University performs “institutional levitation”

You’ve always known there was something a little magical about Nebraska Wesleyan University. But maybe you couldn’t quite put your finger on its particular power.

President Fred Ohles will tell you. “Nebraska Wesleyan can levitate.”

What he means is NWU regularly reaches great heights on modest resources. It’s that power of levitation that’s allowed Nebraska Wesleyan to earn as many Academic All-America Awards as Ohio State University, an institution roughly 30 times our size. With 109 awards, NWU and OSU are tied for 13th in the nation.

It’s levitation that helps the university accomplish much with relatively little.

From 2005 to 2009, Nebraska Wesleyan students earned 37 prestigious awards, including Boren, Critical Language, Fulbright, Hollings, NCAA Postgraduate, Rhodes and Truman scholarships. That total is nearly 10 times as many awards as our closest independent competitor in Nebraska, Iowa or Kansas: Doane College, which took home four scholarships over the same period.

“The faculty’s long term effort to mentor students in the application process has been highly successful,” said Kelly Eaton, NWU’s assistant provost for experiential learning and student success. “One thing is clear. If this were boxing, we could say that NWU is punching way above its weight category.”

Our success comes despite a modest endowment and surprisingly low rates of alumni giving. Nebraska Wesleyan’s endowment per student is roughly $23,000. Doane’s is more than $98,000 per student. And while alumni giving at NWU hit 50% in the mid-1980s, today, it stands stubbornly at around 24%.

Associate Vice President for Advancement and Director of Development Tim Thietje said that alumni participation has dropped in part because NWU has been good at sharing the stories of its successes, but not as good at telling alumni and friends about its financial needs.

“We’re doing well, and we’re rightfully proud of that,” Thietje said. “But no one can float forever”. He said that one of two things will eventually happen to a floating NWU. Either outcomes will drop to a level in line with its resources, or resources will rise to meet the needs of a high achieving institution.

“The people I talk with every day can see how hard we work to be good stewards of their gifts.” He calls on alumni and friends to look at what we’ve accomplished with the resources we have, and to imagine what’s possible when more of us take ownership in Nebraska Wesleyan University.