When I came here two years ago as Bellarmine’s fourth president, I was proud to stand on the shoulders of the presidents who came before me, and who built Bellarmine from a small, excellent all-male college to an exceptional coeducational university of regional stature.
In many ways, however, Bellarmine remains a “best-kept secret” of higher education. I consider it my duty and my privilege to move this institution forward to even greater prominence and effectiveness.
The elevation of our athletics program to NCAA Division I through an invitation from the ASUN Conference, which we announced on June 18, will help us to accomplish that. This move gives us the opportunity to compete against the best rivals in college sports. But more important, it allows us to share the Bellarmine story with a larger audience than ever before, increasing our geographic reach, as outlined in Tradition and Transformation, the new strategic plan that will guide Bellarmine University for the next five to seven years. (Click here to view the strategic plan.)
Like a number of liberal arts colleges and universities today, Bellarmine faces many challenges. Over the past decade, the stagnation in the number of U.S. high school graduates has led to decreasing enrollment at colleges and universities across the nation. In the Ohio River Valley alone, changing demographics of the prospective student pool suggest that we can expect up to a 10 percent drop in the number of high school graduates, and our enrollment has remained flat over the past three years.
In developing the strategic plan, we realized that recruiting and retaining a diverse student body, making Bellarmine accessible to everyone, and most important, getting prospective students to embrace the power of a liberal arts education, are crucial. A big part of this challenge is finding students who are the best fit for our mission. To do that, we must expand our reach.
Our decision to accept the ASUN’s invitation came after much deliberation. In consultation with the Board of Trustees, university leaders have been weighing the impact and benefits of becoming a DI school for several years, as our athletics teams gained national prominence. We have listened to the input of students, faculty, staff and alumni with a shared understanding that a move to DI would be made only under the right circumstances and with the right conference affiliation.
The nine other members of the ASUN are spread across seven mostly southeastern states, from Florida to New Jersey, a market where the number of traditional college-age students is growing. The conference has been an ESPN broadcast partner since 1989, with game coverage airing on ESPN+. In our study of comparable schools that moved from DII to DI, we saw that they experienced notable enrollment growth in the years following the switch—and the majority of that growth was in non-student-athletes.
This brings up another important point: Our academic programs will remain our top priority. It was critical to us that the member schools of any conference we considered be highly regarded in the classroom as well as on the field or court. ASUN schools meet that criterion.
The time is right for the move to DI, and the ASUN is the right conference.
On behalf of Bellarmine, I would like to express gratitude for our student-athletes, past and present, as well as our coaches, faculty and staff, as their collective pursuit of excellence has created this opportunity. And of course, we must also recognize you—the members of Knights Nation—for your support has given us the confidence to compete at this new level.
As we begin the transition to DI, I encourage all of us to enjoy this moment with great pride as a family and look forward to the excitement that lies ahead.
Dr. Susan M. Donovan | firstname.lastname@example.org