January is a busy time at Bethany. The College has an opportunity to reflect on accomplishments from the fall semester and to interact in a different way with students on campus for January Term. Freshmen are required to take concentrated courses during “J Term”; upperclassmen may elect to benefit from non-traditional curricular offerings, with some classes offered off campus. Many Bethanians will remember the intensity of J Term as being pivotal at the beginning of their college careers.
For some seniors, January Term is also a time of preparation for “comps,” one of the time-honored and most memorable traditions of the College that binds alumni of all generations together.
January is when I visit with higher education colleagues at prominent association meetings, sharing and learning about best institutional practices as well as new trends and initiatives affecting independent liberal arts colleges. The Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) Presidents Institute is the largest meeting of college and university chief executives anywhere; this year’s institute saw record attendance.
With the theme of “Champions of the Liberal Arts,” I was privileged to co-chair a session entitled “The Future of the Humanities and Liberal Arts Colleges.” Because independent liberal arts colleges are under assault as never before on such issues as access, affordability and career preparation, it is essential that we make a compelling case for student-centered, liberal arts education. Central to our case is the meaningful contribution such education makes in meeting the academic needs of disadvantaged, low-income, minority and other traditionally underserved students.
The rationale for my session was highly relevant. As financial pressures intensify within higher education, the perceived value of the humanities has declined in favor of vocational, career-centered majors. Although liberal arts colleges offer measurable benefit in this area — such as decades-long relationships established on campus and broadly applicable career skills for a changing marketplace — our colleges do not consistently affirm that value to students and families, especially to first-year students and undecided majors. All of us must continually communicate, throughout the four-year experience, a fresh appreciation of student-centeredness as a tangible benefit at classic, liberal arts colleges like Bethany.
At the CIC conference, I also attended a meeting of The Council of Colleges and Universities of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the InterAmerican Consortium. The former is the founding denomination of Bethany College, and its principles continue to undergird our mission today. At a time when Bethany is strengthening ties with the Church through a revitalized Buffalo Seminary and other initiatives, I am honored to have been elected for a two-year term as chair of the group. Bethany has worked diligently to ensure that our relationship with our founding principles remains vibrant, continuing to grow and guide the College as it encounters each new era. It is therefore an honor to celebrate the rich heritage of the Disciples of Christ in higher education by partnering with those who share our mission. I look forward to working with like-minded leaders and institutions.
Bethany is among seven American and 11 institutions worldwide to foster global collaboration for students, faculty and staff through the InterAmerican Consortium, extending and expanding resources to liberal arts campuses. Through the Consortium, qualified Bethany students may remain registered at Bethany while living and studying for a semester or a full year at institutions in countries as diverse as Costa Rica, Panama, Italy, Pakistan, Bulgaria and France.
The National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU) meeting provides updates on the many federal policy challenges impacting higher education and private colleges, such as the status of federal student financial aid.
On the home front, thanks to the success of Transformation Now: The Campaign for Bethany College, many positive developments are underway. A partial list includes renovations, expansion of technology and improvements to the library, including full implementation of our involvement in the William G. Bowen Central Library of Appalachia, a virtual library of 30 of the member institutions of the Appalachian College Association. We also continue to extend campus academic technology through our participation in the Independent College Enterprise (ICE), a unique consortium of eight like-minded colleges in five states.
Our robust record of accomplishment in 2011 makes it possible to look to 2012 with optimism. Bethany’s continued emphasis will be upon
- remaining affordable to a growing student population,
- upgrading and expanding technology,
- improving the quality of our education through enhanced student assessment,
- reaching important milestones in our fundraising efforts, and
- completing the third year of our master plan, Bethany College: From Here to 2020.
This is an exhilarating time to be a Bethanian, and we are greatly indebted to all of you for your continuing dedication to this superb institution. We look forward to communicating our progress in these and other areas throughout the year.