BLUEFIELD, VA – The Bluefield University Board of Trustees concluded its spring meeting on April 22, 2022, establishing a $19.5 million operating budget for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Board members also approved a new tuition plan for Virginia students, several faculty promotions, and appointed a Task Force to review the University’s programs and operations. On May 26, the Board approved the closure of low-enrolled, low-graduation programs to future students. Current students in these programs will be taught out through graduation by discipline-credentialed full-time or part-time faculty.
“Our University budget is reliant on several variables,” said President David Olive. “This year’s work to craft a budget has been more challenging. This is due to certain variables being impacted by items such as the COVID pandemic’s further-reaching effects. It is no secret the University, along with businesses across the county, have had to work extra hard to maintain balanced budgets and pivot to meet the demands of the marketplace during this time.”
In budget presentations, University officials cited multi-year effects created from periods of lowered enrollment in both online and on-campus programs during the pandemic now coming to full impact. Initial shortfalls were softened by the assistance of federal funds through programs, such as the CARES Act and the Employee Retention Credit. These effects are being realized through the traditional four-year enrollment cycle as larger classes of students graduate and natural attrition takes place from year to year leaving behind smaller enrolled classes of students retained. However, projections demonstrated a positive note with an enrollment of new on-campus students returning to pre-pandemic levels for the 2022-2023 academic year. Work will continue to further enhance online program enrollments through curricular revision.
To respond to projected budget changes, the Board appointed a Task Force to provide a holistic review of the University’s programs and operations to ensure the institution is well-positioned for the future. On May 26, the Board of Trustees Executive Committee approved the closure of low-enrolled, low-graduation programs to future students. This decision comes after numerous conversations spanning the past few months, along with recommendations from the Task Force and Faculty & Curriculum Committee.
As required per the University’s accreditation through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), current students presently enrolled in closed programs will continue in their program at Bluefield University through their graduation in what is commonly referred to as a “teach-out.” Programs closed include the Art Major, the Art Business Major, the History Major, the Math Major, the Math Education Major, the Modern Languages Department, the General Music Major with a Concentration in Applied Voice, Theatre as a major, and the Health/Physical Education Endorsement.
While certain majors will be closed, the institution will provide future students the opportunity to engage in similar and/or retooled degree programs created by the University faculty. This transition will also better position the institution with future resources for new degree programs.
Concerns were raised ahead of the Board of Trustees meeting in late April about the future of the institution’s Theater program. This program will continue to operate as a co-curricular activity including the Bluefield Youth Theater.
“While these decisions have been difficult to make, let me be clear,” said Olive. “The institution is in no jeopardy of closing as has been incorrectly rumored through this process. On the contrary, the institution is taking steps to adjust its operations and continue the development of highly sought-after, career-ready degree programs. With our collaborative partnerships with VCOM and the Appalachian College of Pharmacy, we have a bright future as we enter the next 100 years of Christian higher education.”
The University Board of Trustees also approved the creation of the Commonwealth Connection tuition plan during its spring meeting. Crafted as an expansion of the institution’s Pathways tuition program for students from the local community, students will now have the option of paying a flat tuition rate. Students eligible for the Pathways tuition rate are given a flat rate of $13,600. Students must have a 3.0 GPA to qualify and reside in one of the following counties: (VA) Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Montgomery, Pulaski, Russell, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, and Wythe; (WV) McDowell, Mercer, Monroe, Raleigh, Summers, and Wyoming. Students eligible for the Commonwealth Connection tuition rate are given a flat rate of $15,000, must have a 3.0 GPA, and be a resident of Virginia. A majority, if not all, of each tuition rate, may be covered by the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG), Pell grant funding, outside scholarship assistance, and other identified funding sources. Students qualifying for in the Pathways program are also eligible for reduced room and board rates.
“We realize that the affordability of higher education continues to be a kitchen table conversation for many families,” said President David Olive. “We have crafted our two best tuition models to serve those we were founded to serve 100 years ago both here in our local region of Southwest Virginia and Southern West Virginia, alongside the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
In other business the Board of Trustees approved faculty promotions for the following individuals:
- Emily Lambert, Associate Professor of Biology, to the rank of Professor of Biology.
- Lynnette Bartlett, Associate Librarian, to the rank of Librarian Emeritus upon her retirement in June 2022.
- Cindy Bascom, Professor of Communication, to the rank of Professor Emeritus upon her retirement on May 31, 2022.
- Robert C. Merritt, Jr., Distinguished Professor of Creative Writing, to the rank of Distinguished Professor Emeritus upon his retirement on December 31, 2022.
- Professor Walter Shroyer, Professor of Art, to the rank of Professor Emeritus upon his retirement on May 31, 2022.
Dr. Kimberly Farmer, Dean of the School of Criminal Justice and Professor of Criminal Justice, was granted a sabbatical for the 2023 Spring semester. Three new trustees were elected to begin a four-year term to begin October 14, 2022, including:
- The Reverend Dr. Christopher Lawson, Class of 2001, of Winston-Salem, North Carolina
- Elizabeth Keene of Abingdon, Virginia
- Ron Mallory of Princeton, West Virginia
- Sarah Jolly Reid, Class of 1968, of Fredericksburg, Virginia