For 10 years, Dr. Ed Schrader at Brenau University has done just that, with an impressive display of expertise and insight into higher education.
In the last decade, Schrader says Brenau has changed in some ways and remained steady in others. Primarily, there are elements of the school’s heritage that remain valuable.
Its key tradition is the women’s college, which Schrader calls “amazingly still relevant.”
“Today in the South, still less than 15 percent of your elected officials are female,” he said. “Almost no bank executive boards of directors have women members. Almost no financial institutions in the Southeast have women CEOs. Women are still paid 73 cents on the dollar for the same job done, in hourly to white-collar work.
“There is a reason for a school that helps women become empowered and skilled to accomplish what they can accomplish.”
That said, Schrader admits running a women’s residential college is not a positive growth market. Brenau has to balance preserving its value and doing what is sustainable.
Since 2005, Brenau has bucked the trend of private colleges that shrink, consolidate or close. This spring semester, the university has enrolled more than 3,000 students, an increase of more than 800 since Schrader started.
“The big shift has been in the makeup of that enrollment, because we have over 1,100 graduate students now, and they’re all in pre-professional programs, health care, business, education,” he said. “We had maybe a couple hundred graduate students then.”
The economic impact on Hall County has more than doubled as well, from about $50 million a year to just over $100 million annually today.
Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan calls Schrader “a fine man” who has had a tremendous influence on the city.
“In his 10 years, he’s accomplished more than I could have expected,” Dunagan said. “... Enrollment is up, and if enrollment is up there are more students here in Gainesville. It’s had a hugely positive impact on the city.”
Schrader credits the board of trustees for battling through economic difficulties over the last several decades. He said private higher education is not like “Field of Dreams.”
“You can’t build it and they will come,” he said. “That used to be the case, but it’s not anymore.”
He said today, more than ever before, private colleges and universities have to demonstrate value to the public.
Kit Dunlap, a Brenau alumna, board of trustees member and president of the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce, said every change Brenau made in the last decade was a step in the right direction.
“Goodness gracious, from all the campuses we have in Georgia and are beginning to have in Florida, the doctoral programs, the facilities that are being built and planned for the campus here, it’s just changed and I think we’ve really come into the 21st century,” Dunlap said. “We’re offering students a wonderful choice of education.”
The future at Brenau looks equally bright in Schrader’s eyes. As Dunlap said, the university has proposed opening a campus in Florida. Schrader said he thinks the growth will continue throughout the Southeast.
On the Gainesville campus, the enrollment growth is likely to continue to expand with the recent addition of several international exchange programs, including a two-for-two program with Anhui Normal University in Wuhu, China.
Schrader foresees the need for a student center on the campus in the next 10 years to accommodate a variety of student needs.
For Schrader, there is no “average day” as a university president. He is always representing Brenau’s interests off campus or on, whether he’s touring a school in China or meeting with a student in his office.
The one consistency is what he does at the end of each day.
“I always plan on going home, greeting my wife and my dog and, soon as we can, going out for a walk,” he said. “That’s the truth. It’s a real pressure release for me, for Myra and Jake and me to walk around the neighborhood.”
Schrader lights up when he talks about 3-year-old chocolate lab, Jake. Dogs and animal welfare are passions for him nearly as much as higher education.
“When I retire, I would like to go to work for an animal shelter or a humane society,” he said. “The only thing is there are so many animals that need attention and need love. You can’t cover them all, but you can do what you can do.”
In the meantime, Schrader is excited about the advancements Brenau can make in the next decade.
“We are committed to the globalization of education,” he said. “I expect that in 20 years, you are going to see the product of our efforts throughout Gainesville and Georgia.”