20 years of lessons on and off the field
Is it measured in salary earned in later life? In lessons learned that inform everything that will come after? In pride of association with a particular institution? In memories made and friendships forged that enrich one's life from that point forward?
The value of a college degree -- or perhaps, more precisely, a college experience -- is measured, to some extent, in all of the previously mentioned ways and many more. On any college campus, each student finds his or her own path and forges a unique experience --for good or for ill -- and the sum of all those experiences, memories and postgraduate pathways eventually transforms into a personally felt value of that college experience.
At Muhlenberg, many -- possibly most -- alumni share certain feelings in common even if their individual college experiences happened decades apart. Often, it is the relationship with a particular faculty member -- a Doc Shankweiler, a Haps Benfer, an Ann Wonciewicz, a Rich Niesenbaum -- that lingers in memory and warms the heart long after graduation. Sometimes, a future spouse is first encountered, and the love of a lifetime first blooms on the Muhlenberg campus. Many times, friendships are made that last through all the twists and turns that life serves up after the college years. And, of course, for many students, Muhlenberg was where they first began to get an inkling of what they could do, how far they could stretch, how big they could dream -- something that stays with you and influences everything to come in so many ways large and small.
In recent years Muhlenberg has been mounting a very intentional, quite aggressive effort to put an exclamation point behind the value of a Muhlenberg degree. It starts with the experience students have while they are with us on this campus and extends to the various ways in which the College's reach and reputation are growing.
That growth in the College's stature was certainly one of President Taylor's goals when he first arrived on the Muhlenberg campus. President Taylor immediately began talking about seeking ways "to make Muhlenberg roar" among the many small, private liberal arts colleges clamoring for the public's attention. Ultimately, that effort to make the College roar organized itself around a big idea what President Taylor called "student focus" -- and evolved into the notion of Muhlenberg as "The Caring College." Not a caring college, but The Caring College.
There has been a lot of conversation on campus about what that means exactly. Does it mean saying "yes" to every student or parent request? Clearly, the answer is no. Does it mean "coddling" students? Again, the answer is no. Simply, it means living up to the words "small, private, selective, liberal arts college." There is an implied promise in those words of the potential, in fact, the probability, of important relationships that will enrich the college experience -- relationships with faculty, with managers, with other students, with alumni. There exists also the implication that someone will actually care, and care deeply, about issues of student success or failure; that the College will truly extend itself regularly on behalf of students that students at Muhlenberg will find themselves at the center of everything the College does.
Not surprisingly, the decision to be very clear and very public about the college's stance in putting students at the absolute center of what we do has resonated very strongly with parents and prospective students. In the power of that idea has come an opportunity for Muhlenberg to separate itself from many of its liberal arts competitors.
The results have been dramatic. In just the past five years, the College has enjoyed a 26.6 percent increase in applications for first-year admission. In that same time span, the College's acceptance rate has fallen from 74.2 percent in 1995 to 55.2 percent in last year's admissions cycle. This year, we expect to move the acceptance rate below 50 percent. At the same time, the College's regional and national visibility, as well as its ratings in many of the important college guidebooks, has increased as well.
So, how does that impact the value of the Muhlenberg degree? It signals significant growth in Muhlenberg's reputation. Muhlenberg is enjoying an increasingly improved stature on the educational landscape, and that is something that benefits all who have graduated from this College.
The best news is that we haven't peaked yet! We continue to look for ways to differentiate Muhlenberg from the competition -- both in how we present the College to its various publics and in how we live out that presentation on campus. Current students and parents are often the best "salespeople" for the College. Levels of student satisfaction with and excitement about the Muhlenberg experience have never been higher. Our ability as a College community to continue to deliver on the "Caring College" in all of its many facets -- and to link that idea to other powerful concepts that continue to differentiate Muhlenberg -- will have much to do with building on today's very powerful momentum as we pursue additional growth in the College's reputation and the value of the Muhlenberg degree.