Liberal arts colleges that ignore market realities “absolutely won’t exist in the next decade,” Wittenberg University President Laurie M. Joyner told Springfield Rotarians on Monday.
But the practical or applied liberal arts education that she predicts can sustain Wittenberg will encourage deeper connections with Springfield, she said while speaking at the Hollenbeck-Bayley Conference Center, because “our students learn better when dealing with real-world problems.”
A shrinking pool of price-sensitive high school graduates has combined with a bad economy to produce “the equivalent of a perfect storm for some of us,” said Joyner, who succeeded Mark Erickson on July 1.
Declining enrollment has led to declining income, something Joyner said must change.
“Everything we’re doing this year is to put this institution on a path to financial stability,” she said. Because of that, she said the community is likely to hear “wave after wave after wave” of news from the university.
Joyner said she’s pledged to bring change through the established tradition of shared governance with faculty under two conditions: “One, that it doesn’t become dysfunctional; two, that we have a deadline.”
Said Joyner, “We don’t have forever to adjust.”
The president said Wittenberg’s strength is the “something magical that happens … between students and teachers” on campus and that finding a way to sustain that is also the college’s challenge.
To diversify, Joyner said the university of 1,750 students will increase its international student population, grow its community education program for non-traditional adult students and increase income with more summer programming.
The more difficult decisions will involve cost containment and phasing out programs it can no longer afford.
“We can’t be everything to everybody,” Joyner said. But she also predicted “it’s as likely that things will be reshaped and realigned,” rather than cut programs outright.
Joyner said Wittenberg’s goal will be to produce broadly educated students with critical thinking skills that have been applied to practical problems in the community — students who also have a sense of personal and social responsibility.
She argued that focusing on vocational skills too closely tailored to jobs in a fast-changing economy would leave students ill prepared “for the jobs or careers emerging tomorrow,” she said.
Asked about the declining value of a college education, Joyner said: “I don’t believe it, and the data doesn’t show it.”
She said college students still are projected to have higher lifetime earnings than those without degrees, and said that a college education is important for other reasons as well.
“It helps us figure out who we are …. it helps us to become more human,” she said. “I think, at base, that is what education is all about.”