Daily Press (Sunday)

A university president’s wish list for Santa

- By Scott D. Miller Scott D. Miller, Ph.D., is president of Virginia Wesleyan University in Virginia Beach.

Dear Santa,

It’s that magical time of year again when children and adults alike turn to you with their deepest wishes. I too have some requests, bolstered by the faith that you’re listening, as last year’s fulfilled wishes proved.

Last year, I asked you to raise the amount of the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant. Not only did you listen, but you gave an even greater gift by increasing the undergradu­ate rate to $5,000. The nearly 23,000 Virginia students who utilize these grants at our private colleges and universiti­es greatly appreciate your joyous generosity. (I hear they’re each leaving out a plate of cookies for you this year, so you may want to skip your pre-sleigh meal.)

Although my continued wish to increase the amount of the federal Pell Grant, a fair and bipartisan program that makes it easier for low-income and first-generation students to attend college, remains unfulfille­d, you did find a way to convince the U.S. Department of Education to streamline its 2024-25 Free Applicatio­n for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. This change is expected to help an additional 610,000 students qualify for the program, and another 1.5 million students receive the maximum Pell Grant. Thanks for doing all you can to fill more stockings with the hope of a brighter future.

And thank you for inspiring the generosity of local philanthro­pists who helped make Virginia Wesleyan University’s new partnershi­p with Virginia Museum of Contempora­ry Art possible. When the new state-of-the-art Virginia MOCA is built on

VWU’s campus, it will usher in an exciting new collaborat­ive era for arts, education and tourism in our region. I hope that you and Mrs. Claus will stop by for a tour once the new building is ready.

Speaking of hope, I have a few new wishes this year, Santa. As always, my wishes are for the success and well-being of our students, faculty and staff. They work so hard, and they deserve the happiest of holidays this year and always.

As you may know, higher education in the U.S. is facing a looming “enrollment cliff ”

due to the decreased birth rate post-2008. Institutio­ns such as Virginia Wesleyan University are adapting, catering to diverse learners such as continuing education, profession­al developmen­t, online, overseas and nontraditi­onal students. Aligning these evolving programs to match the needs of students and employers in our region is crucial. Since you’re already an expert in matching people to their ideal gift, please help guide learners of all ages to the educationa­l program that’s best for their strengths and goals.

Now to the serious stuff, Santa. Mental health concerns about young people are spreading faster than rumors about who’s on the naughty list. Students are glued to their gadgets even more than your elves are to their workbenche­s, yet studies show that more time spent online often leads to greater feelings of stress and depression. While VWU has greatly expanded our mental health services in recent years, it would really be a wonderful life if we had even less need for them. I may be asking for a miracle, but if you can find some spare magic in your sleigh, please consider using it to help make the world a little less woeful and a lot more warm, welcoming and wondrous.

Lastly, let’s not forget about a serious global issue that affects us all. Climate change feels like it’s moving faster than a Rudolph-led sled, and it’s impacting our environmen­t, our sustainabi­lity and our future. Your reindeer are an eco-friendly way to travel, so I know you must have some practical environmen­tal wisdom to share. If you can sprinkle some holiday cheer to help steer corporate and government climate resolution­s in the right direction, maybe you won’t need to hire lawnmowers and landscaper­s at the North Pole anytime soon.

I know that fulfilling all these requests is even harder than fitting down a narrow chimney, but a little help on these issues would be the best gift any college president could ask for. And remember, if you ever need a career change, we can always use someone with your organizati­onal skills and inspiratio­nal spirit in higher education.

 ?? VIRGINIA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY ?? Members of Virginia Wesleyan University’s three-time national championsh­ip softball team sing Christmas carols during the university’s annual tree lighting on campus on Dec. 1, 2022.
VIRGINIA WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY Members of Virginia Wesleyan University’s three-time national championsh­ip softball team sing Christmas carols during the university’s annual tree lighting on campus on Dec. 1, 2022.

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