National Distinction.