UM-Related Schools Receive High Marks

Date Posted: 7/31/2012

United Methodist pastors who completed an online survey in June asking them to compare UM-related colleges and universities to other colleges and universities rated the church-related institutions high on personalized learning, integrating values into the college experience, faith formation, and encouraging community service.

Results of the survey completed by 1,421 pastors were discussed at the annual meeting of the National Association of Schools and Colleges of The United Methodist Church in Rockport, Maine. About 30 presidents and CEOs attended the meeting, organized by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

The group also elected new officers on Tuesday and heard about plans to continue strengthening UM-related education.

Melanie Overton, GBHEM's assistant general secretary for Schools, Colleges, and Universities, said UM pastors who had attended a UM-related college or university tended to think more favorably of UM-related institutions in every category. The survey, an online questionnaire conducted by United Methodist Communications, had a 15.2 percent response rate. Of those, 17 percent had attended a UM-affiliated undergraduate institution.

Both alumni and other pastors thought UM-related colleges and universities compared favorably to all other types of colleges and universities on personalized learning, integrating values, faith formation, and encouraging community service. About 70 percent of alumni ranked the schools as superior to all others on these attributes, while about 55 percent of all pastors surveyed compared UM colleges and universities favorably in those four categories.

Pastors were also asked about their role in assisting families during the college search process and 84 percent indicated they are comfortable talking to high school students about choosing a college. Sixty-five percent feel equipped to do that, but only half said they understand the benefits of attending a UM school.

Just 17 percent said they would be unwilling to offer information on UM-related schools unless asked by the student or their family.

"I think we have work to do to equip our pastors to minister to students and families throughout the search for college and the experience of college," Overton said. "Our pastors do believe UM-related schools provide exceptional learning environments, and are, in fact, willing to proactively provide information to potential students and families. It is our task to help them do just that.”

About 33 percent of pastors who were alumni thought church-related higher education institutions were much better or somewhat better than public colleges at teaching job-related skills, 31 percent at providing job placement support, and 21 percent on affordability.

Of the full group, about 28 percent said UM schools were better at job-related skills, 23 percent at job placement support, and 17 percent at affordability when compared to public colleges.

Ted Brown, president of Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn., thought the gap the survey found between pastors who are alumni and other pastors was significant. "That is a challenge that is hard to overcome, but we need to get our pastors informed about our institutions," Brown said.

Brown and other presidents said the perception that UM-related colleges and universities don't compare favorably in job skills, job placement, and affordability is wrong.

Overton added that the pastors’ lack of confidence that – even outstanding – liberal arts environments will lead students to jobs in this economy is consistent with other segments of the U.S. population despite anecdotal and statistical evidence that employers feel differently.

Haywood Strickland, president of Wiley College, a historically black college in Texas supported by the Black College Fund, said the historically black colleges in particular are a bargain.

And David Beckley, president of Rust College, a historically black college in Texas, said Rust has a high job placement rate and that students who want to go to graduate school are getting in.

Brown added that it is difficult to measure the benefit of the personal connections and interactions students have with professors. "Those interactions between faculty and students often lead to vocational counseling, internships, and job placement," Brown said.

Gerald Lord, associate general secretary of GBHEM's Division of Higher Education, said the online survey indicates there is more work to be done in telling the story of UM-related higher education.

"We need to reiterate the value of a liberal arts education and that it does lead to jobs. A lot of corporations like liberal arts graduates because they can think critically, write well, and communicate to a broad range of people rather than a student with specific major who has learned skills that will be out of date soon."

The group also heard a presentation from Joey King, executive director for the National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education (NITLE) and vice president for Innovation at Southwestern University, about ways to think creatively and create a vision for the future in education.

He said one mistake many institutions make in strategic planning and visioning is by looking to the past, adding that you can’t envision the future by looking to the past.

King said one issue NITLE has worked on is integration of libraries and academic computing to form academic commons on member campuses. "We determined our member libraries had more than 70 million physical volumes, but only a few million were unique, and there was very little sharing outside of traditional interlibrary loans," he said.

Many of NITLE's members have developed a deep interest in Chinese studies and many have students studying in China. An experiment in sharing Chinese digital records gave students and professors access to 38 million records.

He said that is just one example of NITLE's efforts to try innovative approaches to leveraging assets on member campuses. Another is working on a plan for blending learning using high definition video conferencing to provide access to faculty and classes, especially language studies.

*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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