At Elizabethtown College, a new president is blazing a path to change

Rochelle A. Shenk, contributing writer//November 22, 2019

At Elizabethtown College, a new president is blazing a path to change

Rochelle A. Shenk, contributing writer//November 22, 2019

Elizabethtown College President Cecilia McCormick PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Elizabethtown College’s new president, Cecilia McCormick, says she arrived at a time when higher education is in a state of disruption.

“We can’t continue as we have been,” she said. “At Elizabethtown, we have to make sure we continue to deliver a high-quality education, but also to make sure that education is affordable for our students.”

Last year, the college lowered its tuition from $46,940 a year, to $32,000 to make the college more appealing to parents who might otherwise eliminate the school based on cost.

The new price is just one several steps the college is taking.

As the college seeks to educate students for the jobs of today and tomorrow, its partnerships with local businesses are important, she said.

“Feedback we get from employers indicates that our students are well-rounded. They have abilities and foundation skills as well as the ability to communicate and express themselves — all of which employers have said are important,” she said, “One word I’ve been hearing a lot from local businesses is ‘resiliency’—the ability to adapt to change.”

Responding to feedback from those partners, Elizabethtown recently expanded its engineering and business programs. It’s also implementing a new physician assistant master’s program, a doctorate program in occupational therapy and a well-being initiative centered in the new fitness center.

The college is also examining its adult education programs.

“We’ve been doing adult education for years, but it’s been a best-kept secret,” she said. “What we need to do now is to make sure it’s affordable and flexible to fit the needs of non-traditional students — offer programs at different times or online, and make sure we have support services available at a variety of times as well.

“We may want to offer hybrid learning programs where our adult students not only take online courses, but also come onto campus for a course or two,” McCormick said. “There’s a social aspect of learning that’s important, too.”

Making history

McCormick, who was inaugurated last month, is the liberal arts college’s 15th president and the first woman who hold the office in its 120-year history.

She is a graduate of Harvard University’s School of Education, an attorney, and comes to the college after serving as vice provost for academic strategy and special programs at Thomas Jefferson University. She also held administrative posts at Johns Hopkins University and Widener University.

Her work at Jefferson gave her an affiliation with Elizabethtown through its occupational therapy program. On the personal side, a nephew attended the college and two of her sons considered Elizabethtown during their college search.

“Elizabethtown has a great reputation,” she said.

When she arrived, she sought a student perspective on the college, so she invited some to lunch.

“Students have said they like the feel of our campus and our small class size (average 17, with an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio),” she said. College students are at a critical time in their life — they’re trying to mature. Not only do faculty and staff on campus support them, but the community supports them.”

Elizabethtown takes a holistic approach to education, McCormick said. “Our students learn both inside and outside the classroom,” she said.

The college’s motto is “Educate for Service,” and she says the school “walks its talk.”

“We want to connect service learning to sustainable, ongoing projects,” McCormick said.

These projects, she said, immerse students in the community, and help them develop leadership and organization skills.