College Examines Developments in Higher Ed

March 13, 2013

More than 70 faculty, staff, and administrators are volunteering their time this month to discuss how Mary Baldwin University should respond to the changing landscape of higher education to ensure that the institution thrives in the 21st century.

The work of the study groups expands upon that of the 2013 Working Group, whose 46 members include trustees, faculty, staff, and administrators. Convened by the Board of Trustees at the beginning of this semester, Working Group participants were charged with considering the current state of the college as well as external forces in the industry — from public debate about the value of a liberal arts education to the changing demographic of undergrads to the potential impact of massive open online courses (known as MOOCs) on higher education models, and more.

After calling two Saturday meetings of the Working Group and holding an open forum on campus with President Pamela Fox, the Board asked that the volunteer-based study groups examine specific questions raised by the Working Group and gather the best recommendations on a number of topics including, among other topics, support of underprepared students, integration of Mary Baldwin’s various education programs, and administrative and support processes.

Engaging the college community in serious discussion this spring was the first step in ensuring the college responds strategically to what a Board document terms “the pressing reality of multiple external trends [signaling] permanent shifts in higher education,” a move in line with Mary Baldwin’s tradition of adapting to changing times. Seeing more than 70 members of the college community step forward to volunteer their time is another positive step forward, Fox said, adding that she is “empowered and encouraged” by the Board’s proactive engagement and the community’s response.

“Renewal, change, and innovation driven by a commitment to our mission have been Mary Baldwin hallmarks,” Fox said, referencing milestones in the institution’s 171-year history, such as the establishment of the Baldwin Online and Adult Programs, the Program for the Exceptionally Gifted, and the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, and the formation of successful graduate programs, including the college’s most recent venture — the Murphy Deming College of Health Sciences. “Critical to the Working Group’s mandate is to determine how we can align our strengths to external trends in higher education, and they have also offered excellent suggestions about how to improve our communication across the entire community.”

That sentiment was echoed by several Working Group participants, including Steve Grande, director of civic and global engagement at Mary Baldwin.

“I was impressed by the passion and commitment of all attendees,” Grande said. “There are a lot of great successes to build on, so the challenge will be to decide where and how to focus resources.”

The study groups will conclude their work in April and report to the Board. Over the next months, students will be engaged in the discussion through meetings and surveys, and alumnae/i and parents will also be asked to provide input as the process unfolds. Planning work is expected to continue in the fall.

“I am energized by the talent and dedication of our community,” Fox said. “So many individuals have expressed their commitment to Mary Baldwin as a family and a community of learners devoted to personalized, transforming education.”