By Katie Garwood | firstname.lastname@example.org
For Alan Woolfolk, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty, being “average” isn’t an option for Flagler College.
Efforts to strengthen and improve the academic program at the college are part of the latest strategic plan, which will be finalized soon. These efforts consist of building up current academic programs and establishing new ones.
“I see Flagler as a school that is on its way up and is improving academically,” Woolfolk said. “But I think we need to sharpen our identity. We need to clarify exactly who we are, and one way of doing that is developing programs that take advantage of the rich culture and heritage of this city and region.”
One way to define the college is by strengthening its academic programs, Woolfolk said. Newer majors, such as criminology and coastal environmental science, are doing well, and more majors are on the way. Part of the reason coastal environmental science is succeeding at Flagler is because of the campus’ location.
“Flagler is a unique place in a unique location, so let’s leverage the location as much as we can,” Woolfolk said. “That’s one way to make us distinctive.”
Starting next fall, a hospitality and tourism management major will be offered, which Woolfolk said “is a natural for Flagler.” Also beginning in the fall is the college’s first master’s program, in deaf education, which will elevate Flagler to a master’s level institution. A finance major has also been added.
Although forming new majors is crucial to strengthening the school academically, developing existing programs is equally, if not more, important. For example, the finance major is part of the Business Administration program. The Faculty Senate approved the finance major Feb. 17. Other programs that are on the table to be expanded include anthropology and natural sciences. Both programs may be seeing new majors in archaeology and biology, respectively, in the future.
“We’re moving in a lot of different directions right now, but my goal is to take what Flagler has and to make it stronger, to better define it, and figure out ways in which we can distinguish ourselves,” Woolfolk said.
Currently, the college is developing its “high-impact” practices to challenge students, such as undergraduate research, study abroad, internships and service learning. According to Woolfolk, the budget for undergraduate research, which he “fully expect[s]” to grow, is being increased next year. In study abroad, new exchange programs have been established with German and Japanese universities.
New programs are also being proposed, starting with an Honors program. A small group of students will be invited into the program as incoming freshmen based on their academic profile. Students in the program will be placed in honors sections of certain courses and be required to write a senior honors thesis at the end of the program, among other requirements.
“I think it’s a program students will like. It’s not going to overwhelm them, but it will engage our best students,” Woolfolk said.
Retention and recruitment
Part of the reason for creating an honors program is to attract more high-achieving students to the school. But, according to Vice President of Enrollment Management Deborah Thompson, having the “right mix” of students is important as well.
“We’re not looking to replicate anyone else’s profile, so if you looked at the student who goes to Harvard or Princeton or any of the Ivies, they’re all going to look very much the same,” Thompson said. “Because of the mix of programs we offer, our location, our academic profile really doesn’t match a lot of other institutions.”
Strengthening the academic profile of the school, rather than radically changing it, is what the college is looking to accomplish. To do that, several scholarships for incoming students have been added in the past few years. Before that, there were no scholarships for incoming students because of Flagler’s relatively low cost for a private school.
“We wanted to differentiate between the student that pushed themselves in high school and achieved at a very high level, so we wanted to reward that up front in the admissions process,” Thompson said. “Obviously, we want more high-achieving students, that makes for a richer educational environment for the students that are here, and we want that for Flagler.”
Once the students are recruited, the next step is keeping them at the school for all four years. Thompson said largely that is a matter of finding a student who is the right fit for the school.
“If you weren’t very involved, you didn’t take college prep courses and you had an average performance on standardized tests while you were in high school, you’re probably not a good fit for Flagler,” Thompson said. “We’re looking for a really well-rounded person, so we use that model to go out and direct our efforts to find people to apply to the institution.”
When more students who are the right fit for Flagler are found, retention rates should start to rise, which is a goal schoolwide. For the past school year, retention rates rose 4 percent to 72 percent. For Thompson, retention is especially important because it gauges how well the admissions and recruiting team kept their promises to incoming students.
“It is a challenge for us when we aren’t able to deliver an excellent experience,” she said. “For me, it is most devastating for the student because they made a decision that they thought was going to be a four-year decision, they were going to be here at Flagler and finish their undergraduate, and something didn’t go the way they thought it was going to go and they had to go and find another institution in the middle or at the end of the first year. That’s not what we want for anyone.”
Also, with higher retention rates, incoming classes would be smaller — somewhere close to 600 students, she said.
“That gives us the ability to be a bit more selective in the students that we bring to the institution and that raises the value of a Flagler diploma,” Thompson said. “If it’s harder to get in, then people want what they think they can’t have.”
A central part of improving and moving forward as a whole for the college is emphasizing distinctiveness: in the location, the student body and the academic programs.
“There are a lot of models out there,” Woolfolk said. “But I would hope Flagler would go its own way.”