ABU’s next challenge

Alderson Broadus University has made great strides since Dr. Richard Creehan has taken the helm as president. The most obvious change is its new designation from college to university. Creehan also has managed to raise $30 million to invest in enrollment recruitment, to enhance infrastructure and to add and improve academic programs.

Affordable Colleges Online ranked ABU as second in West Virginia for best lifetime return on investments. However, for a small liberal arts school, ABU is quite expensive at nearly $30,000 including tuition, fees and room and board. Considering many students will take out some degree of loans, accruing interests plus miscellaneous expenses for four years will mean a total of more than $120,000.

Recruiting future students means the ritualistic campus tour. Potential students and their parents will no doubt want to check out the surrounding community. Here we find ABU’s problem: Philippi’s Main Street is a ghost town that lives up to unfortunate Appalachian stereotypes. Why would parents want to invest more than $120,000 when their children’s only off-campus food option, within walking distance, is at a gas station? There are plenty of other schools for the same price with more lively

communities.

Playing a leadership role in the improvement of the off-campus environment is a responsibility of all universities. Both rural and urban schools face this challenge. My alma mater, the University of Southern California, is in the middle of South Los Angeles – just a few blocks from the site of the LA riots. USC took it upon itself to gradually buy up the nearby real estate and make appropriate renovations. Some of the property was turned into student housing; other property was turned into commercial shopping centers. USC certainly has more resources than ABU, but ABU buying and renovating downtown Philippi would be on scale with USC buying LA real estate.

Downtown Philippi offers a great opportunity for ABU to resuscitate life into the community. The perfect makeover would be a river walk. Stores and restaurants could have entrances on Main and Railroad street. Restaurants could offer rear patio dining. Existing buildings that can adapt to the river walk’s design can stay, while dilapidated ones can be demolished. Stores could include a book store, an antique store, a fishing and hunting store, a camping and hiking store, a bicycle store, an Italian restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, a sandwich shop, an ice cream shop, etc.

An existing pedestrian and bike path in north Philippi already nearly stretches to Main Street. This could be connected to the river walk and extend into south Philippi. This path could be the beginning of a recreational network to other towns in Barbour County.

This project would take ABU to a whole new level, no doubt increasing enrollment and justifying increases in tuition. Simultaneously, it will bring Philippi’s downtown back to life. This river walk would not only attract students and local customers; it also would attract folks from nearby towns looking for a refreshing day trip.

Hopefully ABU will seriously consider the revolutionary role it can play in finally revitalizing Philippi to the great downtown it once was – or maybe even something greater.