Despite many factors in national higher education, LaGrange College president Dan McAlexander praised growth and expansion at the university during the president’s breakfast Thursday morning.
Traditional undergraduate graduation experienced about 8 percent growth since 2009, when he came on board, McAlexander told the group of supporters and community leaders gathered in Turner Hall.
“We are thrilled with that and think that shows an increased honoring of our reputation,” he said. “We are excited by that number.”
Giving to the LaGrange College fund also has increased, despite economic downturns the last few years. The last two years, the college has broken records in annual giving.
The college has seen “remarkable growth in that time and we are so grateful that during times of challenge, you all, and our friends, our faculty and our staff, and board of trustees have stood with the college throughout,” McAlexander said. “One of the things I’m most thrilled about is the sacrifice our faculty has made to make that happen and our staff has made to make that happen.”
Faculty and staff gave to the fund at a more than 90 percent rate, despite cutbacks and not having raises.
“I’ve served in higher education my entire life. I’ve never heard of anything approaching that,” McAlexander said of the giving rate.
The college also is expanding its offerings with courses like Asian studies and exercise science. It also plans to roll out online course offerings by summer.
The college has signed an agreement with The Learning House, “a leader in online delivery,” McAlexander said. It hopes to offer the courses as an alternative and implement as a supplement with traditional classes.
McAlexander also credited decisions made before he took office in 2009 with positive growth on campus. He said the transformation of the library, addition of the Gulley Gateway pedestrian bridge and parking spaces that just opened when he arrived have opened the campus up more for students.
“It’s been a wonderful transformative experience,” he said.”… It’s students’ first impression of the college now. That wonderful landmark, the bridge, and that technologically advanced new building.”
The college will be undertaking a renovation of Price Theater with a matching grant from the Callaway Foundation, transforming it into an arts campus “that will be absolutely stunning.”
The positive changes have come with challenges and setbacks, however.
“We headed into the future with tremendous strengths to build on. We’ve not gotten there easily,” McAlexander said. “We’ve faced some really, really significant pressures. In addition to just the usual economic pressures from the greatest recession in 70 years, we have faced some real challenges in the state.”
The college’s graduate education programs all focus on teacher education, which all rely on state funding. Those funds were cut the first year McAlexander was in office.
“Then teachers started being fired because of the cutbacks,” he said. “… So a program that we had put a lot of love and care in and built a reputation had to deal with the disappearance of a population.”
The college has continued to move forward despite the cutbacks, McAlexander said, but other cuts and sacrifices have been necessary. The college closed its Albany campus because of reduced enrollment and the loss of business support, but McAlexander said the college is now more closely focusing on its main campus.
Despite national media stories that have questioned or condemned the benefits of higher education, McAlexander said results show the college’s students are going on to better careers and success. He said the liberal arts focus, especially, is often questioned. He countered that the most successful scientists have a liberal arts background, because “that’s where they learn to ask questions.”