In a time when private liberal arts schools are struggling to keep their doors open, Graceland University enrolled its largest incoming class since the fall of 2015.
Cadence Sires is a freshman from Johnston, Iowa, who came to Graceland as a golfer and dancer. Until her senior year, she was planning to go to a state university but chose Graceland because she could dance, play golf, and still be in the choir. She was also drawn to Graceland’s new Transformational Leadership major, a second major that all 4-year undergraduates receive in addition to their disciplinary major.
“The classes for transformational leadership – I was totally on board,” she said. “These are great skills to have. Employers are always looking for potential employees that have leadership qualities, and the way you can just [add] that onto your degree and say ‘I’ve learned all these skills and will be a valuable employee for you.’”
Cadence’s mother, Kacie Sires, graduated from Graceland in 1999 and works at Principal Financial Group, leading the company’s leadership development program. She is excited about what she’ll learn. “I know she’s going to be well skilled in working as a team member – the collaboration she has with others, she’ll be able to articulate and communicate with her peers, with leaders, with others, and she will just have those leadership skills to help both informally and formally lead within an organization,” said Sires.
Graceland’s innovative Transformational Leadership program incorporates general education with courses in leadership and strategic skills, preparing students for the next phase of their lives by equipping them with foundational abilities that employers are seeking. Through the major, Graceland students demonstrate the Career Readiness Competencies for success in the workplace and lifelong career management compiled by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). As the program enters its second year, it is a key driver of Graceland’s increased enrollment.
Like many other schools, Graceland saw its enrollment dip during the pandemic, but they spent that time implementing strategic changes to ensure students found incredible value at the University. They added Iowa’s first women’s flag football program, launched new majors, and are leaning into a digital transformation initiative to prepare Southern Iowa for the digital economy.
Leading these initiatives is President Patricia H. Draves, PhD, who has presided over the school since 2017 and led two major capital campaigns to renovate the two most used buildings on campus: Newcom Student Union and Morden Center, Graceland’s iconic athletic gymnasium.
“One of the strategic pillars in our Blue, Gold & Bold strategic framework is focusing on student success,” said Draves. “While facilities are a big part, I am just as proud of the improvements we have made to ensure our students are getting the support they need. The size of our incoming class is the result of a lot of work by all areas of the university.”
“This accomplishment would not have been possible without the incredible collaboration between our admissions and athletics teams,” said Deb Skinner, Vice President for Enrollment and Strategic Growth. “I am so proud of their efforts and believe this incoming class is an exemplary group of young adults.”
“We are excited about the expansion of our academic programs and the advancement of the Transformational Leadership major. Both underscore Graceland’s commitment to continue innovating in and outside the classroom,” said Joel Shrock, PhD, Graceland Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Faculty.