view from summit avenue:a message from president rob oliver
In the weeks since we announced that Augustana College has changed its name to Augustana University, we’ve received countless calls, emails, letters and comments via social media from students, alumni and friends. Most of the feedback has been positive, like these comments from Michael Knight, class of 1982:
“I think this is a terrific move for the school, and consistent with a broader vision of becoming a regional and national leader."
For others though, the news was tough to digest.
“As an alumna, I am very disappointed and saddened by this change. It will always be Augustana College to me,” Liz DeVries Stevens ‘07 wrote in a comment to our Facebook page.
The reality is, change is hard. Yet, it’s important to understand that who we are is not changing. We will always be Augustana. The word “university” simply illustrates the depth and breadth of what we do now, while symbolizing our goals for the future.
The name Augustana – given to us 155 years ago this month by our founders and drawn from the Augsburg Confession – defines the culture of this place: a community of scholars, a shared passion for learning and discovery, a commitment to serving others, and heartfelt connections that span across the globe and through generations. Those are the threads that make up Augustana.
And those are not changing.
So, on the topic of reality, let me share some real numbers with you:
- According to the latest research, in 2013, about 5.63 million students were enrolled in U.S. private colleges while 14.75 million were enrolled in U.S. public colleges.
Why the difference? Generally speaking, private colleges and universities are smaller and are perceived to be more expensive.
- From 2010 through 2012, freshman enrollment at more than a quarter of U.S. private four-year schools declined 10 percent or more, according to federal data analyzed by The Wall Street Journal.
While far fewer numbers of students choose private colleges overall, emerging trends have exacerbated the gap. Trends such as declining numbers of graduating high school seniors, changing demographics, new technologies, stagnant household incomes, public perceptions about the value of a four-year college education, and the rising cost of higher education.
- The number of U.S. college students doubled between 1966 and 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported, as baby boomers pursued higher education, followed by their children. However, the number of high-school graduates peaked in 2011 and is projected to fall or flatten until 2024.
Higher ed institutions nationwide are struggling to adapt to these new realities. Between 2010 and October 2013, 45 schools merged, compared with 16 from 2006 through 2009, the Wall Street Journal analysis said, citing data from Higher Education Publications, which tracks the category.
In a preemptive fashion, the Augustana Board of Trustees and the senior leadership team began an intensive study of these realities several years ago.
We have been fortunate in our ability to maintain enrollment – our headcount this fall is steady at 1,837 compared to 1,823 last year – thanks in large part to the significant number of scholarships we are able to offer due to the generosity of our donors. We knew, however, that we could not ignore the significant sea change dramatically affecting similarly sized private, liberal arts colleges across the country.
The result of our investigation led to our decision to develop a new, five-year strategic plan for the institution. To create this plan, we gathered information from faculty and staff, students, alumni, parents, donors and friends.
What we gleaned from surveying and talking with our constituents was quite clear. We heard that Augustana needed to expand and enhance our academic offerings to better serve the needs of new students and a changing society. Due to our optimal location in the state’s largest city, we needed to build new and innovative strategic partnerships with area businesses, health care organizations, centers of education and non-profits to provide our students with valuable experiential learning opportunities and serve the city’s workforce needs. And, overwhelmingly, we heard that Augustana should consider bold moves in an effort to serve more students from the U.S. and around the world.
From there, we began the careful and thoughtful process of investing in change.
You’ll see the seeds and fruits of those investments in the pages that follow – significant initiatives like our new First Year Experience program, the Student Success Center, the Office of Graduate and Continuing Education, the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, the English Language Center, new facilities and more.
Reality: These new endeavors, together with Augustana’s trademarks of excellence – our renowned professors, our robust undergraduate research programs, our commitment to providing global perspectives through study abroad, and our dedication to the exploration of faith and service – resulted in something bigger than the word “college.”
Reality: We invested in change to ensure Augustana’s future. Following those investments, what was a college grew into what is now a university. Reality: If, given today’s conditions, an institution of higher education doesn’t invest in change ... then, what?
Our 155 years of history, our culture, our values, and our mission are still with us. We will continue to be the Augustana like always, firmly committed to being a mission to the Lutheran Church that founded us on September 1, 1860.
At the same time though, we are an Augustana like never before. Stronger and more determined than ever to provide even more students with the education every individual deserves – an education of enduring worth that challenges the intellect, fosters integrity and integrates faith with learning and service in a diverse world.
Thank you for your prayers and support as we begin to write the next chapter for the Augie we all know and love.
Proudly Yours, for Augustana University,
Rob Oliver, President