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The Augustana Magazine: Autumn/Winter 2013

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A Message from Rob Oliver, President of Augustana College

To say “it’s an interesting time in higher education” might be the understatement of the century.

Higher education as we know it, my friends, is caught within a massive sea change brought on by colliding storm fronts: the media, technology, the economy and new consumer behaviors following the Great Recession and, ultimately, graduate outcomes.

If you review current media coverage of higher education in the U.S., you’ll likely read and hear that “new college graduates are $100,000 in debt; students don’t learn anything and most never graduate; and, if they do graduate, 50 percent can’t get jobs.”

Those make for great headlines and sound bites. Unfortunately, it’s hard to break through the many myths out there to share the real story, which in our case is this: Augustana graduates of the class of 2012 had average federal loan indebtedness of $25,795; approximately one out of four of our students graduated without any debt; our job placement rate was 98 percent; and 28 percent of graduates are enrolled in, or are planning to enroll in, graduate school. Of those, the majority are pursuing professional degrees in medicine and law.

As I’ve said many times before: College is an investment. Yet, at the same time, a college education has never been a more important asset than it is today.

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According to industry analysis, in 2011, the average annual earnings of college graduates were 65 percent higher than the average for high school graduates. With a master’s degree, the average rises to nearly 100 percent higher – in other words, double the income. And, with a professional degree, earnings are 260 percent higher. So, college is an important investment and one that brings tremendous returns.

So, why is college so expensive?

Here’s the reality: cost structures of educational institutions are driven by the fact that they are a people enterprise. Our “product” is education and only people – highly educated, passionate, driven, caring and curious people – can deliver it for us.

At Augustana, we employ technology in our classrooms and our laboratories to deliver online and hybrid classes; in our residence halls; our library; and for administrative activities. But the best teaching happens when professors are engaged with students in a live (not virtual) setting. As an institution, our largest investment each year is in people, both in salaries for those who teach and in scholarships for good students who come here to learn. And frankly, I believe that’s how it should be.

As a private college, we receive no state funding, which means it’s up to us to raise the money necessary to pay faculty salaries, enrich the academic program, cover operating expenses and fund capital improvements.

Being a private college also means we make our own decisions. We’re intentional about keeping our class sizes small so we can create the best student- professor experiences for students.

In addition, we’re focused on creating opportunities for undergraduate research, internships, community engagement, leadership and study abroad because we know that experiences outside of the classroom contribute greatly to successful job placement and admission to graduate school.

In making our own decisions, we believe we have the power to chart a bold new course to ensure Augustana’s future while maintaining its reputation as one of America’s premier church-related colleges.

For the past six months, Augustana has been working to create an updated strategic plan. Throughout the process we’ve analyzed the competitive landscape, explored demographic predictions, and conducted focus group testing and interviews of alumni, community members, current students, and students who chose not to attend the College.

From surveying our alumni, we learned we’re doing many things right:

  • 95 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that said “I feel I received a solid education from Augustana.”
     
  • Among recent grads, nearly 95 percent of survey respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that said “If I were to do it all over again, I would choose to attend Augustana.”
     
  • 95 percent of respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that said Augustana’s experiential programs (student teaching, internships, study abroad opportunities, undergraduate research, clinical rotations, etc.) “was beneficial to my graduate studies, career and/or overall development.”
     
  • Among the College’s top strengths, respondents listed “professors,” “academic rigor” and “liberal arts as a foundation.”

We also identified some opportunities:

  • The top two items respondents advised Augustana to consider as it develops its strategic plan were “building partnerships with employers” and “improving career planning services.”
     
  • Among recent alumni surveyed, “facility or building improvement projects” and “a revised tuition model” were the top two items respondents recommended the College consider.

We know that our competition is not standing still. We also know that in order to remain competitive in the higher education marketplace, we not only have to define a bold plan of action but effectively execute it in a timely manner.

We will need to prioritize projects and programs, allocate our human and financial resources, and discern implementation timelines.

Finally, we know this: our graduates have told us their Augustana education was among the best investments they’d ever made. After four years here, our graduates are highly knowledgeable individuals with the critical thinking and communication skills necessary to succeed in the career of their choosing. Augustana graduates are also empowered by a foundation built from studying the liberal arts, which means they have the skills to navigate change, think creatively, and solve problems. They have an appreciation for art and music; an understanding of other cultures; a deeper faith; and knowledge of the global community. Augustana alumni understand how to live a life of meaning and purpose.

In this issue, we feature some “faces” of our alumni who are doing just that. The individuals you’ll meet in this issue are living out their dreams and making a difference in the world through contributions in a variety of sectors.

On behalf of Augustana, Angie and I wish you God’s blessings of good health and happiness in 2014. Please pray for the campus community as we embark on this new journey. In the coming year as we adopt our new strategic plan, our goal will be to ensure the legacy of the “Augustana like always” while we explore and implement new ideas to create the “Augustana like never before.”


Yours, for Augustana,
Rob Oliver

 

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