By Dave Ongie, News Editor
On Oct. 25 of last year, Milligan president Dr. Bill Greer addressed a packed house in the McGlothlin-Street Theatre inside Milligan’s Gregory Center. Faculty, staff, students and alumni were on hand to hear Greer announce the institution would be rebranded as Milligan University on June 1 of this year.
Just over two weeks before that rebranding, Greer was standing at the same podium on the same stage last Wednesday to unveil new logos for Milligan University, but this time the theatre was empty aside from a handful of media members. Cameras in the back of the room captured Greer’s remarks as well as the unveiling of the new logos and transmitted them to Milligan’s faculty, staff, students and alumni, who are currently scattered around the globe.
The event was an apt illustration of how much the world has changed since the outbreak of COVID-19. Like virtually all colleges and universities, Milligan’s campus was closed prematurely and students finished the spring semester remotely via online classes.
But with a new era set to dawn, Dr. Bill Greer announced Wednesday that plans are being made to welcome students back to campus in time for the fall semester.
“We’ve announced that internally,” Greer said. “We’re forming a number of planning teams across campus to make sure we’re dealing with all the things we need to deal with to make sure we do have a safe return.”
When students return to campus, they will be greeted by the new logos along with new signage and a renovated student center. Greer said construction started on the student center last week, and students can expect improvements and some additional space.
“I think when they come this fall, they’re going to be excited about the new identity of Milligan and the new-look student center, but they’re also going to be excited to see each other because they’ve missed each other this semester,” he said. “I know they’re going to be eager to get back home.”
The COVID-19 outbreak has obviously taken a tremendous financial toll on the higher education sector, and Milligan certainly hasn’t been immune to that. Greer said recruitment efforts have slowed down across the board in higher education as on-campus visits and events have been cancelled or held virtually, but he added that he remains optimistic about prospects for future growth as prospective students continue to inquire about Milligan in large numbers.
It remains to be seen, however, what affect the COVID-19 pandemic has on international students. When Greer announced the decision to brand Milligan as a university last October, he noted the move was made in part because the word “college” carried a negative connotation in other parts of the world and pointed out the increasing number of students coming to Milligan from outside the United States.
“This year alone, over 30 countries are represented,” Greer said last October. “Enrollment of international students is on the increase, growing 28 percent over last year alone. In fact, nearly 10 percent of this year’s incoming class came from foreign countries, and nearly 5 percent of our student body comes from foreign countries.”
While the COVID-19 epidemic has made international travel very difficult, Greer said last Wednesday that he’s cautiously optimistic about Milligan’s ability to retain and recruit foreign-born students.
“We’re planning for what we think is a realistic return, but building in contingency plans based on what people’s plans are going to be able to allow,” he said. “At this point, virtually all of the international students we’ve had are intending to return as long as it is possible for them to do so.”
As for the logos that were unveiled on Wednesday – one for general use and the other for use by the school’s athletic teams – Greer stated the importance in starting a new era with a fresh new look, but said little else would change other than some signage. In a world awash with change, Greer said students who are slated to return to campus this fall will come back to find the values and traditions of the 154-year institution intact.
“In reality, we’ve done the heavy lifting,” Greer said. “We really became a university a number of years ago when we reorganized our academic programs into schools and started adding additional graduate programs.
“So I’m not sure you’ll see that much difference other than our new logo.”