Lincoln U. completes a turnaround

Examining the "market" the university was serving and changing the "product mix" has made possible a complete turnaround for Lincoln Memorial University. Frank Welch, president, came to this Tennessee hills town 50 miles north of Knoxville in 1973 to do one of two things: close the university or turn it into a success. "I really didn't want to close it," he said.

He described it as having been unaffected by the student protests of the '60s , and isolated from nearby communities he thought it should be serving. Before he came, local students went elsewhere for their college training. Now, the school aims to serve those within a 100-mile radius of the 1,000 acre campus.

Though Dr. Welch was a sociology major himself, his wife is a professor of business at Lincoln Memorial, and he tends to look at his work as president in terms of her specialty, marketing.

"The product of a school, like the products of businesses, determines the demand and the number of items you can sell," he explained.

Lincoln Memorial (LMU) had been offering programs in the liberal arts. They offered programs in foreign languages as well as in nuclear physics, but no one was taking these courses.

Because Harrogate is in the center of a mining area, and not far from state and national parks, he saw more of a need for courses in wildlife management, agricultural science, and a four-year program in reclaiming strip-mined land -- the only course of its kind in the nation.

In addition, he started two-year programs offering associate degrees, and eliminated foreign languages as majors. Classes are held evenings and weekends as well as during the day.

The average age of students is 26. Many are women who want to prepare themselves to return to the job market. When Dr. Welch came to LMU, it ran a $ 250,000 deficit annually. Money had been pledged for the building of Abraham Lincoln museum on the campus, but the grant of a half-million dollars, which was to be matched by funds raised by the school, was nearly lost.

With the marketing changes, enrollment doubled from 400 to more than 1,000, and enough money was raised to make $1.25 million in capital improvements.

"The greatest change," he says, "is the change in our image. When I came here, it was ultraconservative, almost monastic -- with no interaction between the college and the community." All that is changed.

Dr. Welch concluded our interview with this startling statement: "Think of it -- a university located in a Confederate state, Tennessee, organized shortly after the Civil War, and memorializing Abraham Lincoln." It's colors? You guessed it: blue and gray!

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