Reinhardt's Graduation Day
A 100-year-old school becomes a university
Reinhardt College in Waleska changed its name to Reinhardt University June 1. Leaders at the school say the change does not represent ambitions for the future – it just brings the name up-to-date with the school’s recent growth.
The United Methodist Church-affiliated private institution is located in northern Cherokee County off I-575, about 45 minutes from Atlanta. Reinhardt was founded by two Civil War veterans, both officers, and opened in 1884. From its beginning as a one-room school housed in a cabinet shop, Reinhardt has become an institution serving more than 1,100 students at the main campus in Waleska plus a North Fulton center in Alpharetta and satellite sites in Cartersville, Marietta and the Epworth community near Blue Ridge.
When Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood came to Reinhardt as president in 2002, the college offered 17 degree programs. The most recent five-year plan called for offering 40 degrees by 2010. “We have 43 right now,” Isherwood says. “That averages out to bringing three new products to market every year. For an institution of our size, we have a comprehensive inventory of degree programs.”
That range of undergraduate programs and four graduate programs is a key reason for changing the name to Rein-hardt University. Isherwood says the new name “is really not as much a reflection of where we want to go as it is a statement of where we are. It’s not an aspiration. We’re already there.”
The Reinhardt campus blends a traditional private school setting with new state-of-the-art facilities. The main campus is nestled on a portion of a 500-acre tract, with the bulk of the picturesque land offering miles of hiking and biking trails. Reinhardt’s historic center is a series of red brick buildings where students gather in small groups or chat with professors between classes.
Surrounding this tight central cluster are residential halls and several new facilities scattered around the wooded campus. Two of those – the Falany Performing Arts Center, a state-of-the-art music hall and video production facility, and the Fincher Visual Arts Center – feature Italian-inspired architecture and face each other across a quiet mountain lake. The campus is also home to the Funk Heritage Center, which interprets the history of Native Americans and early Appalachian settlers and showcases artifacts.
While new construction and renovations on the campus provide evidence of Reinhardt’s recent strategic plan, Isherwood says the university’s board has adopted a new five-year plan that runs through 2015. That plan calls for growing to 1,500 students by 2015, but still maintaining small class sizes. The current ratio of 14 students to one teacher could rise to 17 to one, Isherwood says, which would still be “considerably smaller than our sister institutions in the public sector.”
He says it is “tough to hide at Reinhardt. We’re big on relationships.” Beyond the appealing campus and facilities, he says, “The No. 1 reason students give us for coming here is the relationship they have with the faculty. You can’t have that relationship if you’re taking chemistry with 80 of your closest friends.”
Isherwood says Reinhardt is a financially stable institution, reaching its largest enrollment last fall with 1,124 students. The school gave $4.2 million in scholarships last year, and “about 97 percent of our students receive some sort of financial assistance.” Reinhardt ranks as one of the most affordable private institutions in Georgia, he says. The typical costs for two semesters during 2009-2010, including tuition, fees and room and board, averaged about $18,000 after HOPE and other scholarships.
Reinhardt has an annual fund-raising campaign that generates around $990,000; two years ago, the college finished an $18 million capital campaign.
“With the completion of our strategic plan and the associated construction, we’ll probably start a new capital campaign in 2011 to raise $17 million to $18 million,” Isherwood says. The first item in the new plan will be a $4-million science building, followed by a $3-million renovation to convert the former Jones Hall residences into an academic building.
The new university status also reflects Reinhardt’s expansion beyond its main campus in Waleska to the satellite centers and expanded online courses. Isherwood says, “That’s another reason for the switch to the university name: what we’re doing in outreach at so many locations.”
Isherwood says the university’s “facts and figures can be duplicated by other institutions, but there’s such a sense of history and spirit here that drives this institution.” He mentions a 2009 incoming freshman who represents the fourth generation in her family to come to Reinhardt. Isherwood believes the number of family members who continue enrolling “speaks to this institution’s commitment to the idea of relationships.”
Dr. Robert Driscoll, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the university, says the move to university status has been spurred by a variety of new initiatives. For example, Reinhardt has developed special programs that provide opportunities for working adults to move into teaching.
The university is implementing a master’s in music program this summer, with plans for a master’s in education and another in special education to begin in the fall of 2011. Reinhardt is also looking at expanding its police academy program from a two-year associate’s degree in criminal justice into a four-year degree and ultimately a master’s program. Other programs under consideration include expanding a creative writing minor into a major program; developing more healthcare-related programming; and devising a master’s in public administration.
“Part of our challenge while we’re still developing this is to make sure the programs we have put in place have time to grow and become fully stabilized,” Driscoll says. “These days, any college or university can get stuck too much in the past or the present. We try to blend the liberal arts-based degrees to the needs of professional programs. We all know that integrated programming is important for our future.”
The 2009-2010 Reinhardt enrollment includes traditional, non-traditional and graduate programs, according to Julie Fleming, director of admissions. Traditional students are enrolled at the main campus in Waleska, and non-traditional students are enrolled at off-campus sites or in online classes. Fleming says enrollment is fairly evenly split among three groups: residential students in Waleska; those who commute to the main campus; and graduate and non-traditional students. “Our goal is to grow to about 1,500 students, which would still be divided evenly among those three groups,” Fleming adds.
Originally serving students ranging from elementary to college-age, Reinhardt awarded its first two-year degree in 1927 and its first baccalaureate degree in 1994. Fleming says the only associates’ program Reinhardt now promotes is in pre-nursing. The university has articulation agreements with Emory University and LaGrange College that allow eligible students to transfer to those institutions.
Fleming says about 90 percent of Reinhardt’s students are from Georgia – mostly from counties surrounding Cherokee. “It’s hard not to take advantage of the HOPE Scholarship funds that are available,” she says. In coming years, Reinhardt expects to do more recruiting in neighboring Southern states, particularly Florida.
“One of the reasons for changing our name is that we feel it will be helpful in recruiting students,” she says. “We have so many programs to offer, and a number of different areas are really growing right now.” However, Fleming adds, “There is still a small-school feel here.”
Dr. Roger Lee, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, agrees that moving to university status “is a good step for us. With our master’s programs in place and the growth in undergraduate students, this is going to be good for Reinhardt.”
The school is a member of the Appalachian Athletic Conference, with 220 student athletes participating in 14 sports. “We hope to increase that to 240 this year with the addition of women’s lacrosse,” Lee says. Reinhardt awarded $950,000 in athletic scholarships last year, a number he expects will reach $1.1 million in 2010-2011.
Two years ago, Lee says, Reinhardt introduced two new annual programs that have grown quickly. One is a leadership academy, which provides training for 100 students. The other is the “convocation of artists and scholars,” which showcases the academic and creative work of students through artwork, poetry readings, research projects and recitals at the 17,000-square-foot student center.
Teacher education accounts for the largest enrollment at Reinhardt, with two new programs responsible for much of that expansion, says Dr. Jim Curry, dean of the Price School of Education. Curry says the school has experienced “tremendous growth” in the WAIT (Working Adults Into Teaching) program, an evening degree completion track, “which takes individuals with associates degrees or around two years of college and provides a major in early childhood education so they can go into teaching.” WAIT is offered at the Waleska campus and at the satellite center in Epworth near Blue Ridge.
Of WAIT’s success, Driscoll says, “There are a lot of people working in positions who are not really happy folk, but they can’t leave their jobs to be a part-time or full-time student. Colleges and universities have not been very creative in trying to figure out how to deal with that. So we decided to do an evening program for people who are in jobs or have degrees and want to teach, but they can’t take two years out of their lives.”
Another success has been the Masters of Arts in Teaching (MAT), which began in the fall of 2009, Curry says. The two-year program allows those with college degrees not in the field of education to become certified as teachers and obtain a master’s degree.
The McCamish School of Business accounts for the second largest enrollment, says Dr. Don Wilson, the school’s dean. Some 200 students are in the undergraduate degree program on the Waleska campus; 12 to 24 are in the MBA program; and another 80 are in adult degree programs in organization management and leadership with a public safety option.
Wilson says Reinhardt is “always refining our MBA program to keep it relevant, timely and current. We want to keep our adult degree completion programs moving down the road. We also continue to find different geographic areas that might need our support.”
Dr. William DeAngelis, dean of the School of Mathemat-ics and Sciences, says his school has about 300 students in Waleska and the North Fulton center. “Our largest department is biology, where we have tracks for biology majors, pre-med, pre-dental and pre-pharmacy on campus.” The popular public safety training programs are housed in this school and are administered as part of the sociology offerings.
Dr. Dennis McIntire, interim dean of the School of Communication, Arts and Music, says the music program has 105 music majors. “We’re one of the few small colleges with a full orchestra program,” he says. All the students must audition to be accepted into music study and they all have “some level of scholarship support,” he adds. “We try to package our academic and music scholarships together. When you’re competing with public schools, you have to make yourself as affordable as possible.”
Another 55 to 60 students are major-ing in communication. The communications center includes a TV studio, video equipment and an editing lab. The school offers degrees in such areas as public relations, writing for the media and visual communications.
Reinhardt provides a comprehensive set of services for students and alumni alike. Peggy Collins Feehery, director of career services, says her office has upgraded technology to add webcams so students can interview interactively and participate in online career fairs. “We have also purchased video equipment so they can tape practice interviews,” she says. With Reinhardt operating at multiple locations, “We are installing the tools so we can provide cyber-counseling.”
In addition to participating in job fairs in Metro Atlanta, the office has been busy identifying area employees and connecting them with students seeking part-time jobs. “We’re also trying to get more students into internships,” Feehery added.
Reinhardt alumni feel positive about the change from college to university, according to Jennifer Matthews, director of alumni and a Reinhardt graduate whose parents met as students at Reinhardt.
Matthews says her position includes staying in touch with alumni and sharing success stories of other graduates. One notable alumni is Jenny Beth Martin, a co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots who was named to Time magazine’s list of 100 most influential people earlier this year. Another is Chanda Bell, co-author of the “Elf on a Shelf” book series. “We want to tell people that we may be a small school in Georgia, but we put out some great people,” Matthews says.
Stephen Karafa, a Reinhardt sophomore from Villa Rica, says he looked at public schools plus two private schools in Georgia and Tennessee. “I found the faculty was more open here than at other schools,” he says. “I felt I knew the staff and professors before I was admitted, which gave me a higher comfort level.”
Karafa likes the student/teacher ratios. “I’m glad they are able to keep it low. It’s great to know professors on both an academic and personal level, as well as the other students in the class.
“There are also no class divides here,” says Karafa, the first member of his family to attend Reinhardt. “We do have a lot of multi-generational families that come here, but it’s not like those people are held at a higher standpoint than you. You can come as an entry-type person and still have a place in the Reinhardt family.”