I just completed my 25th year as president of Belhaven University. I am now the longest serving collegiate president in the state of Mississippi. And although the public assumes education is fairly static, I’ve witnessed enormous change in our industry throughout the last quarter century.
For Belhaven, those shifts have included marvelous innovations enabling our enrollment to grow from 900 to 5,000 students. BU has become an international leader in the arts, in addition to establishing a School of Nursing and Engineering partnerships, developing a robust online program offering 11 masters and two doctorates, and even serving 750 MBA students in China.
I thought I’d seen it all as a university president, but I never imagined facing a challenge as disruptive to campus life as the adjustments needed to minimize the risks of COVID-19. This is as tough as it gets for a campus community.
This will NOT be an ordinary semester. Those universities pretending that campus life will return to normal, are either fooling themselves, or not protecting their students and faculty. In the midst of this dramatic rise in COVID-19 infections, we cannot operate in normal ways and expect a good outcome.
At Belhaven, along with smaller class sizes and no large gatherings, our athletic conference has moved fall sports to the spring semester, and arts events will be performed before small audiences – and we’ll all be wearing masks all the time. No matter how hard we work to rationalize the reality of COVID-19 limits, it feels disappointing.
On the positive side, with Belhaven’s strong commitment to building our faith in Christ, this could become one of the most significant years in students’ lives in terms of learning Christ-honoring perseverance, grace, and adaptability, while focusing more on academic depth and personal relationships over events and celebrations.
As I considered the challenge and limitations of this extraordinary time, I became convinced we needed to do something bold to support our traditional-campus students in this unusual semester. (For our online and adult students, not much will change, so they are in great shape.) But for traditional-campus students, this will not be the year they planned when they dreamed about going to college.
As a result of this unusual time for our campus, we are offering every traditional-campus student enrolling full-time this fall and going on to graduate from Belhaven, a full-tuition scholarship for any of Belhaven’s online masters degrees to be used at any time in the future.
This free masters degree won’t make up for the disappointment and limitations COVID-19 has created in students’ lives this year, but it will help them succeed educationally and save a lot of money!
Whether a new freshman, transfer student, or returning student, as long as:
1. enrolling full-time in the traditional-campus program during the fall semester 2020 (successfully completing 12+ hours), AND
2. continuing enrollment full-time at Belhaven every semester until graduating from Belhaven
3. traditional-campus students will receive a full-tuition scholarship for any of Belhaven’s online Masters degrees – they are only required to pay for fees and books.
Our free online masters degrees to choose from include: MBA, Entrepreneurial MBA, Education, Teaching, Sports Administration, Bible & Theology, Health Administration, Public Administration, and Information Technology Management.
And it is not too late for students not yet committed for the fall to come to Belhaven – and they will receive the same free Masters degree. Our classes begin August 24 and our admissions department will fast-track applications of students wanting to come yet this fall. Admission@belhaven.edu, 800-960-5940.
Further, to help local Mississippi students who have decided to stay closer to home because of COVID-19 we are guaranteeing a minimum scholarship of $12,500 to the Mississippi Class of 2020 high school graduates and community college transfers enrolling at Belhaven full-time this fall in our traditional-campus academic program.
And to top it off, we offer a fifth year tuition free for eligible double major students. Students must come as a freshman and stay continuously enrolled. But if their completion of a double major requires a ninth or 10th semester, their extra year of study will be tuition free.
Our university verse of the year from Psalm 112, reminding us that light dawns in the darkness for the godly – and, especially in the toughest of times, their generosity, compassion, and righteousness will shine brighter than ever. We have taken these bold steps to assure our students will have a bright future, even when the darkness of challenges surround us all.
No other university in America is doing for its students what Belhaven University has done. This is a time of enormous challenge for universities that calls for bold solutions. We have responded.
I look forward to welcoming our students “home to the Haven” in just three weeks. They will be smiling beneath their masks because they are coming with the opportunity to receive a tuition-free masters degree.
Roger Parrott is President of Belhaven University.