Radford University Board of Visitors addresses wide-ranging issues at September meeting

New Radford University President Bret S. Danilowicz opened the September meeting of the Board of Visitors by summarizing the strengths of the university and what he would like to see developed to best highlight what Radford has to offer students and communities across Southwest Virginia.

Danilowicz emphasized that in his first two months leading the university, he has been impressed with the career outcomes of the institution.

“Our students are our greatest achievement at the institution,” Danilowicz said. “Within six months of graduation, 79% of our students are employed or in graduate school or in the military. Within six months, they have achieved a career outcome. Eighty-seven percent of those students are in the field in which they got their degree, and 83% of those students are still in the commonwealth. That is an awesome achievement.”

Danilowicz added that Radford University is among the top three most affordable institutions in the Commonwealth of Virginia and offers an incredible value to students. Additionally, he noted that Washington Monthly has said that Radford University is 79th in the nation in social mobility of students, meaning graduates are elevated to higher economic levels upon graduation. “Our value proposition is extraordinary for our students,” Danilowicz said.

He also noted that work is needed in student recruitment and retention, as well as development of branding for distinctive elements that set Radford University apart, including the natural setting, the history of the campus and the variety of unique academic opportunities available to students.

Danilowicz concluded his introduction by noting that a two-year plan will be developed in coordination with the vice presidents at Radford to bridge a period between the end of the current strategic plan in 2023 and a new one that will be adopted in 2025.

“We have enough change that’s needed from how we support student success to branding that we need some time to pivot,” Danilowicz said.

The following topics are highlights of the Board of Visitors’ discussion following Danilowicz’s comments.


Like many institutions across the nation, Radford University is facing enrollment challenges for a number of reasons, according to the Enrollment Management Committee. A total of 1,224 new students enrolled at Radford for the fall semester, a decline of 68, or 5.3 percent. Despite the decline, however, the quality of the students studying at Radford has increased, with the average GFPA for entering students being 3.1, which is a school record.  

Vice President for Enrollment Management Craig Cornell said to counteract the decrease, his office will focus on implementing specific strategies that emphasize major- and college-specific recruitment. These initiatives will highlight the unique academic programs available at Radford, the value of the education and the availability of financial aid to Radford students. Additionally, his office is reshaping its communication plans to be more dynamic for students and influencers and more clearly set Radford apart from other colleges and universities. 

His office will also focus on the continued growth of the student population at Radford University Carilion (RUC) in Roanoke, as well as the innovative programs offered in that location.

TOGETHER — The Campaign for Radford University

The Office of Advancement reported that as of Aug. 31, the TOGETHER fundraising campaign has raised $85.2 million toward its goal of $100 million. As part of this campaign, 380 current Radford employees donated to the Climb to 29 campaign, surpassing the goal of getting 29% of total employees to participate. 

The success of the TOGETHER campaign has allowed Radford University to create 130 new scholarships, awarding approximately $2.3 million foundation scholarships. These scholarships are helping our students afford their college education and prepare to lead our communities for generations to come.

Economic development and corporate education division

Radford University has established the Economic Development and Corporate Education (EDCE) division to serve faculty, student, alumni, corporate and community partners by fostering connections to the programs, services and networks that support innovation and economic growth, both within and outside the university.

The economic development initiatives are focused on three areas: talent, place and innovation. The EDCE division also provides relevant workforce training and development solutions in high-demand industry areas.

EDCE offers organizations the opportunity to build skills in their workforces via innovative online, self-paced, competency-based education offerings through Radford’s Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab. Among the micro-credentials and/or certificates that have been offered are in cybersecurity, geospatial intelligence, data science and K-12 teacher training.

EDCE has also helped Radford University foster economic development and partnerships by hosting nearly two dozen of the New River Valley’s municipal and higher education leaders for a roundtable with Virginia’s secretary of commerce and trade, Caren Merrick. The roundtable discussed a variety of issues facing local industry and education; the need to expand childcare and housing options; the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on workplace dynamics and retention; and the ways the New River Valley has evolved over the past decade. The group also considered how the region could continue to innovate, attract industry and drive economic growth.

Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab

The Vinod Chachra IMPACT Lab has supported partnerships by signing agreements with the Virginia school districts of Henry County Public Schools and Franklin County’s IT department. These partnerships have been established to enroll information technology professionals in the cybersecurity certificate program and foundations of cybersecurity courses. The team is making good progress in expanding its partnership base and increasing enrollment in existing offerings.

Additionally, the IMPACT Lab was awarded a $1.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education Rural Partnerships for Economic Development. The grant proposal was submitted last December and will be used to develop and distribute cybersecurity training to K-12 educators. The team completed two pilot programs with the Virginia Department of Education. The Culturally Responsive and Inclusive Education (CRI) micro-credential, a joint venture with Virginia Commonwealth University, involved three cohorts of over 1,300 educators completing the micro-credential training. The second pilot with the Virginia Department of Education was focused on early childhood education standards. The five contact-hour, non-credit early childhood education micro-credential provided K-12 teachers an overview of recently updated early learning standards.

Mental health support for student-athletes

Radford University Athletics has committed to creating a robust and sustainable mental health wellness model for student-athletes and staff.

The program will offer mental wellness programs and support, with a goal of having 90% of student-athletes participating in the Substance Abuse and Violence Education Support (SAVES) Healthy Highlanders program. Additionally, it will mandate that coaches allow one to two mental health days for student-athletes whenever requested without question and collaboration with Radford’s counselor education department to lead once-a-week mindfulness and mental health awareness groups.

Academic support for students

The Student Success Committee reported that Radford’s Highlander Success Center has been enhanced to better serve students’ needs by bringing student retention and connection programs, academic advising and career/talent development under the center’s umbrella. Similar services will also be offered at RUC, using a case management approach to serving students.

Additionally, academic advisors will be the first line of connection and intervention, and walk-in services are now available for all students. Advisors are still using the Starfish early alert system to help raise warnings about the need for support for students struggling academically. This fall, it was reported that 49 academic warnings were raised during the first week of classes this fall through Starfish.

Those students are then counseled by academic advisors and may be referred to the University 157 recovery course—a week-long session offered to students struggling academically at the beginning of the fall semester.

Also, faculty of 100- and 200-level courses will submit an academic progress report of students in mid-September, further identifying students experiencing academic issues and offering them support.

Changes to committee structure

The BOV discussed restructuring the committees that report to the board to best meet the strategic goals of the university. BOV Rector Debra K. McMahon, Ph.D., said that discussions have taken place within the Executive Committee of the BOV, but that a separate public meeting will be held soon that will include Danilowicz, members of the BOV and vice presidents across the institution to receive their input. 

“The goal is really to ensure our committees are set up to match the goals of the strategic goals of the university and the immediate needs of the university,” McMahon said.

Civil discussions in the classroom and freedom of expression exercises

As part of his opening remarks, Danilowicz noted that 63% of students nationally feel that they can’t speak what is on their minds in the classroom.

“That’s not a healthy number,” he said. “Working on freedom of expression is important.”

As part of that work, Danilowicz led a tabletop exercise at the end of the meeting in which a dispute occurs between two roommates in a residence hall over a display in their shared room. Board members discussed how this hypothetical situation would be handled at Radford University under current policies and how it could better be addressed through clear communication and education.

It was proposed that discussions like this one be extended to include members of the Radford University community, including students, faculty and staff, in the hope that it would generate understanding and discussion on campus.

“I listened to a wonderful TED Talk by Loretta Ross, and she said, don’t call people out, call them in,” McMahon said. “As we educate students here at Radford, hopefully, we’ll be able to confer to them some of that capability. That will help them be mature enough to resolve these issues themselves when they arrive at their eventual workplace.”

Sep 9, 2022
Mark Lambert