Colleges and universities across the U.S. continue to see stagnation or decline, but Maryville University in Missouri is thriving. In fact, Maryville has seen more than 80-percent growth within the last five years. How have we bucked the trend in a challenging environment?

As Maryville’s president since 2007, I attribute our success first to great, outcome-focused academic programs and second to a tremendous emphasis on the student experience. We never lose sight of the fact that students aren’t just learning while they’re with us, they’re living. Our approach considers the full spectrum of their needs, extending from recruitment to employment—and beyond.

Opening the door with access and opportunity

Providing accessible, attainable opportunities to earn a degree should be table stakes in higher education. At Maryville, we’ve taken tangible steps to not only open the door for students, but to help them stay and succeed.

To help keep costs in check for our students, we froze tuition for undergraduate and most graduate programs in the 2018-2019 academic year and for four of the last five years. We also have greatly expanded our online programs, creating more flexible options for students with varying schedules, responsibilities, and interests.

In the fall of 2019, we will offer 12 additional programs, two master’s degrees, and 10 bachelor’s degrees. These degrees range from long-standing areas of study, such as a Bachelor of Arts in English, Sociology, or History, to newer disciplines in high demand, such as a Bachelor of Science in Data Science, Sport Business Management, or Senior Living Management.

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Maryville also provides each student with a life coach who acts as a resource, knowledgeable academic adviser, and mentor. These life coaches help ease each student’s personal transition into our community and guide students through academic and career-planning decisions. Each student brings a different set of knowledge and experiences to their time at Maryville, and our coaches help level the playing field and navigate their educational journey. We attribute this extra layer of support as a key factor in our 94-percent retention rate.

Creating a customer service-oriented culture

There’s an unacceptable attitude in higher ed that tends to dismiss the quality of the student experience outside of the classroom, particularly regarding administrative tasks and needs. Students enter college with one perception of what customer service should be, based on interactions with brands that have mastered customer service, like Apple and Amazon. Then, at many institutions, they find themselves waiting for hours to get their student ID or making four different calls to four different offices just for an answer to a basic question. This is not acceptable. Our job as educators is to make sure everything inside the classroom is challenging, pushing students to do their best. But—and this is the key—everything else should be as easy and seamless as possible.

At Maryville, we make a point to address the priorities that fuel students’ lives. That’s why you’ll find excellent wi-fi connectivity throughout campus. We also strive to meet students where they are, delivering a level of customer service that aligns more with customer expectations and prioritizes ease and convenience.

About the Author:

Mark Lombardi, PhD, has served as president of Maryville University since 2007. In that time, Maryville has achieved unprecedented growth and earned national distinction for leading an exciting revolution in higher education.


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