By: Max Crampton-Thomas
2 min read March 2020 — Higher education must consistently and constantly look to innovation and diversification in order to differentiate and remain a top option for incoming students. Mike Allen, the first lay president of Miami’s Barry University, discusses how the school fosters a more diverse environment by attracting students from many different backgrounds, as well as working closely with the private sector to insert its students naturally into the workforce.
What are Barry University’s top near-term priorities?
If there is one area that’s really driven my time, energy and priorities, it’s our external presence as a university. This is a really impressive university in terms of our faculty, what we teach, how we teach it and the quality of experience that our students have, but not nearly enough people know about us, about how special this place is.
We have 65,000 living alumni, and they are not nearly as connected to the university as we would like them to be. That is unusual, because every time I meet some of these alumni, they are so passionate about their school, they more than like it, they love it. They had a great experience and they are excited and want to be involved, but we just haven’t had that presence out there.
Another aspect of that is our role in South Florida. Barry University is a really important part of the South Florida community. The educational institutions are pivotal to South Florida’s economy and to its families. We are working hard to increase our visibility in the South Florida community.
How does Barry University insert itself into South Florida’s larger higher education environment?
One of the big misperceptions about Barry University and other schools like Barry, particularly in South Florida, is who we serve. People tend to think that, because we are a private institution, our students tend to be very well off financially. Certainly, some of them are, but by and large, we serve some of the most financially disadvantaged students in South Florida.
That does not say anything about their abilities. They are talented and prepared, eager to learn and bright students, but they don’t always have the financial means to fund college for themselves. We’ve become very affordable as an institution. One of the most irrelevant figures out there these days is the sticker price of admission. One hundred percent of our students get some degree of financial aid. In fact, a heavy majority of our students receive a substantial discount on their tuition, and it has become very affordable because of that.
With that, we are also able to serve one of the most diverse populations of college students that you’ll see anywhere in the country. That is a source of great pride for us. As a result, our students learn so much more than just what we teach them in the classroom. They learn from the person to their right and their left, from their roommates, because everyone is coming from such a different place.
How is Barry preparing students to enter a more demanding workforce?
One of the things that we really try to emphasize here is experiential learning. Here in Miami, I’ve been really impressed with the intentionality by which the universities and business leaders work together. I give a lot of credit to the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the Beacon Council, the Executive Roundtable, among others, for a great dialogue between higher ed, industry and nonprofits about universities doing a better job in meeting the needs of employers. That is really critical to what we do.
We have a program called SMIF, the Student Managed Investment Fund, which is a group of students, led by one of our faculty members, that invests a portion of the university’s endowment. They invest almost a million dollars of our endowment every year, working alongside our investment committee and our board of trustees, as well as our professional advisers. Their earnings have mirrored or have been better than our professional advisers and this year we allocated them another $100,000 because it fits our needs in every way possible.
We also have a really impressive media lab. The field of communications is another example of people in a liberal arts setting who want the foundations of theory but at the same time they want to be broadcasters, they want to be on the radio, on TV, reporting the news. Our media lab has a live studio, and it serves not just the “talent” folks, but also the control-room folks, putting programs on the air.
We also received a $650,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for STEM education. It provides scholarship support for students to major in STEM areas here, with the goal of increasing degree completion for low-income, high-achieving undergraduates.
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