Albright College logo fbigtwyt
HOME | ABOUT | ARCHIVES | AWARDS

Albright Reporter: You promised when you started in 2005 to be an advocate for the liberal arts. Why has this been important to you?

Lex McMillan: It’s important because of my own personal experience having had a wonderful, transformational undergraduate experience and realizing that that liberal arts experience prepared me well for a life of change and unpredictability.

I know I’ve been an annoyingly redundant advocate about it. I’ve weaved it into every talk I’ve given, have returned to it multiple times in essays I’ve written for The Reporter, and in fact, this year I’ve been calling it ‘connecting the dots.’ I was stunned and dismayed at a recent survey of seniors that said the thing they most needed that we did the least of was to prepare them for their jobs. I thought, ‘You are so wrong!’

But it’s our fault for not connecting the dots, for not letting them know that what employers want in their employees are people who can think, write, communicate well, adjust to changing circumstances, get along well with those of diverse backgrounds, and have an impact on an organization. They want people who ask ‘why.’ Asking questions—that’s what well-educated people do. So I’ve sung that song and tried to convey that message in settings large and small.

AR: In 2005, the hot button issues in higher education were affordability and accountability. What are they today?

LM: They are still key issues. Regarding affordability, what is often lost in the mix is a distinction between the sticker price and the actual cost that students and families pay. Certainly, in the case of Albright and the independent sector in Pennsylvania, the actual amount that students and families are paying today in real dollars is only slightly higher than it was a decade ago. It hasn’t even kept up with inflation, which is kind of a problem for us, actually. What it means is that we’re collecting less revenue per student today in real dollars than we were a decade ago. That’s not a recipe for long-term success.

The way we make up the difference traditionally is through philanthropic support, which is so important to us and will continue to be important, and other sources of  revenue, like our accelerated degree programs.

The access and affordability issue oftentimes glosses over that places like Albright have a deep commitment to making college affordable. The most expensive line in our budget is financial aid. We give away tens of millions of dollars a year to make this place affordable for young people, and it’s one of the paradoxes of education in Pennsylvania: the average family income of students in the public sector is actually higher than the average family income of students in the private sector. This is because of the aggressive commitment that the private-sector schools have to making their colleges affordable.

The other issue that has crept up with more pronounced volume is the question of the utility of this type of education and higher education in general. This is a knowledge economy. Those who are going to run, manage and lead a knowledge economy are going to be well-educated people with a set of skills like those provided at a place like Albright.

AR: What do you wish you knew about Albright when you began in 2005?

LM: Broadly, there is really no way to be prepared for what it’s actually like to be a college president. I’ve worked my entire life in higher education. I’ve worked closely with other presidents and worked my way up through senior leadership. There’s nothing quite like getting in that seat and buckling in your seatbelt. The entire 12 years has been a learning process. I actually feel like I’m a much better college president today than 12 years ago…I hope so. I consider myself a lifelong learner and I’ve paid a lot of attention to issues of leadership, management, strategic thinking, leading teams, effectively motivating people… the challenges of the president’s office are unique, and there’s really no way to be fully prepared for them.

AR: What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as president of Albright?

LM: This place feels better about itself than it did when I got here. There’s a higher level of confidence, even with all of the challenges we’ve faced, and they’ve been substantial. I think there’s a higher sense of confidence about the future of  the College and a restored sense of pride.

AR: What do you wish you could have accomplished?

LM: I think I’ve identified some structural issues that simply need to be addressed, and I wish I could have fixed them. I think there are some challenges that we face as an institution in terms of the way we’re organized, what I call structural matters. The long-term durability and viability of the College is going to be dependent on us addressing those structural issues, and getting increased philanthropic support, improving retention, and selectively and cleverly identifying new sources of revenue through actions that are consistent with our mission.

AR: What do you think will be President Fetrow’s greatest challenge?

LM: Jacque has such an advantage. She’s so well prepared for this job. She’s had a wonderful set of experiences that prepare her well. I came up on the college relations and external affairs side, but in terms of having the broader grasp of the heart of the institution—the academic program and the faculty—there’s nothing quite like being the provost to prepare one for that.

The range and variety of demands on the college presidency are so diverse and relentless. Everyone has an agenda and almost everyone wants something. This is where her being provost will have prepared her well. You have to quickly triage the multiplicity of demands on your time and and stay focused on a few things, which is only possible if you’ve worked early on in developing a clear strategic plan. You have to keep asking the question, how does this relate to our strategic priorities?

The philanthropic piece may be a challenge, but then again, maybe she can bring a new perspective to it and be more effective. For one thing, she’s an alumna. She can say to alumni, this is what we need to do for our alma mater. That first-person plural is a powerful pronoun in a position of leadership.

AR: What are you most looking forward to in your retirement?

LM: Being in command of my own schedule, getting in better physical shape, having more time to exercise, playing a lot of golf and riding my bike. We’re also going to travel quite a bit, both domestically and internationally.

In June I’ll be driving across the United States to retrace the steps of Lewis and Clark. I’ve identified a bunch of golf courses along the way and I have a set of questions that I plan to ask people on the golf course: What do you love about America, what does it mean to be an American? I’m interested in how people think about being an American today. I’ll see what kind of answers I get and how I can weave them into the Lewis and Clark story…and with golf. The working title is going to be Golfing with Lewis and Clark: Rediscovering America.

I also want to write a memoir, mostly for family. I’ve had somewhat of an improbable life and I’d like my children to have some record of it. And I have an incredible backlog of books I’d like to read.


2005-2017

Accolades
Best schools in the Northeast – Princeton Review
Top 25 schools for artistic students – Newsweek
Top 35 schools for music business – Billboard

Record Enrollments
Applications up 3,900 to more than 9,000
Traditional day enrollment up by 100 students
Largest incoming class in school history (655)
Freshman-to-sophomore retention rate improved more than 3%

Record Fundraising
Completion of Crossing Boundaries, exceeded goal by $8 million
Completion of That Their Light May Shine: The Campaign for Albright College,
more than $58 million Endowment increased 77%

Campus Transformation
Science Center
Roessner Hall
Schumo Center for
Fitness and Well-Being
Dining Hall
Memorial Chapel
Campus Center, Main Lounge
Bookstore
Founders Walk
Kraras Commons
Baily Way
Founders Wall
230 Adirondack chairs on campus
Student Services Center
Rockland Plaza Residence Hall
National Velodrome at Albright College
Classroom modernization
Expansion of wireless network
Shirk Stadium turf
Bollman Center flooring
Campus beautification
Berks Community Media Center
Plans for re-imagining Gingrich Library

Student Excellence
12 new academic programs
Expansion of Accelerated Degree Programs
64 students at National Conference on Undergraduate Research
337 ACRE projects
829 students studied abroad
8,500 lives touched!


Can you name all 15 of Albright’s presidents? Find out who has led the College at http://www.albright.edu/about/mission.html


Leave a Reply

Please answer the following question so we know you are a human being: *