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Now a University Is Turning Itself Around

 By PAM KASEY ∙ pkasey@statejournal.com

The change of name on July 1 from Alderson-Broaddus College to Alderson Broaddus University represented more than a cosmetic upgrade for this small institution of higher education in Philippi. 

It reflected a desire for an international presence, a greater emphasis on graduate programs and a new sense of identity and pride. 

"Our business is to get students here so we can educate them," said Richard Creehan, who came on as president in 2011, "and we're having an unbelievable turnaround in enrollment."

Alderson Broaddus is a private university grounded in the liberal arts. The institution got its hyphenated name from the merging in 1932 of Broaddus Classical and Scientific Institute in Philippi with the Alderson Baptist Academy in Greenbrier County, both Baptist institutions.

AB has a history of academic accomplishments in health sciences. 

In 1945, the college established the first baccalaureate nursing program in West Virginia. In 1968, it created the first baccalaureate physician assistant program anywhere — now an important program nationwide.

"Our brand is probably that we produced health science majors and provided those kind of professionals for the state of West Virginia, really filling the hospitals with nurses and physician assistants," Creehan said.

In recent years, AB has experienced a downward spiral of declining enrollment, aid program cuts. 

But Creehan has pressed for a student-centered revitalization. 

"When I came here, I said, ‘I never heard of a successful plan where you cut your way to prosperity,'" he said. "I said, ‘We're going to spend money we don't have.'"

AB is ramping up the number of extracurricular activities it offers, going from 10 to 20 sports teams and adding a marching band. 

It's also taking on some deferred maintenance as well as some new construction.

"We are building a new football stadium here on campus," Creehan said, as well as four new residence halls with modern apartment- and suite-style living. 

The whole package is marketed under the new tagline "You can do that here," and students are noticing.

For fall 2010 and 2011, the college generated fewer than 800 applications for admission each year and ultimately received just over 100 deposits for freshman enrollment. 

Creehan's arrival came at the beginning of the 2012 recruiting year. 

"For 2012, we had 3,683 applications for admission and 402  deposits," he said. "And after 41 of the 52 recruiting weeks for 2013, we had 4,839 applications for admission — 4,000 more than the year before I came. And we had 436 deposits."

The change from a college to a university follows a desire to increase diversity on campus. The word "college" is used in many cultures to mean something like a fifth year of high school, Creehan said, while "university" is used for what Americans call both college and university. Being called a university will make it easier to attract international students. 

And the changes aren't over yet. 

This summer AB is launching its first completely online academic program, an RN-to-BSN degree and plans to add new master's programs as well.

When its growth model is complete, the university plans to have a student body of about 1,100 — to include, perhaps, 20 students from Brazil, 20 from China, and some from other countries as well. 

AB's reinvigoration is good for the community.

"I believe the retail stores in Philippi are experiencing increased business due to the increased enrollment," said Delegate Mary Poling, D-Barbour, who lives in town and has served on AB's Board of Trustees. She also noted new hiring at AB and an increasing involvement of students in community service. 

"Of course, most of this is just getting off the ground," Poling said. "But the college has been critical to the culture of Barbour County and everybody in the community hopes this growth stabilizes the institution."

Creehan noted that the Sept. 7 football game, at which the new 2,000-seat stadium will be dedicated, already is sold out. 

"That demonstrates the excitement in town, the excitement among the alums," he said. 

"The first day of season tickets, we had 250 phone calls to the ticket office. For a small college like this, being inundated with that kind of interest was really exciting."