Today’s Featured Expert
Dr. Scott D. Miller
President of Bethany College
How does one describe a higher-education expert like Dr. Scott D. Miller, President of Bethany College, in West Virginia? “Entrepreneurial” and “transformational” are often employed to describe this veteran, liberal-arts college president.
I should mention that Scott and I go back a few years to when I wrote the history of Wesley College, Meeting the Challenge: The Wesley College Story 1873-2005.
Scott didn’t begin his career as an academic. He worked his way through West Virginia Wesleyan College as a journalist, writing for a newspaper system that published three papers. His column, “Miller Time,” took a colorful look at the West Virginia sports scene.
His work caught the attention of a college president in Ohio looking for a speech writer and a publicist. “I was 22 years old at the time, and he hired me in that capacity. I worked inside the president’s office at what is now called the University of Rio Grande,” Scott recalled.
Having access to the CEO at Rio Grande for three years gave Scott his formative education in higher education.
Rio Grande was an unusual institution. It was the first one in the country to combine a four-year private college and a two-year community college, sharing the same campus and the same faculty. “This gave me a unique introduction to higher education, including the usual and some unusual revenue streams,” he said.
From Rio Grande, at age 25, he moved to Lincoln Memorial University as the nation’s youngest Vice President of Development, and then to the post of Executive Vice President. “I worked with first-generation students from East Tennessee and East Kentucky,” he said. “The school never had a history of raising money from private sources, so I applied some innovative techniques that were ahead of the time in raising money. I also developed programs that took place at off-campus centers—which weren’t the norm back then.”
With a growing national reputation in higher education leadership, Scott accepted the presidency of Wesley College in Dover, Delaware. In his 10 and a half years in this position, he left a legacy that serves as a model for transformational college presidents.
Under his leadership, Wesley’s applications tripled, enrollment doubled, and SAT scores of incoming freshmen rose by 133 points, while the student retention rate soared to a consistent 90 percent from 52 percent. Scott eliminated a decade of budget deficits, balanced the budget every year, tripled revenues, and generated $40 million in upgrades to campus facilities.
In the words of Richard H. Ekman, President of the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC), in Washington, D.C., “New ideas don’t sit on the sidelines with Scott. They are acted upon right away.”
Scott brought to Bethany the same innovative spirit that had transformed Wesley College when he arrived on the campus of West Virginia’s oldest college in the fall of 2007. In the last four and a half years, he’s raised more than $40 million as part of a $52-million capital campaign. He’s boosted enrollment and alumni giving, developed collaborative academic programs, and set the College on sound financial footing, operating from a 10-year master plan that will take Bethany into 2020.
Recently, when we spoke about featuring him in this Experts Corner column, I asked what makes him tick.
“I’m very competitive, especially when it comes to higher education,” he said. “Opportunities abound for those who lead well.”
“My three presidencies have been marked by substantial quantitative and qualitative growth. The schools became much better off financially than when I arrived. As in business, that’s the bottom line.”