As Graceland entered the 2023-24 academic year, the faculty and staff gathered for the annual State of the University address from President Patricia H. Draves, PhD. In the previous academic year, the school launched its Blue, Gold & Bold plan for the future, which included a set of strategic pillars that guided its efforts.
Blue, Gold & Bold Strategic Pillars Enrollment & Revenue Growth
Revolutionize the Classroom
Community & Culture
In 2023, Graceland doubled down on its efforts, leaning into the Blue, Gold & Bold plan further and celebrating the successes of the first year, like the launch of an exciting new academic approach aimed at revolutionizing and redefining the classroom.
One of the most obvious developments to come from Blue, Gold & Bold was a reimagining of Graceland’s general education program into a modern, first-of-its-kind second major called Transformational Leadership. This program, launched in the fall of 2022, is intentionally designed to equip students with a foundational liberal arts education alongside strategic, durable skills that employers are seeking.
For Graceland, this was not as groundbreaking of a development as it seemed to the many industry insiders who have admired it from its launch. While other college presidents and other parts of academia admire Graceland’s innovation in its general education, those familiar with “the Hill” know well that this is something the University has been living out for years.
“I’ve said for years that the world needs more Graceland graduates,” said President Patricia Draves. “That’s because I’ve met so many amazing leaders among the alumni. Graceland has been developing transformational leaders for over a century. This program is a new way of making the experience students have on our campus even more tangible by not just awarding them a second major, but by giving them the skills they need to succeed in their careers and in their lives.”
Why Transformational Leadership Matters
The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) developed eight measures of career readiness, which demonstrate core competencies that broadly prepare college students for success in the workplace and lifelong career management. Graceland’s Transformational Leadership program can map its curriculum directly to NACE’s Career Readiness Competencies:
CAREER & SELF-DEVELOPMENT Students develop career and practical skills for the workforce through study and practice and are given opportunities throughout their four years for internships, both on and off campus.
COMMUNICATION Students learn communication skills through their general education requirements and in their Life & Leadership sections (a requirement of Transformational Leadership).
CRITICAL THINKING This skill has always been a central part of a Graceland education. Understanding how to think critically is found in every aspect of University life.
EQUITY & INCLUSION Students study in a diverse community and are educated to be socially responsible citizens of the world as part of the transformational leadership curriculum.
LEADERSHIP The Transformational Leadership curriculum includes courses on self-leadership, group leadership, and organizational leadership. And Graceland also offers over 140 leadership opportunities to students every single year.
PROFESSIONALISM Students receive important training on professionalism, both through their student work assignments and in upper-division coursework that regularly prioritizes collaboration and presentations.
TEAMWORK Whether it is in Air Band or in the classroom, teamwork is central to the Graceland Experience. Students access education on teamwork throughout their Life & Leadership courses.
USING DATA & TECHNOLOGY Digital Citizenship and Fluency is one of three strategic skills courses that are a part of the Transformational Leadership curriculum. This course ensures students understand the technology tools they will encounter in the workforce.
A Record Class
The hard work of Graceland’s faculty and staff is beginning to pay off, as the University announced the Lamoni campus would welcome its largest class in eight years, 341 students including both first-year students and transfers. Driven heavily by the recruiting efforts of athletic coaches and the leadership of Director of Undergraduate Admissions, Twong Wells ’97, the class brought energy to Lamoni, which was felt through campus activities, house events, and more.
“To be able to bring in a class of that size is a phenomenal accomplishment, but we are just getting started,” said Vice President for Enrollment and Strategic Growth Deb Knotts ’93 Skinner, MS. “I’m proud of our team for accomplishing this fantastic milestone, and we have more growth goals for the future, not just in Lamoni, but in Independence and for our online programs as well.”
It is clear that prospective students and their families are resonating with what Graceland has to offer. Parents particularly are thrilled to see the University’s intentionality in pairing Transformational Leadership with every discipline, providing key career-readiness skills to students looking to make their mark in a competitive and ever-changing job market (see sidebar).
Kacie Crowley ’99 Sires, whose daughter Cadence is a freshman at Graceland, said, “I am the director of the leadership development program at a Fortune 250 company. Students from Graceland are going to be attractive to companies like mine because they have the applicable leadership skills as soon as they get out of college. I know Cadence will be well-skilled in working as a team member.”
As President Draves looks to the future, she is excited. “We have a lot of momentum right now, and I hope that translates throughout the University. It is a great time to be at Graceland, and I am thrilled that students and families are responding so positively to our Blue, Gold & Bold strategic framework,” she said.
President Draves shared an official announcement of the tuition transformation for the 2024-25 academic year.
One major change to attracting students to Graceland’s Lamoni campus for next year’s class and beyond was launched on September 18, when Graceland unveiled a new initiative changing its published undergraduate tuition price from $32,500 in 2023-24 to $19,950.
Research shows that over 75% of prospective students and families are considering sticker price when looking at colleges. While Graceland has always been an affordable option thanks in part to generous scholarships, the University wanted to make it crystal clear that all kinds of students have a place as a Yellowjacket. It was important to align the published tuition price to be closer to what students actually pay for a Graceland education.
But this transformed approach to tuition is not just about price; it is about increasing access to Graceland and offering more students the opportunity to become compassionate, critical-thinking, curious leaders who want to make a difference in their community.
Higher education is still one of the best investments a student can make in their future: higher income potential, greater career advancement, a strong, lifelong network, and the self-confidence to pursue their passion are all part of the Graceland Experience. Since 1895, Graceland has been committed to ensuring that there is a place for everyone in its community. Belonging is central to how students live and learn together — from caring faculty to the unique house system for residential life. Graceland focuses on belonging because it believes that it gives our students the courage to discover and embrace who they truly are so they can go out and be the best version of themselves they can be. Every student should know they have access to the opportunity that Graceland provides.
Graceland also hopes that the transformed tuition will build more transformational leaders. Graduates know that leadership development is something that has been central to the experience on “the Hill.”
“By adding a second major in Transformational Leadership for all students, graduates now will be able to go into the job market equipped with expertise in a discipline and in transformational leadership, a unique combination that allows them to thrive throughout their career.”
JOE BOOZ, JD, ’86 Graceland Trustee and Executive Director/Assistant General Counsel at JP Morgan Chase, N.A.
One of the most pivotal reasons for the decision to change tuition? Simplifying the cost of college. Not only is the University changing its tuition price, but it is streamlining the financial aid packaging process so students will now receive a single award that considers all aspects of what they bring to their college experience — from athletic performance to academic excellence — all are considered as part of the simplified financial aid model.
“Students and parents told us they want the financial aid process to be simpler and easier to understand,” said Skinner. “At the same time they want to feel valued for their athletic, academic, and performance accomplishments. Our innovative one award model gives students one holistic scholarship and brings clarity to the process.”
Telling the Graceland Story
The Graceland Marketing team partnered with higher educationfocused agency VisionPoint Marketing to help craft and clarify the University’s bold approach, which was detailed in a previous article in Horizons. In the fall of 2023, that brand story began to come to life in the world —in billboards, radio ads, digital media, and more.
Skinner remembers an enrollment summit she planned back in the winter of 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the world. “One of the key takeaways from that summit,” she remembers, “was that we needed to do a better job telling our story to the world. We needed to make sure that everyone involved in the recruiting process knows who we are and what we offer our students.”
The brand campaign, entitled Carry It Forward, focuses on Graceland as a provider of an education that endures long beyond four years on “the Hill.”
Chief Marketing Officer Shane Adams ’99 said, “As an alumnus of the University, I see myself in the Carry It Forward story, but more importantly, I can see all of our current students as well. Our graduates know well that the Graceland Experience isn’t just one thing, it’s all the things. That’s what makes it so unique.
“I wasn’t sure we would be able to find the right words to tell that story to the world, but our partners at VisionPoint really understood us from the start.””
SHANE ADAMS ’99
The brand campaign includes elements of all aspects of the Graceland Experience, incorporating top-notch academic experiences alongside life-long connections and a focus on belonging.
Adams’ favorite pillar of the campaign is strongly rooted and still growing. “What I love about this concept is that it acknowledges that sustainable, long-term growth doesn’t abandon tradition or anything about the past, but rather honors it and builds upon it,” he said. “Transformational Leadership is such a great example of this concept. The University has been building these types of leaders for as long as I’ve known, but adding a second major for our students that really is about developing the whole person — that’s an innovation that has its roots in the past but is intently focused on the future.”
As President Draves and the Graceland faculty, staff, and administration look to Graceland’s future, the strategic pillars of Blue, Gold & Bold are the guideposts for the work. The University remains laser-focused on its mission while navigating a higher education industry that has seen more disruption in the past decade than most predicted.
“Our ability to stay nimble during this time has been key,” Draves said. “We have been so fortunate to have the support of the Board of Trustees through these changes. Their care for the institution is evident — it comes through in every interaction that I have with them and especially when I see them interact with students.”
At Graceland’s meeting of the Board of Trustees in November 2023, trustees spent focused hours interviewing students about what they love about Graceland and how Graceland can be better. Most of the students talked immediately about the importance of the connections they have made, both with their classmates and with faculty and staff members.
The students’ feedback was cataloged for future discussions and planning, both for the Board of Trustees as well as for Draves and Graceland’s Executive Council. Vice President for Institutional Advancement Kristi Hettrick ’96 said, “The session with the students provided all of us with insights about the student experience that will help inform the future. In my seat, I now can tell our generous supporters exactly the challenges our students are facing and how they can make a direct impact on these amazing young people’s lives.”
For over 125 years, Graceland has been a diverse learning community committed to preparing students for meaningful and productive lives. A commitment to changing the world is in the University’s DNA; it’s what Graceland has done for more than 125 years – help to change the world for the better wherever students are planted. Graceland’s tuition transformation is one more way to prepare students for meaningful and productive lives by actively inviting more students into the community with a streamlined and simplified financial aid process. The University has and will continue producing leaders who change the world, win Nobel Peace Prizes, create new medical treatments, and make their local communities better.
Draves continued, “The students — their experiences and their success — will always be what drives us forward. Graceland has an important role to play in the world. The world needs more Graceland graduates. It’s as simple as that.”
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