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Things falling into place for Shepherd president

August 16, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- There are times in life when everything seems to fall into place.

This is one such time for Suzanne Shipley, now in her third year as president of Shepherd University. She is the school's 15th president since its founding in 1872.

Classes for the fall semester start Monday. 

Shepherd was the only public institution of higher learning in West Virginia recently named to the national Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges (COPLAC), an honor for which Shepherd applied two years ago, Shipley said.

"There were 25 across the country, now there are 26," she said. "It's a good group to be in."

Shepherd also participates in the Collegiate Learning Assessment Consortium (CLAC). In that program, students are tested on general knowledge, first when they enter as freshmen and then before they graduate as seniors. Shepherd is among the top schools in the country in the program, Shipley said.

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She said in her two years at the helm, she has been amazed at the support the university receives.

"There are so many people proud of what we do here and who want us to get better," Shipley said. "The governor, the legislature, alumni, townspeople, area residents, people in higher education. Institutions have cycles of rising and falling opportunities, and we're in one of those blessed cycles where things are just falling in place."

Enrollment at Shepherd is hovering around 4,300 students with an increase of 2 percent to 3 percent a year, Shipley said.

"It has been jumping up a little. Five thousand dollars is a lot to pay (for a year's tuition), but it is affordable."

Out-of-state tuition is $12,000, she said.

The university's faculty will increase by several new positions to reach around 120 this year, she said. In addition, 170 to 200 adjunct professors also will be on staff, about the same number as last year.

Shepherd is beginning a program to hike adjunct salaries by 15 percent over three years.

"It would take a ton of money to do it all at once," she said.

Adjuncts with bachelor's degrees will earn $365 per credit hour they teach this year. That jumps to $383 the second year and $401 the third year. Those with master's degrees will earn $568 per credit hour they teach this year, $595 next year and $622 the third year. Those with doctoratal degrees will make $711 per credit hour they teach this year, $745 next year and $779 the third year.

The university is entering its first year of a five-year strategic plan to bring about major improvements to the campus.

Among them will be $250,000 to add four or five new teaching positions beginning in the 2010 school year.

A big step for Shepherd will be the modernization of its general education curriculum, including cutting the number of hours required for graduation from 128 to 120.

"Some majors require 40 or 60 hours, and we're going to try to get them all below 50 unless there are specific requirements," Shipley said.

"We're looking at what we teach now, and how competitive and effective we are. We have to try to educate for the future, to prepare students 10 to 20 years ahead or we'll become outdated. It's important that we teach skills for life -- writing, speaking, teamwork form a really broad curriculum."

On tap for future construction in the next few years, if the money comes in from federal and state sources, are a $10 million, 500-car capacity parking garage on campus, which is "still in the talking stages," Shipley said.

A $3 million pedestrian bridge over W.Va. 480, which separates the east and west campuses, is also in the works. Students currently have to walk across the roadway to reach both campuses.

The five-year plan also includes improvements to the appearance of the campus. Already more flowers and landscaping are showing up, and there is less litter, Shipley said.

She envisions a section of North King Street that runs through the campus being a pedestrian-only zone, free of vehicles. Shipley also wants to see "entry ports" that would create gateways to give one a feeling of arriving on campus.

Shepherd opened its new wellness center this year on the west campus to replace the aging Sara Cree Hall, a fitness center and pool on the east campus.

Sara Cree Hall, which also houses the studio theater, will be scheduled for demolition in two to three years, Shipley said.

"We'll keep Sara Cree's name to honor her memory," she said. 

Cree taught at Shepherd from 1940 until she retired in 1972 as chairwoman of the physical education department. She was named an outstanding educator in America in 1970, and was inducted into the School of Physical Education Hall of Fame in 1990.

Cree, a longtime Shepherdstown resident, died in October 2004.

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