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Q&A: Harold Shank, president, Ohio Valley University

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Ohio Valley University, in the Wood County community of Vienna, is the second-smallest of West Virginia's eight private nonprofit colleges and universities. OVU President Harold Shank took time this week to talk with The State Journal about the business side of running an institution of higher education in the current economic and academic environment.

THE STATE JOURNAL: Is your school responding to the changing business environment in higher education? 

HAROLD SHANK: We are fully aware of the changes taking place in higher education. The calls to reinvent higher education come from many sources. As a Christian university we respond by seeking to re-imagine higher education in that context. We strive to find new ways to educate graduates that are competent people of character — who not only serve well in a career — but who act in ways that make their families, churches, neighborhoods and communities better. We do not believe education or career can be simply reduced to a financial equation. Life offers too much to be reduced to a spreadsheet. Life-long learning builds satisfaction and character, which we believe is a significant return on investment.

TSJ: Are you offering new academic programs or eliminating those that have outlived their usefulness? 

HS: The history of higher education reflects constant change in focus and adjustment to societal contexts. Our current time echoes the past in higher education. As a faith-based institution of higher education, we regularly strategize about how to prepare students for a constantly changing world. On March 1, 2014, we instituted a new campus-wide strategic planning process to reevaluate our academic offerings. We have also recently rewritten the objectives of our associate of arts degrees and recast the outcomes of our core general education program. The brief answer to your question is that we continually evaluate current and new programs.

TSJ: Are you investing in new student housing and recreation facilities? 

HS: Although our current housing provides ample room for our 2013-14 student body, we continue to explore creative ways to enhance student life. Many schools find that using outside housing contractors allows the school to concentrate on education and transformation while relying on experts in the housing industry to focus on student accommodation.

TSJ: Are you recruiting more students from a wider geographic area, including overseas? 

HS: Statistics show that most students prefer to attend a college within a couple hundred miles of their homes. As a faith-based institution associated with Churches of Christ — and the only such university in the 16 states around Vienna (Kentucky to Maine, Indiana to New Jersey) — Ohio Valley University draws students from 23 states. International students often prefer the small class size and personalized attention offered by OVU. Currently students from 15 countries attend OVU. In brief, we continue to draw students from areas beyond our immediate location.

TSJ: What are you doing to manage resources more wisely? 

HS: Faith-based universities focus on the transformation of lives by preparing students to be competent in their career and people of character in their communities. This specialized purpose separates these institutions from most other organizations in contemporary society. Despite the difference, Ohio Valley University operates on sound business principles and models fiscal responsibility. Recent new hires, including an executive vice president/chief financial officer, a director of the office of institutional effectiveness, a director of admissions management and a director of marketing, have all come from industry and business. They all bring discipline, knowledge of sound operating principles and expertise in efficiently managing university resources.

TSJ: Are you increasing fundraising efforts?

HS: Historically, many donors find faith-based education an endeavor worth supporting. At Ohio Valley University approximately one-third of the cost of a Christian education comes from donor contributions. As a relatively young school, OVU increasingly turns to a growing number of alumni to partner with their alma mater. We launched "Imagine, Renew, Soar," a national campaign to raise $7.5 million for operations and campus improvements. Ironically, our five-year plan calls for decreased dependence upon donor dollars as enrollment climbs to a more sustainable level.