Earlier this month, I had the privilege of representing my alma mater, JUNIATA COLLEGE, at the installation of WILKES UNIVERSITY's new president, DR. PATRICK LEAHY. I put on a cap and gown for the first time since my own graduation nearly 25 years ago. The ceremony featured much pomp and circumstance, including speeches and original musical compositions which reflected the theme of "Looking back with pride, looking forward with confidence." The official news release is HERE.
THIS page includes links to videos of the entire ceremony, but here's Dr. Leahy's speech if you'd like to see it.
Dr. Leahy's own educational background includes a Bachelor's in English Literature and post-graduate degrees in business and, of course, education. In short, he knows the value of a liberal arts education (his speech contained multiple references to Shakespeare!), but he also has the skills to look at higher education as a business. It's a business which he believes needs a new model.
Dr. Leahy mentioned that the cost of a higher education has risen at a higher rate over the past 25 years or so than the cost of anything else, including gasoline and health care. He says that model of ever-increasing tuition cannot be sustained in today's economic climate. Translation: many colleges and universities are in danger of pricing themselves out of existence.
He's also aware of another challenge that Wilkes faces. The university draws a good portion of its students from northeast Pennsylvania, and the region's population is shrinking. So, he says, the university must expand its recruiting base. That means that Wilkes will likely start competing for students from, for example, the same areas in western and central PA targeted by Juniata. And, don't forget, that Pennsylvania has a lot of liberal arts colleges already competing for students in overlapping areas.
Before coming to Wilkes, Dr. Leahy made a name for himself at the University of Scranton, where he spearheaded a major fundraising campaign that surpassed its goal about two years ahead of schedule. I don't think it was any accident that that achievement was pretty much the first thing the Trustee representative mentioned in her welcoming speech during the installation ceremony.
But, Dr. Leahy also emphasized his plan to promote the unique aspects of Wilkes as a way of attracting students. And, he wants to, as mentioned before, expand the university's reach - not only in terms of recruiting, but in terms of access - i.e. potential branch campuses and online courses. I recall him saying that if Harvard is offering online courses for free (I think he must have meant THIS), what does that mean for the rest of (colleges and universities)?
Overall, my big takeaway from the installation was the impression that similar institutions, including Juniata, better up their game because here comes Pat Leahy and Wilkes.
Interesting thing - I listen to the non-paid version of Pandora radio in my car. There are commercials for the non-paid version and I heard one for Wilkes! I wonder if they are targeting marketing by zip code, or just doing a blanket commercial!