Where Extraordinary Growth Leads to Extraordinary Things

Waynesburg University

If you are searching for a university where people matter, value meets quality and your stance on faith is up to you, Waynesburg University should be at the top of your list. As a premier institution of Christian higher education, it is committed to preparing twenty-first-century leaders through innovative, student-centered learning experiences. I spoke with President Douglas G. Lee and Director of University Relations Ashley Wise about this institution that has stirred press interest and accolades across the country.
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Waynesburg University fees for tuition, room, and board are more than $10,000 below the national average for private, non-profit, four-year colleges. Around 97 percent of its 2016 graduates reported that they were working or studying in their chosen field within a year of graduation, and approximately seventy percent of these graduates remain in the region – an incredibly positive benefit for the local economy and a great achievement by any measure.

“We’re a university that’s committed to service learning – helping students to make connections between their faith, how they serve, and how they live their lives and their careers,” President Lee says. Judging by its long list of top industry scores, it’s easy to see why Waynesburg is such an attractive option for prospective students. It recently appeared on MONEY Magazine’s 2017-2018 ‘Best Colleges for Your Money’ list, ranking in the top seven percent of all considered institutions, nationwide. The university also made MONEY Magazine’s 2016 ‘Best Colleges’ list, in a study that examined educational quality, affordability and alumni success.

In 2015, The Economist released its first-ever college rankings, in which 1,275 colleges and universities were measured, based on graduates’ actual versus projected earnings. Waynesburg University ranked in the top one hundred institutions, nationwide. The Brookings Institution also recently scored colleges and universities on student outcomes based on alumni earnings. Waynesburg University ranked in the top 92 percent of the 1,666 four-year colleges analyzed.

In addition, it was named a ‘Best College for the Money’ on College Factual’s 2018 ‘Best Colleges Nationwide’ list, published by USA Today. Waynesburg ranked 155 and was in the top fifteen percent of over 1,300 schools identified across the nation. Waynesburg’s criminal justice and nursing programs were also identified as a ‘Best Value.’

Indeed, the university’s value is one of its main strengths, a matter which was very close to the heart of its third president, who emphasized the importance of education not becoming too costly for students. As a result of this focus, Waynesburg University has been recognized in a number of studies as being in the top ten percent in the country for its value and outcomes ratio, which has been an integrated part of its mission from the start.

When it comes to social mobility, the university again scores pretty well. Ranked at sixty-sixth position on the national Social Mobility Index, Waynesburg was the only school in Pennsylvania in the top one hundred on the CollegeNET’s list, which rates schools based on how well they help students improve their economic status. Christian Universities Online has identified Waynesburg University as number twelve on its list of low debt burden Christian colleges and universities nationwide, and the list goes on.

More than ninety percent of Waynesburg students receive some form of financial aid each year, and its student loan default rate of 2.8 percent is substantially lower than the national average of 11.5 percent.

The feeling on campus is one of caring, excitement, and interest, and everyone is part of meaningful extracurricular initiatives that better the lives of others. As one of only 22 Bonner Scholar schools in the nation, students and staff spend around 50,000 hours annually in service of the community in more than 40 local, regional, and international service organizations and agencies.

The Bonner Scholars’ Program has been around for about twenty-five years and meets the demonstrated financial needs of approximately sixty students each year, in return for a commitment to service while enrolled at Waynesburg. Each student serves at least ten hours a week, contributing to the development of meaningful, longstanding relationships with service partners. Through this long-term approach, Waynesburg’s service partners benefit from ongoing, weekly service, and students experience personal and professional growth.

Waynesburg University, with its 1,700 undergraduate and graduate students, was founded in 1849 in the foothills of southwestern Pennsylvania. Its founding members were people of faith who believed that the way to make a difference in the world was to put one’s faith into action in a positive way. They were also early believers in co-education.

“Our oldest building, Hanna Hall, is the second-oldest building in the country, perhaps in the world, where men and women were educated equally – where women were able to get a degree from a college in the 1850s,” says President Lee.

Two of its thirty-eight young male students who served in the American Civil War were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor at the Battle of Gettysburg for rescuing wounded soldiers in a compelling example of its alumni’s early commitment to service, which is part of its culture of helping others.

Students come from a wide range of backgrounds, religions, and places. Waynesburg University is proud that its students represent thirty-three states and four countries and it is engaged in living the great commandment of loving your neighbor and loving God. This manifests at Waynesburg University through the parable of the Good Samaritan.

It is this commitment to being of service to others that makes this university unique. Waynesburg University prides itself on well-rounded students who excel in their vocations and who obtain the work and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed. Students are encouraged to think deeply about how their profession can be used in service of others, to help make a positive change in the world.

The university is known for several majors. Its nursing major was recently voted second-best in the state of Pennsylvania, and its programs in business, communication and criminal justice are highly respected as well.

Students are typically engaged in extracurricular activities that are lively and inspiring. What struck President Lee the most when he first arrived was how busy the students are. “They serve at youth centers, attend athletic or cultural events and host events on campus, which they do profoundly well,” he says. “So, students can be as busy as they prefer to be, and sometimes they seem to work harder than I do.”

President Lee knows all about hard work. After graduation from Waynesburg University in 1981, he formed a multi-line insurance business, building the business while also attending law school. Lee sold the business upon graduation from law school and joined the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson. He became a partner in the firm in 1998.

Lee joined Waynesburg University in 2009 as executive vice president and became president on July 1, 2013. Beyond his passion for his work at Waynesburg University, he is also an accomplished endurance athlete, having completed three Ironman Triathlons and six marathons, including the Marine Corps and Death Valley Marathons.

Lee believes in servant leadership and is always there to support his motivated team. It is this kind of commitment that drives Waynesburg University forward on all levels. “The people who work here are so committed to the mission; there is such continuity among the faculty and staff in its concern for our students, the programs and service programs we offer. Everyone has all oars in the water, rowing the boat forward. That’s just a wonderful thing to have – folks like that, all working together,” says President Lee.

The university’s management team comprises an impressive number of former executives from various private industries. They understand the issues facing Pennsylvania businesses and communities and have been a dynamic force in the university’s vision for entrepreneurial leadership. This team uses its diverse background to deal with any challenge that comes its way – something for which accrediting agents and consultants have praised the institution.

Waynesburg University’s big heart is an asset to its community. Students are out serving the community six out of seven days a week, resulting in a local economic contribution of approximately 1.2 million dollars, annually. Students run soup kitchens, tutor kids at the local library and work at the food bank. They also serve at the community gardens where they built garden beds and work at sustaining them.

International service is also a priority for Waynesburg University. For example, Waynesburg students have been serving an orphanage in Guatemala for over a decade. Three of the nuns who run the orphanage visited the university last summer. It was a heartwarming visit that deeply touched everyone on campus. “They said that our students are their angels. They pray for our university every day,” says President Lee. Many students serve at the orphanage multiple times throughout the course of their studies, often choosing to return on their own after graduation.

Students at the university also meet people of more secular influence. The Stover Center for Constitutional Studies and Moral Leadership brings Stover Constitutional Fellows and other illustrious guest speakers to campus and offers a rich array of experiences to a select group of students designated as Stover Scholars. These experiences include special seminars, visits with notable government officials, and internships in the fields of government, law, and public policy.

Although this scholarship program focuses on issues related to history, government, politics, and policy, it is open to students in every major and can provide a strong preparation for virtually any professional calling.

“We’ve had great results with the young people who graduate from this program. They go on to work in various, different, very high profile careers,” says President Lee proudly.

Waynesburg University is currently implementing its latest program: entrepreneurship and innovation. It has received funding for a chair of entrepreneurial leadership and is in the process of interviewing candidates and developing an entrepreneurial program that has the same great results like the Stover Center and the Bonner Scholars Program. It is a visionary, cross-curricular program that will create ideas and businesses, whether for profit or not for profit. Part of the focus is on social entrepreneurship – using a business to both produce revenue and benefit the community and individuals around it.

Waynesburg University is generating significant ripples of goodwill, and the positive impact of its culture of serving and ethical business is being seen in its community and further afield.

June 1, 2020, 10:34 PM EDT