• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Midway University on ‘growth trajectory’


A groundbreaking ceremony and name reveal for the new Hunter Field House on the campus of Midway University last Thursday, Nov. 8, happens at a time of tremendous growth at the historic women’s college.

It also comes on the heels of tremendous change at Midway University, which President Dr. John Marsden wrote about in President to President, which focused on challenges facing higher education.

“By 2016,” Marsden wrote, “it was time to reinvent Midway University once again.”

The institution’s “risky and rapid reinvention” began in the fall 2016 semester, Marsden explained, when the university absorbed men’s athletic teams from St. Catherine College, which was facing closure because of its financial instability.

The launch of men’s athletic teams in baseball, basketball, golf and soccer helped increase enrollment in Midway University’s daytime programs from 266 in the fall of 2015 to 432 in the fall of 2016. Daytime enrollment continued to climb in the fall of 2017 (488 students) and the fall of 2018 (571 students), which Marsden shared with other university presidents when he wrote about a “Return on Athletics.”

Midway University’s Board of Trustees made a courageous decision to support his administration’s recommendation to move from being a historic women’s college to becoming a coeducational institution, Marsden said, with enrollment in decline and expenses exceeding revenues in the summer of 2013.

“… I do sleep a little better these days than I did the first three years of my presidency,” Marsden told the Sun, “because of the improvements that have happened. We’ve become much more stable financially as an institution. And we’re on a growth trajectory.

“I always like to say that when I came here in 2013, my first summer,” he continued, “we were borrowing millions of dollars to make payroll. We’ve now been raising millions of dollars to expand our infrastructure to support our student growth.

“We’re not building it – hoping the students will come. We’re building it so that they will stay.”

The Hunter Field House will provide much needed space for Midway University’s growing athletic program by adding an auxiliary gym, a weight and fitness room, an elevated walking track, as well as study areas for students and offices for coaches, said Marsden told the Sun.

“In terms of our expanding athletics program,” he said, “we really did need this additional building.” Since becoming a co-educational institution and offering more opportunities for student-athletes, enrollment has climbed at Midway University. “Right now, athletics is very important to this particular demographic,” said Marsden.

“We just have to keep reminding them that they’re here to get an education first – athletics is secondary,” while also recognizing that playing a sport can instill values such as teamwork, integrity and respect.

With the recent additions of men’s wrestling and volleyball as well as women’s track and field, Marsden said Midway University currently has 20 sports teams – a substantial increase from the eight in the spring of 2016. With only one gym on campus, he said, “It has become very, very challenging to schedule (gym time for) all of those different teams.”

Midway University’s cheer and dance team will sometimes practice in the administration building because the gym is not available and baseball players have had batting practice in the equestrian program’s Keeneland Barn – “not really the best thing for our horses,” he added.

Midway University moved forward with the Hunter Field House project after raising 90 percent of its $5 million goal during its Campaign for Opportunities, Marsden said.

If construction wraps up at the end of calendar year 2019 as hoped, he said students would begin using the Hunter Field House in the spring 2020 semester.

“Athletics did help with our turnaround and stabilizing the institution,” said Marsden, “but we’re at a point now where we have been reinvesting in academics as well. So we were able to hire some additional faculty that joined us this year.

“We have invested in faculty development funds so faculty can travel to conferences and engage in research with undergraduate students because that type of hands-on experience is important to our students, particularly those who are considering graduate school. So we’re looking at ways that we can invest more into the faculty too.”

Midway University has received its initial accreditation for a master’s of science and nursing program, which Marsden described “as another great accomplishment.” The university already offers a master of education – launched a few years ago – and a master of business administration in four concentrations, he said.

Students in Fayette, Franklin, Scott and Woodford counties can now earn college credit for courses taken in high school through Midway University’s dual credit offerings, Marsden explained. He said 409 high school students are registered for dual credit courses at Midway University this semester.

“We only had, I think it was eight (students in dual credit courses) last year,” said Marsden. “So this really exploded this year. Many of the high schools wanted to partner with us,” which then can serve “as a potential pipeline” for students who want to take undergraduate classes at Midway University.

“It’s a way to increase our visibility among families as well,” added Marsden. “…And we’re always interested in working with different partners.”

Through its business advantage program, Midway University has formed partnerships with numerous area companies to offer reduced-tuition – typically about a 15 percent savings – for employees of those companies, according to Marsden.

He said residents of Midway are offered the same discounted tuition rates, which only apply to online programs, through a partnership with the City of Midway. Students in traditional, daytime college classes are eligible for athletic and academic scholarships, he said.

“More and more people – on all levels and in many different ways – now want to work with Midway University,” said Marsden. He said that includes stronger applicants wanting to work for the institution, as well as more donors and event sponsorships.

Midway University’s financial turnaround and reinvention have been covered in publications, including the Lane Report. A new undergraduate course in bourbon studies, focusing on the hospitality side of Kentucky’s bourbon tourism industry, made national headlines in a recent NBCNews.com article about the program and its first graduate, Samantha Weldon.

“We’re excited about the future, and believe that we will have some continued growth,” said Marsden. “And at the moment we are addressing ways that we can continue to grow and support the growth that we have. So housing is something that we’re looking at more closely now.” He pointed out that many students “really want” to remain on campus these days.

Knowing more students want to live on campus, Midway University renovated the bathrooms in Belle Wisdom Hall and its board of trustees will explore options to offer more on-campus residential spaces for students, which Marsden described as “our top priority right now,” but he said there are also needs for better barn and classroom facilities for students in the equine program.

In terms of classrooms, Midway University will likely explore options to repurpose space on the second floor of its library, according to Marsden. He said spaces on the library’s first floor have already been repurposed as an international affairs office and a student success center, which offers tutoring, academic support, advising and career services.

“Some students will study there in group situations. It’s a little more of a social hub,” Marsden said.

Looking forward, Midway University’s president said he will rely on a leadership style of being inclusive. That’s why he welcomes input from others on campus before he makes a decision, he explained.

“… If you’re operating in a silo, you don’t realize necessarily the impact (a decision) has on other offices. So we have to all come to the table and talk the issue through,” said Marsden.

“At the end of the day,” he concluded, “every decision has to be made with the caveat: Is this what’s best for our students?”

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