New President of West Liberty Says Keys to Success: Listening, Partnering
West Liberty University is one of several higher education institutions in the state that have recently hired new presidents. Weirton-native Stephen Greiner spoke with West Virginia Public Broadcasting about coming home to lead a school in the Northern Panhandle.
“I’ve been here for three weeks and the initial experience has been overwhelming because everyone has been welcoming and so kind. I’ve spent most of my days meeting faculty and staff and students and spending a good bit of time meeting the leaders in the community.”
Greiner’s background is in education. He spent 19 years as a professor and says he never expected his career to branch into administration. But it did. He has 14 years’ experience as a college president and comes to West Liberty from Hazard Community and Technical College in Kentucky. He says he’s happy to return to his old stomping grounds.
“Everything that I have become was a result of the northern panhandle. My education, my training, my family values. Everything started here. The opportunity to give back was just too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
The challenges West Liberty faces are the same, Greiner said, as all higher education institutions across the country. They include declining enrollment and budget constraints. West Liberty has seen a 14.5 percent decline in enrollment in the past five years. Last year alone, it saw a ten percent dip in enrollment numbers. 2,340 students enrolled in fall of 2015. And Greiner said at one point more than 50 percent of West Liberty’s budget was supported by the state. Today, it’s approximately 18 percent.
Greiner’s management strategy, he explained, is first to listen to ideas from the entire campus community. He hopes to assess accomplishments and trends, as well as collect diverse ideas about how best to proceed. He said some less popular programs might have to give way to new programs that will enhance enrollment. New master's degree programs in business administration and criminal justice are in the works, and he points to a new science program that he hopes will attract students:
“We just signed the partnership with Oglebay Resort and the Good Zoo for that new major in zoo sciences, which is tremendous because there were only four programs like that in the country and this is the only program that partners with a zoo. So the kinds of hands-on training that our students are going to get is priceless.”
Greiner said he has also been meeting with heads of other educational institutions in the region.
“One of the things that I think is critically important for success in the success of higher education in the Northern Panhandle,” Greiner said, “is for us to collaborate with our partner institutions. And look at ways that we can have joint programs and functions and activities.
"When you look at the percentages in our counties of people who have completed a college degree," he continued, "it’s a very low percentage and working together we can combat that and we can enhance those opportunities for our citizens.”
Greiner remains optimistic in spite of difficult budget challenges the school and the state face. He says West Virginians will always figure it out and bounce back.