The Greater Lehigh Valley is blessed with many colleges and universities that help students prepare for careers across all industries.
From arts to health care to management and beyond, the options for earning a valuable education seemingly are endless.
Here to answer this week’s “Behind the List” questions is Jacquelyn Fetrow, president of Albright College in Reading.
Lehigh Valley Business: How long has Albright College been operating in the region and what are its primary services?
Jacquelyn Fetrow: Albright College is the oldest institution of higher learning in Berks County. The college dates its beginning to the founding of Union Seminary, a three-year collegiate institute, in 1856.
The present Albright College was formed by a series of mergers with other institutions of higher learning founded in the 19th century by the Evangelical Association and the United Evangelical Church. Albright Collegiate Institute was founded in 1895 and became Albright College in 1898.
Union Seminary, founded in 1856 and rechartered as Central Pennsylvania College in 1887, merged with Albright College in 1902. Schuylkill Seminary, founded in 1881, became Schuylkill College in 1923 and merged with Albright College in 1929.
With the merger, Albright moved from its campus in Myerstown to Schuylkill College’s location on the present Albright campus in Reading.
Albright’s longstanding mission has been to educate students of academic promise, providing them the programs, resources and support to reach their full potential. In both the traditional residential undergraduate program and in the School of Professional Studies, Albright offers a rigorous education that combines the values of the liberal arts and the skills of the professions, preparing graduates for successful lives and careers in the 21st century.
LVB: What have been some of the college’s biggest challenges and opportunities that it has encountered throughout its years in business?
Fetrow: The biggest challenge that is faced by Albright College and by all institutions of higher education is the financial challenge: How do we develop a sustainable financial model that provides for the excellent and affordable education of students of academic promise and allows us to pay our dedicated staff and faculty members at-market salaries, support our basic infrastructure and meet the ever-increasing government requirements and guidelines.
Since my arrival, Albright faculty and staff members have actively engaged this challenge and we are confident of our future success.
Also, not unlike higher education and many other institutions, Albright must focus on enhancing and sustaining an equitable, inclusive and thriving community, for all community members.
During my first six months, I learned that there is a great desire to achieve this goal; thus, we are actively engaged in this work now. This initiative involves the development of skills, internal resources and emotional resources to effectively communicate and understand across difference.
Collaborations Group is our partner in this work, helping us develop Albright’s ongoing program toward a fully participating community. This work will not only enhance Albright’s community, but will also provide our students with skills that will be essential for their future success in a global and diverse world.
LVB: How does Albright College get involved with the local business community? Does it partner with businesses in the region to prepare its students for potential careers?
Fetrow: Through our Experiential Learning and Career Development Center, Albright hosts several “real world” workshops in which local and regional business executives and managers address industry trends, talk about the type of skills they are seeking in new hires and conduct mock interviews.
Employers are looking for the types of skills that students develop at a liberal arts college like Albright – critical thinking, solving unscripted problems, communication, teamwork in interdisciplinary teams and collaboration.
Albright is also involved with the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance, which hosts the Business Idea Challenge, encouraging student groups to come up with a business idea to present to area businesses.
And we have many business partners who host student interns, which often lead to full-time job offers. Some of these partnerships include the Greater Reading Convention & Visitors Bureau, Herbein, GK Elite, Prudent Lenders, local and regional banks, golf clubs, restaurants and local merchants.
Our relationships with businesses, large and small, have been paramount in helping our students link classroom instruction with real world processes and experiences.
LVB: How does Albright College directly stimulate the local economy?
Fetrow: The Association of Independent Colleges & Universities conducted an estimated statewide economic impact study in 2014. This study showed that Albright College’s statewide economic impact is $84,861,512, which includes student spending, institutional expenditures, visitor spending and the impact of construction and employee payroll.
Additionally, a study released in 2007 by the Higher Education Council of Berks County, a consortium of the five Berks County colleges and universities – Albright College, Alvernia University, Kutztown University, Penn State Berks and Reading Area Community College – showed that Berks county gains more than $1 billion in economic benefit annually from its five institutions of higher education.
LVB: How does Albright get involved with the local community?
Fetrow: Our most enduring partnership has been with 13th and Union Elementary School [in Reading]. This partnership, ongoing since 2004, provides mutually beneficial opportunities to increase student learning and achievement; mentor and place Albright student teachers; develop faculties at both schools; and provide enjoyable, interactive learning experiences from the arts to the sciences for students.
The partnership, which is supported by a grant from the Wyomissing Foundation, provides broad opportunities for connections between Albright classes, student organizations and faculty with the students and faculty members of 13th and Union. …
Many of our athletic teams and student organizations are actively involved in the local Reading community, beyond 13th and Union as well. For example, through a student organization called ASTEP, Artists Striving to End Poverty, we have talented theater, music and arts students who work with youth at the Olivet Boys and Girls Club in Reading.
Several accounting students offer tax help to senior citizens during tax season, members of our athletic teams mentor young student athletes, and our Student-Athlete Advisory Committee collects canned goods and toys during the holidays for Berks County Children & Youth Services.
Three of our fashion students recently participated in West Reading’s Fashion Week, and several other students currently have artwork on display at the Humane Society.
In addition, Albright’s Center for Excellence in Local Government has been recognized as the premier municipal leadership development organization in Berks County.
This unique public, private and academic partnership not only helps local public officials to be better able to anticipate, plan and prepare for community change by learning best practices, legislative authority and skills for fulfilling their public service, it also helps to create a culture of cooperation among municipalities. And it’s a wonderful hands-on resource for our own students who are interested in careers in public service.
LVB: What does the future look like for Albright College?
Fetrow: Our shared goal, as we move Albright College forward during this challenging time, is for Albright to stand as a shining example of an institution that educates students of academic promise with a high quality education combining the values and skills of the liberal arts with the rigors and competencies of the professions – an education that encourages students to move beyond disciplinary limits, to solve unscripted problems and to lead and make change in our world.