This story originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of The GēDUNK, Grove City College’s alumni magazine. Read the entire issue online here.
We’ve spent the last year fixated, understandably, on a world that seems to be falling apart. The global spread and terrible toll of a deadly viral pandemic has impacted our society profoundly. Political differences and racial tensions have manifested themselves in riots and mayhem. In such a time as this, the great and terrible things going on around us demand our attention.
At Grove City College, that’s meant a laser focus on keeping students safe and the community healthy while providing an in-person residential education on campus. Thanks to comprehensive planning, outstanding cooperation, and the grace of God, the College has been able to succeed when many other institutions didn’t. The College’s battle against the virus is a great and inspiring story in these troubled times, but it’s not the only one.
It is part of a larger narrative, a bigger story that began a long time ago and is still being written today in this season of chaos and caution. It is the story of a community that does not fear difficulty and is strengthened by adversity, a community that has made intentional progress through more than a century of challenges and opportunities, guided by an educational mission and a faith that transcends the current crises.
And now, we’ve come to the point in Grove City College’s story where – with a single word – we turn away from one narrative and take up others, where we learn something new, gain perspective, and begin to see where the tale is headed next. Meanwhile …
Henry Buhl Library is getting a major makeover
When the Henry Buhl Library opened in 1954, it must have seemed like the future had arrived on upper campus. The expansive state-of-the-art collegiate study and research center was a vast improvement over its cramped, nineteenth-century predecessor in Carnegie Hall. The repository of books, periodicals, journals, and reference materials was just right for the needs of mid-century students.
The library has served students well over the last 67 years, with ongoing investments in materials, regular upgrades in library technology, minor renovations, and librarians eager and able to adapt to the changing needs of students. But its traditional design no longer matches the expectations of an intellectually-sophisticated and tech-savvy student body. While the study tables and stacks are still well-used by students, the ground floor Rare Book Room is rarely visited, and the entire facility is long overdue for an upgrade.
Modern libraries are hubs for electronic collection, unrestricted access to, and exchange of, information that serve to engage, educate, and empower their users. Very soon, Buhl Library will be joining their ranks thanks to a multi-million dollar makeover that will see building-wide technological upgrades, the creation of expanded and flexible space for research, study, and collaboration, and additions that will enhance community engagement and make Buhl a living and learning destination for the 21st century.
The plans call for a nearly top to bottom renovation and redesign of Buhl. A large study space and reading room will occupy most of the reimagined library and learning commons’ ground floor, along with the writing center and tutoring services. A new, open stairway will connect it to the first floor, which will be a flexible study and collaboration space, with enclosed individual and group study rooms, along with classroom space, and a mobile-friendly lobby lounge. The current reference library space will be converted into a café that opens onto a new patio between the library and Weir C. Ketler Technological Learning Center. The famous stacks will remain, but new high-density shelving will increase the storage space. Take virtual tour at gcc.edu/buhlrenovation.
Work is set to begin in May and continue in phases through the summer of 2022. The College has raised much of the funds needed to complete the project, but if you are interested in joining the effort, visit gcc.edu/supportBuhl.
Graduate, nursing and online programs mark academic expansion
Over the past four years, Grove City College has introduced new programs and majors to prepare students for success and strengthen the academic program.
The Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is the most recent addition to the academic catalog and one of the most innovative approaches to professional education in the College’s history. Under the auspices of the newly established Charles Jr. and Betty Johnson School of Nursing, the first class of BSN students began their studies in the fall like most other freshmen, taking the humanities core and entry-level courses in their major on campus. They’ll continue their educational journey next year 30 miles south at Butler County Community College, where they’ll receive clinical training through BC3’s acclaimed and accredited nursing program while continuing their studies at Grove City College. The partnership offers students the best of both institutions, a Christ-centered academic experience through Grove City College and top-notch clinical and technical training from BC3. By their senior year they’ll be working in the field to complete their degrees at ready to join the ranks of an in-demand profession.
In 2020, the College got the go-ahead from Middle States Commission on Higher Education to begin offering master’s degree programs through the Office of Graduate Studies and Online Education. The Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering & Technology Management degree will set graduates up for success in a fast-growing, multi-disciplinary field where demand is high for engineers and computer scientists who can design, analyze and manage intricate methods and procedures. The Master of Science in Business Analytics degree, which is 100 percent online, gives graduates a chance to advance their careers while learning from some of the top business minds in the region how to use data to solve strategic challenges in many fields and industries.
These academic moves, along with an accredited Social Work degree, new majors in ministry, data analytics, human resources, robotics, redemptive entrepreneurship, and design, and expanded online class offerings to traditional, non-traditional and dual enrolled students, demonstrate Grove City College’s ability to adapt and innovate to meet the needs of students and society.
Donors are pitching in to meet the College’s needs
In 2020, the College received the largest single unrestricted gift in its history – $4 million – from alumnus Richard Staley ’62. Staley, a successful entrepreneur, said the College meant a lot to his life and career and he wanted to do his part to help maintain its independence from the federal government. He isn’t alone.
In November, over 3,000 alumni and friends came together to meet the fifth annual Wolverine Challenge, an annual day of giving. These donors set a new dollar record for the day of giving and made a powerful statement in support of Grove City College. The successful Wolverine Challenge along with Staley’s historic donation are an investment in the future and an affirmation of the kind of independent, Christ-centered, academically excellent higher education that the College provides.
The College continues to see increasing support of its Annual Fund including a historic record of $3.25 million raised in 2019-20, 44 percent above the previous record set in 2015-16. The Annual Fund provides maximum flexibility to cover unanticipated expenses, such as those related to the pandemic, and direct spending where it is most needed. These unrestricted gifts are also key to the College’s ability to offer scholarships which help maintain its commitment to affordability.
In recognition of Staley’s transformational gift, the Board of Trustees will dedicate the Staley Hall of Arts and Letters in May. The gift will have a major and lasting impact on the College’s ability to sustain its mission for years to come.
More students are interested in what Grove City College offers
Grove City College is seeing a spike in interest from prospective students for the fall 2021 semester, up 25 percent from last year and more than the College has seen since 2005. It is part of steady increase in applications and enrollment over the last few cycles.
The positive numbers come as the Admissions Office works to create opportunities out of pandemic-related obstacles. Virtual versions of traditionally on-campus events like Discovery Day for prospective STEM majors or Admitted Student Days have allowed the office to reach more students from a wider geographic area and near daily group tours have been supplanted by targeted – and COVID-19-safe – individual visits.
In addition, the College’s recruiting force continues to face challenges of demographics and basic economics. The pool of prospective students has shrunk significantly both in the traditional geographic region that the College draws students from and nationally. At the same time, the number of colleges and universities competing for those students is largely stable; there’s more supply than demand.
In such a market, Grove City College’s distinctive identity, outstanding academics, and affordability stand out. Students looking for an education that aims to enlighten while affirming eternal truth and preparing them for lives of success and service are increasingly finding Grove City College. Whether they be among the legacy students who make up about 15 percent of the incoming applications or minority students, who represent nearly the same percentage, they are finding their way to Grove City College.
A good story doesn’t just write itself
It takes thought and planning, a solid outline and a distinctive voice, and, most importantly, a clear vision of where it is going. That’s essential for a story that spans generations, as Grove City College’s does, and has many authors.
The latest chapters – highlights of which are presented in these pages – were plotted out in Building for a Strong and Faithful Future, the strategic plan that’s been the driving the story for the last four years. It was designed to position the College for long term success while strengthening our commitment to timeless Christian truth and values and established six main goals to increase academic excellence, enhance the campus’ Christian environment, improve enrollment, raise brand awareness, streamline fiscal management and build up financial resources.
Extensive progress has been made in fulfilling these goals – even as unforeseen challenges and new opportunities have cropped up and demanded minor revisions to the story in progress.
Now, with Building for a Strong and Faithful Future in its fifth and final year, the time has come to begin drawing up a new outline to work from as the next chapters in Grove City College’s story are written.
“We have seen how valuable it is to have a mission-centric and initiative-driven strategic plan guiding our College,” College President Paul J. McNulty ’80 said. “At the same time, we appreciate the proverbial truth that while we make our plans, God determines our course.”
Work on the new five-year plan is being spearheaded by Craig W. Jones ’74, vice chair of the College’s Board of Trustees, who is working closely with McNulty, Trustee Chair Edward D. Breen ’79, and a committee of comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, board members, and alumni.
“The College is blessed with a deep bench of wise and experienced leaders excited about this challenge,” McNulty said.
“We need to be bold and creative in looking to the future as we assess the current environment and shifting sands, if you will, in higher education,” Jones said.
While Grove City College occupies a unique place in higher education – it is one of a handful of schools that does not accept any federal funding, including student grants and loans, and remains aligned with the Christian faith it was founded upon – it is not immune from the same pressures facing most American colleges and universities. Demographics and economics are driving more schools to rely on federal support and engage in financial gimmicks to attract students from a shrinking pool.
So far, the College has defied many of these trends, with applications for fall 2021 surpassing last year and the past 10-year average. Its commitment to affordability generates heightened conscientiousness about the cost for students and their families. Tuition is still under $30,000, and the College ranks as one of the best values in higher education. That fiscal restraint is distinctive, as is the College’s approach to planning for the future.
“We don’t want to take a linear approach and just continue along the path we’re on. We don’t want to be constrained by anything that’s currently is going on,” Jones said. “We’re going to talk about a vision of where we want to be in three, four or five years and that will be significant in terms of furthering the college’s mission, vision, and values.”