The Impact of President Emeritus William T. “Bill” Higdon

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“He didn’t just float trial balloons; Bill launched airships… I was the beneficiary of a Graceland he helped forge.”

-Barbara Hiles Mesle ’72



May: Asked by Board of Trustees to serve as Graceland’s president, and subsequently prepared for the role by enrolling for one year at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at University of Michigan



July 1: Became the 19th president

October 1: Inaugurated




February 5: Introduced “Bear Pit” sessions of open public dialogue with students





April 2: Announced the creation of the Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program




Fall: Oversaw the development of Graceland’s nursing campus in Independence, Missouri





June 30: Left Graceland presidency



January 1: Returned to Graceland as 15th president (likely the only person who will ever succeed both his wife and father as Graceland’s president)

May, September: Graceland partnered with area junior and community colleges, Indian Hills Community College and North Central Missouri College, to offer bachelor’s degree completion programs in elementary education



January: Graceland finalized the $43 million purchase of SkillPath Seminars, which had annual revenues of $60 million and averaged 650 seminars each month in 460 cities

March: Graceland announced a partnership program with American Institute of Business to offer a bachelor’s degree completion program in business administration Summer: Introduction of Graceland’s first master’s degree program (nursing)



May 31: Completion of $22.6 million Blueprint For Tomorrow fundraising campaign (1992-1996)




Spring: Announced plans to retire as president the following spring semester

May 18:  During Graceland’s 100th commencement ceremony, Board of Trustees president Jay Newcom made the surprise announcement that Graceland’s first structure would be known from that day as the Higdon Administration Building, honoring the three Higdons who led the college



During Bill Higdon’s first tenure, Graceland expanded considerably, both in terms of size and diversity of student body, academic offerings, and physical presence on “the Hill.”


During his second span at the president’s desk, Graceland continued to expand academic programs and finalized the purchase of SkillPath.

 Guiding Principle

When Bill was seven or eight, he wanted a bicycle. But it was the height
of the Depression and his parents made him a deal: if he earned half the money, they would kick in the other half. So Bill went down to the local grocery (which happened to be the precursor of Hy-Vee) and asked the proprietor for a job. The man asked,“Well, William, what can you do?” Bill looked around and saw a worker putting cans on the shelf or sweeping up and replied, “I can do that.” That became the guiding principle of his life — he could do almost anything he set his mind to.