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The future of higher education

The early reports are generally positive. Despite having only a few days to prepare to teach students online, our faculty have done superb work, and our students have proven they are committed and adaptive. While none of us would have chosen this new reality, education continues through Davis & Elkins College. For this reality, I am grateful.

Yet, the eerie silence of the campus will only be remedied with the return of students, faculty and staff. That cannot and will not happen until it is safe to do so, but the restoration of campus equilibrium requires a multitude of feet once again walking on the hallowed grounds of the hill above the city of Elkins.

Some national publications have published articles pondering if online education will replace the traditional face-to-face classroom, particularly now that so many students are sampling this different delivery method. Some have wondered if it is the end of “traditional” colleges.

My perspective is limited to only one such “traditional” college, but my response to these national ponderings is an unqualified and definitive “no!” Though the early reports of our move to online education have indicated faculty and students are adapting, the reason is the extraordinary circumstances of these unprecedented days. If given the choice to return to the reality of pre-COVID existence on the D&E campus, without a doubt I know the desire of our students, faculty and staff.

As alumni of this institution will attest, there is something special, magical and unique about the years spent on the D&E campus. It is the beauty of the mountains, the depth of friendships, the expansion of one’s worldview, the relationship with professors, coaches and staff, and finding that vocational sense of meaning and purpose that is at the core of the D&E experience. At D&E, a student from rural West Virginia befriends another student from New Zealand. A professor will invest himself or herself in a student’s life and guide that individual to a career of purpose and immense joy. Spiritual life is ignited through leadership of Chapel or participation in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Experiences with teammates on the field or court are seared into memories that will never fade over a lifetime. Leadership skills are honed through student government, Greek life, or internships. Appreciation of the arts is the result of immersion in theater, choir, painting or the Appalachian Ensemble. Lifelong friends and spouses emerge from four years of living and learning together. A deep and abiding love with a College is given birth.

None of the above is possible with online learning. It is only as we immerse ourselves into the beloved community on campus that a Davis & Elkins College education transforms lives. The “traditional” college experience at a small Presbyterian institution in Randolph County is not going away. These few weeks of this unusual semester will fade in our memories, only to be replaced with the return of inquisitive students, devoted faculty and caring staff walking these hallowed grounds.

I look forward to that glorious day. In the interim, I wait, pray and plan for a future of hope and promise.

The journey continues…

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