by Dave Ongie
Before Milligan College president Dr. Bill Greer made a major announcement regarding the future of the school, he took some time to draw a thumbnail sketch of Milligan’s history for those gathered inside the Gregory Center last Friday morning.
Greer retraced the steps that led to the founding of the school over 150 years ago. He spoke of Milligan’s struggle to stay open during World War II, which ultimately led to the bold decision to suspend operations and allow the campus to be used exclusively by the U.S. Navy to train officers. He also reflected on the post-war boom period that allowed Milligan to grow into what it is today.
Two things became clear during Greer’s walk down memory lane. First, the traditions of Milligan and the foundation the school is built upon are enduring and undeniable. That deep sense of tradition is what led a couple of alumni who felt passionately about Milligan to press Greer to make a promise not to change the name of the school as he prepared to take over as Milligan’s president in 2011.
“I was consistent in saying I could not and would not make that promise,” Greer said. “I could only promise what I would do was my very best to lead Milligan forward, ensuring that we would continue to offer programs that are central to our mission and relevant to the market.”
That leads to the other main theme of Greer’s history lesson. While tradition is revered, change has also been a constant throughout Milligan’s long history. And the changes the institution has undergone in recent years put Greer and the board of directors under increasing pressure to call Milligan what it is – a university.
Under Greer’s leadership, Milligan is now composed of five schools – the William B. Greene School of Business and Technology, the School of Arts and Humanities, the School of Bible and Ministry the School of Sciences and Allied Health and the School of Social Sciences and Education.
“With that organization, we became a university, if not in name,” Greer said. “We’re classified by organizations like the Carnegie Foundation and U.S. News & World Report as a university. In fact, this year we’re listed as No. 13 on the list of best regional universities in the South by U.S. News.”
With that in mind, Milligan’s board of directors held a vote and made the decision to change Milligan’s name to Milligan University effective June 1 of next year. In some ways, the move was a matter of semantics – no ground was broken, no ribbons cut.
But anyone well-versed in marketing is keenly aware what a subtle name change can do. In the case of Milligan College, which has students from over 30 countries on campus in the midst of a sharp increase in international enrollment, Greer believes the name change could pay huge dividends overseas.
“Enrollment of international students is on the increase, growing 28 percent over last year alone,” Greer said. “In fact, nearly 10 percent of this year’s incoming class came from foreign countries, and 5 percent of our student body came from foreign countries.
“We believe this number can grow, but the name ‘college’ is a barrier in other countries because colleges are often considered inferior to universities. That’s not necessarily true in the U.S., but it certainly is abroad.”
As Milligan College makes the transition to Milligan University next summer, the student center will undergo a dramatic facelift. Thanks to a donation from 3CLANE Family Foundation, Inc., the student center will receive a new external façade and entrance in addition to several updates to the building’s interior.
According to a release from Milligan, the remodeled areas will flow into the recently updated dining area, Fireside Grill. Additional outdoor space will be added and connect to the building with doors that lift open, and modern furnishings will update gathering spaces. A new high-tech a/v system also will be incorporated throughout the building.
“I am deeply grateful to the 3CLANE Family Foundation for making this project possible,” Greer said. “The generosity of this family foundation has been manifest through their support of the Neely Scholarships at Emmanuel Christian Seminary and will now impact the entire university as we carry out this project in the heart of campus.”
As Greer offered a glimpse into Milligan’s future last Friday, he did so with a playful nod toward both the tradition and the change that has paved the road to the present.
“In its early days, (Milligan) had three primary goals,” Greer said. “The thorough training of the student, the prohibition of the whisky traffic and the spreading of the teachings of Christ to the world. We still pursue two out of three. I’ll let you be the judge of which two.”