The Palmer College of Professional Studies will overhaul current online learning platforms and dramatically expand options for nontraditional learners.
Major Gift Launches New Named College
“We’re going to build on MBU’s extensive track record of innovation to deliver cutting-edge, online and hybrid educational experiences that prepare students to meet the needs of the new economy, and help them graduate into jobs,” said Chief Online Officer Will Webb, who is leading the expansion and will serve as the vice president of the Palmer College.
In 1977 Mary Baldwin became Virginia’s first institution of higher education to offer degree tracks that catered to nontraditional learners. Participants studied at satellite centers positioned throughout the state while continuing to work and raise families. Accelerated classes, skills-based training for workplace promotability, and enhanced flexibility were hallmarks.
Webb calls MBU’s new Palmer College a similar evolution for the digital age.
“We’re creating a learning experience that’s going to redefine what’s possible, in and outside the classroom, by creating an education platform for the future of work,” he said.
A team of purpose-recruited, specially trained faculty, support staff, and online learning experts will deliver an intimate and highly personalized digital learning experience designed for today’s on-the-go lifestyle. Partnerships with local, regional, and national businesses and organizations will bring further value for students. A series of interprofessional workplace co-ops will provide on-the-job experience, opportunities to test classroom concepts and discuss outcomes, and a means to develop skills for target jobs. These relationships will be tailored to create a talent pool for employers — and an employment pipeline for graduates.
The named college is the latest in a long line of innovations Palmer has supported at MBU. Major contributions include creating an annual undergraduate scholarship for residential women business majors in 2013, providing financial backing to launch a one-of-a-kind social impact focused MBA program in 2016, and sponsoring an annual entrepreneurship competition for MBA students that awards seed money and comprehensive startup packages to winners.
“Susan views her philanthropy almost as ‘fuel’ that will give Mary Baldwin the capacity to grow, expand, and innovate,” said Vice President of University Advancement Charles Davis III. “She thinks carefully about her gifts from the perspective of a talented business person, with an eye toward affecting the maximal positive impact on the lives of our students.”
MBU is in the process of creating what will be one of — if not the — top student-centered, digitally driven educational experiences in the region. That’s particularly important as emerging trends in higher education show today’s college students prefer attending schools that are closer to home, but also want greater convenience around learning options.
“My time at Mary Baldwin was amazing for so many reasons,” she said. On one hand, she made lifelong friends. On the other, “the education I received was what, more than anything, enabled me to complete my graduate degree and lead a successful corporate and academic career.”
Palmer says peers and professors at MBU encouraged her to think both strategically and outside the box, to embrace feedback and setbacks as learning opportunities, to communicate at a high-level, and to have confidence in her problem-solving skills.
“That came in very handy, particularly as I entered a male-dominated industry and often found myself sitting in executive boardrooms where I was the only woman,” said Palmer.
She has looked to pay her experiences forward by maintaining a close relationship with MBU. And that relationship goes beyond financial benefaction: Palmer has been a member of the university’s Alumni Board, spearheaded executive-level committees around advancement and academic affairs, and is on the Board of Trustees.
“Susan believes deeply in Mary Baldwin’s capacity to change the lives of our students for the better, and her support of that mission is extensive,” said President Pamela R. Fox. Palmer’s assistance and strategic input has been particularly valuable during pivotal moments in the university’s development. And this is one of those moments: “The Palmer College will be a cornerstone of Mary Baldwin’s future.”
Early goals include growing MBU’s overall student population by more than 75 percent — from about 2,000 to 3,500 — and having more than 1,000 students complete workforce co-op programming by 2028. During that time the university aims to expand current online offerings from 30 to 42 programs, and boost retention rates to more than 75 percent.
“This is such an exciting time for us,” said Webb. “We’re in the process of creating what will be one of — if not the — top student-centered, digitally driven educational experiences in the region.”
That’s particularly important as emerging trends in higher education show today’s college students prefer attending schools that are closer to home, but also want greater convenience around learning options.
“We see a unique opportunity for MBU to bring this platform to our very own backyard — creating real opportunities right here in Virginia to bring together students and employers, and help solve the ongoing national workforce crisis,” said Webb.