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N&N: Milligan’s moves toward ECS merger, engineering program intertwined

This article originally appears in the March 5, 2015, edition of the News & Neighbor. Read it here.

By Jeff Keeling

It won’t welcome students until fall 2016, but Milligan College’s fledgling engineering program will be on display March 20 at Milligan’s inaugural “Engineering Buff” day for parents and prospective students.

While visitors will see surface details of the program that will offer majors in both electrical and mechanical engineering, folks on the inside at Milligan have been busily laying further foundations since the program was first announced last November. Those preparations are closely intertwined, Milligan College President Dr. Bill Greer told News and Neighbor, with the college’s pending July 1 merger with Emmanuel Christian Seminary.

“We’ve really taken a hard look at our curriculum to figure out what is it that we need to be doing that is both mission-centric to Milligan but also market sensitive,” Greer said. “We believe we have identified a direction that accomplishes both of those requirements. Emmanuel coming into the picture at the time it has come in has really been a tremendous blessing, because we would be unable to add some of the new programs we want to add were it not for the space availability over there.”

With plans to admit 20 to 30 freshmen annually in each of the two majors, Milligan should have somewhere between 160 and 240 engineering majors on campus at any given time, once the program has a full complement of students.

Visitors March 20 will hear from Dr. Greg Harrell, an engineer and the program’s lead technical adviser. They’ll also get information on program specifics from curriculum and courses to financial aid, the college’s business partnerships and potential co-op and employment opportunities.

“We’ve had very strong interest from local manufacturers and other employers, who do a lot of engineering recruiting and are faced with recruiting and retention challenges,” Greer said. “I think they recognize the value of having a local source for qualified, competent engineers, and I think it helps retention if you can recruit locally in the first place.”

Greer would like to see the relationship with employers become a reciprocal one.

“Our hope is that we’ll have a number of co-op and internship opportunities with local employers, and we’re working with them to make sure we’re developing a program that meets their needs.”

Greer added that Milligan plans some collaboration with East Tennessee State University, “as they begin their own program in general engineering.” ETSU is on track to offer engineering degrees in a reciprocal arrangement with Tennessee Technological University. Greer said the dean of ETSU’s College of Business and Technology, Dennis Depew, has visited.

“I anticipate continuing to discuss with him ways that we can collaborate and avoid duplicating one another’s programs and costs. That’s better for our students. I don’t know what direction those conversations will go, but I think there’s certainly room for us to continue to be good partners.”

That complements Milligan’s overall approach to continued growth and development as a college, Greer said – using available resources wisely, collaborating, and maintaining the school’s mission while earning enough revenue to remain financially strong.

In the case of Emmanuel, Greer said consolidations similar to its pending merger with Milligan are not uncommon in the case of very small schools.

“There have been a number of seminaries consolidate with larger entities and this is continuing that trend,” Greer said. “It has been going well. We’ve done a lot of work with Emmanuel and their folks to get their financial picture to a stronger place and their budget to where they’re operating within their means. It helps to have us as a partner to do that. The combined entity is more efficient than by themselves.”

The benefits will be mutual, Greer said. He said Christian liberal arts colleges aren’t immune to the challenges higher education has been facing for a number of years, “with families and students concerned about tuition cost, student debt, job prospects and so forth.”

Greer said the time and money required to add engineering and a physician assistant degree planned to begin in 2017, and to expand occupational therapy, would be much greater without some facilities at Emmanuel that are available for those things without impeding the seminary’s ability to operate.

In addition to available space, Emmanuel gives Milligan a platform to enter the field of graduate education in Bible and ministry – something Milligan hasn’t done in the past specifically to avoid competing with Emmanuel.

“We believe we can grow enrollment at Emmanuel through both on-campus and online and off-campus programs that meet the needs of our churches and our constituency.”

The presence of Milligan programs on the current Emmanuel campus creates revenue that, in turn, helps keep Emmanuel more viable.

“We want those programs to continue, because we think they’re important to the kingdom and they’re important to the church.”

Greer said the next few years at Milligan mark, “an important timeline. Emmanuel will be part of us by the fall of ’15, we want to start engineering by the fall of ’16 and we want to start physician assistant by the fall of ’17.

“That insures that Milligan continues to be relevant to the market, but also true to our mission. That’s the strategy that we’re working, and I’m pleased that we’ve had so much generous private support to help it happen and that we’ve had so much corporate interest in what we’re doing that reinforces our direction.”

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MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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