3395. What is the significance of this number? Believe it or not, this is the total number of Alvernia “students” enrolled this semester. 

Included are the 555 members of our innovative and greatly appreciated Seniors College, comprised of active retirees who model life-long learning. I know first-hand. Teaching a lively group of 42 last spring was among my most rewarding experiences in 30 years of teaching. I look forward next spring to my next Seniors College class and also to my first undergraduate class. 

This semester at Alvernia there are 2,840 students seeking an undergraduate or advanced degree. Well over 2,000 study on main campus in Reading. But almost 600 students pursue undergraduate or graduate degrees at our sites in Pottsville and Philadelphia or at one of the customized programs offered at other off-campus locations, such as the MBA program for doctors offered initially at Reading Hospital and now at a site in the state capital. About 800 are graduate students in one of five programs (with 17 concentrations). 27 are new doctoral students. Following their core studies in research methods and leadership studies, they will concentrate in Corporate, Community, or Educational Leadership. Approximately 1350 are full-time undergraduate students on main campus, with many others enrolled part-time. 

We have a wide ranging student body—diverse in age and family circumstances; racial, ethnic, and religious background; academic interests and professional aspirations. Approximately 600 live on main campus; many others live in near-by apartments. Most of our students live with their families. Many have significant family responsibilities, with some being parents of their own students! But regardless of differences, all of our students seek the mission-centered, value-added dimensions of an Alvernia education. All are valued and valuable as members of this learning community. And each deserves the best effort of all faculty, staff, and administrators.

The numbers cited above reflect the strong interest of students of all ages in an Alvernia education. We have become the school of choice in the area for many students seeking an advanced graduate degree. We have a long standing reputation among adult students--many of them women returning to the workforce--as a place where the faculty and staff welcome and encourage older students. As one such alumna told me recently, “Alvernia helped me transform my life”; another put it less grandly, but with equal emotion: “Alvernia believed in me and gave me the opportunity I needed at a vulnerable time in my life.” This commitment to the adult learner has its roots in our first faculty, the Bernardine Sisters, but it is a constant of our five decades and embodied today by many men and women on our faculty. 

As we anticipate our fiftieth anniversary, we need as an academic community to recommit ourselves to educating adult learners. Enhanced support for graduate education is essential—in improved library resources and related support for research, to name just two areas. More and more current undergraduates will aspire to graduate education and seek a second Alvernia degree. We must ensure that their graduate education stretches their capabilities and performance well beyond their undergraduate course work. Our doctoral students will expect (and deserve) mentoring by scholar-teachers, even as they seek insights from faculty who are “reflective practitioners”--accomplished professionals, active in their fields, skilled at connecting theory and practice and reflection in the classroom and in the community.

Paralleling our recommitment to excellent graduate education, and to the needs of returning adult students, must be enhanced commitment to a first-rate residential undergraduate experience. Recently, thanks to visionary leadership by trustees, administrators, and faculty, we have expanded educational opportunities for young men and women recently graduated from high school. We now offer housing to 630 students, almost half of our full-time undergraduates. The draft of the strategic plan envisions significantly expanding housing for residential students and also the much needed recreation facilities and student services necessary for a more vibrant, engaged campus life—during the week and on weekends. This is exciting.

But much needs to be done. Progress over the last year has been notable, with expanded intramural programs and the new convenience store in the PEC as examples of the resources students need and deserve. Student activities are increasing, campus ministry is active, and the opening of the Crusader Café as a student-operated activities space will be a welcome improvement. Yet an engaged undergraduate culture and a vibrant residential experience require far more than leisure activities and ample food options. They require an integrated educational experience that engages and motivates students and builds passion for their soon-to-be alma mater.

Our first-year and senior capstone programs need to become more central to students’ experience during their initial and final years on campus. Over the last two decades, many schools have developed exciting shared learning experiences for students throughout the years on campus. We must increase cultural opportunities by supporting the arts and expanding other co-curricular programs. Students in demanding professional fields deserve the flexibility to select a minor in the liberal arts or even to elect several courses outside their field of specialization. Student-athletes should be able to enroll in all necessary courses for their academic majors and still compete on varsity teams.  Service-learning projects, internships, international education, and other forms of community-based learning need to be readily available for all students in all majors, not just as options for a few. Perhaps such learning experiences, along with ethics and leadership education, and knowledge of the Franciscan tradition, might become “signatures” of an Alvernia education. 

In short, whether in undergraduate or graduate education, we have an extraordinary opportunity to build on a strong foundation and much good work. We have a talented faculty and staff, and a terrific group of students. The members of the Strategic Planning Council and the Advisory Committee on the Campus (Facilities) Master Plan are serving us well. Good ideas abound, and priorities are “emerging.” The week of November 3-10 will feature multiple opportunities for input and advice.

The future is ours to shape. Have a great semester. And remember, only a few short weeks to Midnight Madness!!

Flynn Files