By Bill Robinson
“If this is a good and healthy place to live, both townsfolk and college folk benefit,” as do the students and their families who spend time here, Berea College President Lyle Roelofs told a Berea Chamber of Commerce luncheon.
Although he assumed his duties last summer, Roelofs will not be formally installed in office until a 10 a.m. ceremony Saturday.
He addressed the chamber luncheon as part of Inauguration Week activities to highlight the high value he places on town/gown relations, Roelofs said.
“If the college continues to provide great employment opportunities, the economic benefits are good for everyone, whether or not you work there,” he said.
“If this city is open to the work of our students and faculty as they apply what they studied in the classroom to real world challenges, the education of those students will be improved.
“If the college provides cultural and wellness resources open to all, the quality of life of everyone will be enhanced.
“If the people of this city continue to provide a committed work force, and I have met families in this town whose members have been involved with the college for as many as five generations, going all the way back to the actual founding, we will be able to better carry out the mission of the college.
“If the college thrives, it will continue to be and increasingly so, an enticement to visitors helping to make the city of Berea a traveler’s destination, because of our noteworthy history, the artisanship programs and products, and the other delights of visiting the campus, College Square and the rest of the town.”
Roelofs also updated Berea’s business and government leaders, who were joined by Richmond and Madison County officials, on the college’s efforts to become a more “resilient and sustainable” institution.
Among those are:
• Construction of a “deep green” residence hall that should be ready for students in August
• A store that in September will begin selling meat and produce grown on the Berea College farm.
Plans also are under way to enhance, expand or renovate the college library as well as buildings that house science, nursing and teacher-training programs.
The college also has been awarded $76 million federal Promise Neighborhood and GEAR UP grants over seven years to provide educational, health, and family services to more than 20,000 at-risk students of 19 school districts in 17 rural eastern Kentucky counties.
The former Middletown School building is being enlarged to accommodate the program.
About half of Berea’s students are considered first-generation college students and come from families with a median family income of less than $30,000, Roelofs noted.
Students from such backgrounds typically struggle to succeed in college, he said Berea’s 65 percent graduation rate ranks it fourth in the nation based on the students it serve.
“It’s true that Berea graduates can go anywhere and compete successfully,” Roelofs said.
However, 37 percent of them go back to live in their home counties while another 23 percent return to their home states. About half of it graduates live in Kentucky, he said.
Nearly 79 percent of Berea graduates return to the southern Appalachian region the college regards as its service area.
Both the city and college have much to gain from building on their already strong relationship, Roelofs said.
“It very much seems to me that both the college and the city have bright futures, and that those futures are better because they are shared.
Bill Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 624-6690.