In an interview with the Chronicle, President Scott D. Miller reflected on the past four years, hinted at future projects and announced VWU will be his “last stop” as a college president.
Miller asserted that VWU has grown and prospered during extremely difficult times in American higher education and is most proud of how students performed during the pandemic.
“The pandemic essentially deprived them of the social aspect of college, which can enhance a student’s learning experience immeasurably. But instead of giving up, our students endured. They showed grit and resilience, and I continue to be impressed with their perseverance,” Miller said.
Regarding major events, such as the 2020 presidential election, pandemic and rising inflation, he believed VWU handled these problems beyond the university’s control the best it could.
“These events contribute to the uncertainty that many Marlins feel about the future. The best way to handle these is to give people the space they need to process, be it outwardly through events moderated by the Robert Nusbaum Center, for example, or through accessible student health and counseling services,” Miller said. “The pandemic was particularly hard because there was no playbook for such a thing.”
According to Miller, the administration put safety as their number one priority. “Even though we had to make some hard, and sometimes unpopular decisions, I can sleep at night because I believe we did what was best for the Marlin community,” Miller said.
When Governor Ralph Northam issued the stay-at-home order on March 30, 2020, Miller realized that it would alter how the rest of the Spring semester would look like. At this point, he encouraged students to abide by the rules to protect the safety of campus, and faculty and staff to do all they could to make their remaining time with VWU as beneficial as possible socially and academically.
When the remote learning model was established, many students told him they were excited about it. “They could be in their pajamas and take their class sitting in their bed, or at the kitchen table, or in any number of venues. What I found was after a few weeks of it, our students in particular, were ready to come back,” Miller said.
He also says there is a new appreciation for institutions like VWU where students come here for more than a diploma and an education that cannot be replicated on Zoom.
He believes the students did incredibly well with following the regulations because we had a lower positivity rate than almost all of the schools in Virginia.
“That’s a tribute to the character of our students and so I applaud them on that,” Miller said. “We had a few isolated cases not following the policy guidance. But, an overwhelming majority looked after each other, and it speaks to the quality of the people that we have here.”
“This is a great place to
live, a great place to work
and the people are the ones
that make it that way.”
President Scott D. Miller
He believes VWU is positioned well for the future because of its location and programs for non-traditional students. He stated that bachelor’s degrees will always be sought after, but there are also students who are looking for credentials, such as for a computer program or project management rather than a residential and long-term experience.
Regarding the traditional degree program in the higher education landscape, Miller stated that inquiries are up by 3,000, applications are up by 500 and deposits are up significantly for the fall. He attributes this to our location. He also believes that urban institutions will prosper, but small rural institutions will struggle in the higher education environment.
Miller also added, “We’ve seen a leveling off of students in the traditional College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. We’ve seen growth in graduate programs. We’ve seen growth in online. We’ve seen growth in evening and weekend. We’ve seen growth in Japan. We’ve seen gigantic growth in the noncredit continuing education program, and going forward in the future that makes us more comprehensive as an institution.”
Specifically, the non-credit program of the College of Professional Studies (VWU Global Campus) has grown over the past several years.
“We had a very small non-credit program when the pandemic began. When the stay-at-home order was issued, our online program had 8,100 registrations for a number of courses,” Miller said. “That leveled off a little bit when we came out of the pandemic, but we had a program that was just a couple hundred before the pandemic, and now after eight months into the fiscal year this year, we have 1,900 enrolled in non-credit workforce and talent development programs.”
Additionally, success can be seen through the growth in the endowment from $55 million to $126 million in a five-year period. For Miller, it is significant because it expands the financial aid opportunities for students and also allows for a sixth straight year of a tuition freeze.
Overall, he is proud of VWU for being ahead of trends instead of waiting for them as well as for the efforts of faculty, staff and students that have collaboratively moved this institution to the next level.
His message to seniors is for them to stay involved with their alma mater and know that VWU is a lifetime experience. “We want to follow your careers with the pride that we should have at a school like Virginia Wesleyan,” Miller said.
Looking toward future plans, he is still finalizing details of several creative campus projects with donors and a few of them will be announced by the fall. “I would speculate that we have a building project that will be coming that’ll benefit the academic program,” Miller said. “A new facility will probably be coming in the next year.”
For Miller, he stated, “this is my last stop” as a university president.
“I’m quite happy here. I have had tremendous professional satisfaction and wake up every day enjoying the people that I work around, and the outlook for this institution in the future. I get energized by our donors who have tremendous faith in the work that’s going on here and I enjoy implementing those things that our donors are making possible,” Miller said. “During my eight years as president, [the philanthropists] have been unlike any that I have seen at my prior three presidencies in over 33 years.”
He concluded by saying, “if I had found Virginia Wesleyan earlier in my career, there probably wouldn’t have been other presidencies. This is a great place to live, a great place to work and the people are the ones that make it that way.”
By Connor Merk