Briar Cliff University president reflects on growth and support during the pandemic
February 24, 2021
As all organizations evolve and adjust to meet the demands of business during a year of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, higher education as a whole has experienced unparalleled growth. Some reports share the industry has advanced 30 years in a mere 10 months. And Briar Cliff University’s president supports the theory.
“When Briar Cliff transitioned to remote learning in March of 2020, the nation was unsure of how long we would need to adjust our behaviors,” says Dr. Rachelle Karstens, President of Briar Cliff University. “Now, nearly a year later, I am in awe of the dedication of our Cliff community. Each day, they’re committed to doing what is best and what is needed. As such, we have been able to keep our campus safe.”
Briar Cliff University has reported COVID-19 cases internally with employees and students and has adjusted operations as needed throughout the pandemic. A campus-wide mask mandate, physical distancing, a daily health screening, and limited campus visitors has been a requirement on campus since March 2020.
At the outset of the 2021 academic year, the university also switched to a block schedule class format. This adjustment allowed classes to be smaller in size, limiting in-person contact. This change provided flexibility between online and in-person learning needs, enabling a hybrid delivery format.
Karstens shares that, on average over the past 27 weeks, positive COVID-19 cases on campus have numbered approximately two per week, split between students and employees. For the past 12 weeks, there have been no self-reported positive cases on campus.
“Our faculty, staff, and students have stepped up this year, in ways we could not have imagined,” adds Karstens. “The community at BCU is truly phenomenal, motivated by what is best for our students.”
Further, Karstens shares the community has rallied behind the university through various initiatives. The university received donations of food, personal items, and professional clothing for students. Outdoor learning spaces were enhanced and expanded. Emergency scholarships were awarded to nearly 600 students, allowing them to continue their education despite financial struggles caused by the pandemic. Further, Briar Cliff’s Board of Trustees launched a $2 million Promise Scholarship, to help incoming students throughout their four years at The Cliff.
“Generosity lives at Briar Cliff University. In the midst of a global pandemic, our students were greatly impacted – and our faculty, staff, alumni, and benefactors linked arms with the university to extend Briar Cliff’s generous spirit in new ways to support our students,” shares Karstens. “Regardless of personal impact during this difficult year, we have had so many choose to support our students and this university.”
Briar Cliff University also adjusted their admissions process, allowing for greater flexibility with entry requirements. In October, the university waived SAT and ACT scores for high school seniors looking to pursue their education at Briar Cliff. This standard was again waived in March and is being evaluated as a consideration long-term.
“Our goal has been to eliminate unnecessary barriers for students who want to continue their education. When test options for the SAT and ACT were limited - we adjusted. It was the right thing to do. Now, we are going to take it one step further and evaluate what is needed long-term. Academic performance is one qualification. We strive to get to know our students personally, to help them meet their goals and dreams.”
Knowing many students and their families were facing uncertainties on a personal level, in 2020 Briar Cliff also announced a new commitment to students for tuition costs beginning the 2021-2022 academic year. Like most colleges and universities, Briar Cliff University annually evaluates tuition, fees, and the rate of inflation, often resulting in a tuition increase. The Briar Cliff Board of Trustees approved new tuition measures, which will allow the university to implement low-to-no tuition increases as well as a new tuition commitment model.
Briar Cliff also continues to partner with benefactors to ensure the affordable pursuit of an education at the university. All first-time, full-time students at Briar Cliff receive scholarship aid.
“Briar Cliff University strives to improve the tuition pricing process for the benefit of our students while maintaining the financial integrity of the University. We understand 2020 has impacted many of our students, families, and communities. The challenges of this year have motivated us to reevaluate the tuition process,” says Karstens. “We also remain grateful to our community partners, alumni, and many others for continuing to invest in the future of our students though generous scholarship contributions.”
Under this new tuition model, on-campus, full-time, undergraduate students will have a new, locked-in tuition rate. A slight increase, less than 2%, will occur for the 2021-2022 academic year. This rate will remain locked in for the students’ remaining time at Briar Cliff University, subject to satisfactory academic progress.
“Even during such uncertain times, I am inspired by the progress we have made. In September, we celebrated 90 years. While 2020 was an incredible teacher, more than anything, I am hopeful for our bright future during our next 90 years and beyond.”