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President Lombardi: Maryville University is ready for the future

Maryville University president Mark Lombardi joined host Don Marsh in studio.
Áine O'Connor | St. Louis Public Radio

Mark Lombardi, president of Maryville University, is eager to talk about change.

The first recent shift is this: enrollment at Maryville this fall tallies at 6,500 students, double the enrollment of eight years ago. “When the economy tanked in ’08 and ’09 and a lot of universities sort of circled the wagons…we sort of went out and started a massive recruitment effort outside,” he said, expanding the student body and increasing diversity with students from Texas, Colorado, and California.

The second change is nationwide: college is more expensive, and colleges must change their business models to become attractive—and feasible—for all the students they attempt to recruit.

President Lombardi says Maryville has a comprehensive approach to that problem. “Everything that happens in the classroom is about education and should challenge the student to their utmost,” he told host Don Marsh. “But everything outside of that is a service to the student, and it should be provided at the highest level, and it should be easy for the student to get…Outside of the classroom, we run the university like a business,” and are able to cut costs by doing so.

Last year, 70% of U.S. universities lost money, Lombardi noted, and in the next year it is estimated that 700 institutions of higher education will close. “The challenge behind that is, universities are not adapting fast enough to these changing dimensions,” he said. “It’s not that universities don’t see these problems…but universities have always been designed to move slowly, sort of like a big ocean liner…That’s their Achilles heel.”

Maryville, however, moves to seize opportunities wherever they are found—even if it means changing the traditional nature of higher education. Lombardi cites online classes, for example, as “the future” of adult and graduate education, and a deep influence on undergraduate education, as well. Similarly, the omnipresence of smartphones and Internet access changes not only the way courses are organized, but also the way they are taught.

“Today, faculty are no longer the keepers of content, because all of us have all the content in our pocket,” Lombardi said—meaning that faculty are less holders of knowledge as they are facilitators of acquiring knowledge, and that students need their information and curriculum mobile, accessible, and fast.

In general, institutions of higher learning must be ready to take the lead, President Lombardi concluded—in the community and in the classroom. But ‘leadership’ according to Lombardi is not telling communities what they need but rather listening to see where the university might be able to help. That explains Maryville’s growth in both enrollment and programming; it also explains President Lombardi’s persistent optimism and pride about Maryville University’s place in the St. Louis community and national field of higher education.

St. Louis on the Air discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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