In my last President’s Post, I noted that our greatest asset is our people (Growth in Wages: Another Measure of Progress, 12/08/2015). Close on the heels of that wonderful asset, in my opinion, is the healthy culture of change that exists at our university. This culture goes back at least as far as President Poehler, who led the university through a big post-war growth boom, including campus expansion and diversification of academic programs. Subsequent decades saw changes in delivery systems with the introduction of cohort and online models, the diversification of the student body, and the expansion of graduate-level programming. I’ve been part of several of those cycles of change, and have always marveled how fluidly faculty and staff have adapted to change over the decades.
The biggest difference between the Poehler years and our current era is that from the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1970s, all of U.S. higher education was in a growth mode. Federal and state funding for both public and private higher education was generous, levels of tuition and financial aid were in good balance, denominational funding for church-related schools like ours was substantial, students were plentiful, and there were fewer competitors providing services in the higher education marketplace.
Things are different today. Much of traditional higher education is contracting, while for-profit universities expand. Competition for students continues to ratchet up. Direct federal, state. and denominational funding is gone. Tuition and related costs are high, and sources of financial aid have not kept pace. Change is needed to cope with these systemic changes. Fortunately for us, we change well. In the January 2016 issue of University Business Mr. Bob Shea, Senior Fellow of Finance and Campus Management for the National Association of Colleges and University Business Officers (NACUBO) is quoted as saying “There is a lot of innovation going on internal and external to higher education. Those that innovate will do well. Those that want to maintain the status quo will face challenges moving forward.” Mark CSP in the column of “those that innovate . . . well.”
Two very good reasons to be optimistic about the future of Concordia University are its people and its culture of change. Yet, we are conscious of our responsibility to steward the heritage of the liberal arts and the many strong traditions of academe. I so enjoyed listening to Dr. Paul Hillmer’s Poehler Lecture last spring, in which he prudently reminded us of the importance of respecting our foundations even as we make needed changes. The core of Paul’s address has been reprinted in the current edition of the journal Missio Apostolica.
In the midst of the need to change, we are reminded that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). As we move into the future, let us do our best and put our trust in him who changes not.
Grace and peace to you.