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Going viral with Columbia College

When Scott Dalrymple was a young professional, he purchased his first Nintendo. In October, the Columbia College president challenged students in a schoolwide “Madden Challenge” to celebrate his inauguration Oct. 17.

The “trash talk” video of Dalrymple promoting the Madden NFL 15 competition went viral with more than 34,000 views at the time of press. USA Today, Bleacher Report and Fox News, among other media outlets, have covered the event, with Fox reporting, “If students held an imaginary draft for the coolest college president…Dalrymple might be a first-round pick.”

But being cool was never a priority for Dalrymple.


“Inaugurations aren’t always attractive for students, so this gave them a fun way to get involved,” he says.

The challenge was the brainchild of Dalrymple, 46, who has two sons, ages 22 and 17, who enjoy video games. The event was capped at 48 student competitors, and the winner played against Dalrymple for free textbooks and pizza from Mama Rosa’s for one year.

At the time of press, a winner had yet to be announced, but Dalrymple was already looking forward to other ways to engage with students.

“Overall, these things lead to a fun culture at the college, one where we study hard and play hard,” he says.


Above average

Dalrymple may not be your average educator, but that isn’t surprising. He didn’t always want to be one. Originally from upstate New York, Dalrymple wanted to be a writer. He went to State University of New York at Geneso and expected to be famous before graduating.

“When that didn’t happen, I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just go to graduate school; I need a little more time,’” he says.

After eight years working in marketing and finance jobs, he continued his education at the University of Buffalo, where he earned two master’s degrees and a separate doctorate in English. Then he started his career in higher education.

Now, Columbia College’s new president is not only educating but also leading the university through changes and continued innovation to keep it moving forward.

Before being inaugurated as Columbia College’s 17th president, Dalrymple was dean of liberal arts at Excelsior College in Albany, New York. He also worked in other college settings such as Hartwick College in upstate New York and Southwestern College in Kansas in different roles, including a tenured professor. Although he lived in Kansas while working at Southwestern College, it was really Columbia College that took Dalrymple out of New York and planted him back to the Midwest.

His background at Excelsior, an online nonprofit university, prepared him for Columbia College’s large online presence, and his time on a more traditional campus such as Hartwick gave him an understanding of an onsite campus experience, Dalrymple says. “The college kind of needed a president who could appreciate the traditional education we offer here, who could appreciate the adult education that we do very successfully as well, and I had experience in both of those areas, so I think we both thought it was a really good fit.”

And that fit is apparent. Since his inauguration, Dalrymple has wasted no time adapting to the Columbia College system and getting to know the people who matter to it most. With 35 locations across the country, Dalrymple has already set out to get a feel for each individual Columbia College campus. “I made the promise that we would visit all of them within my first year, and we’re doing that,” he says. “I love getting out and meeting our alums, students and staff members and learning what their challenges are there.”


Pushing forward

Although Dalrymple only took over as president May 1, he’s already making strides to strengthen the Columbia College school system. “We’re in the midst right now of a pretty robust strategic planning process that we’ll be working on over the academic year,” he says.

It’s in this strategic marketing process, in which faculty and governance work together, that Dalrymple is planning to enhance Columbia College and bring it to the next level. “We’ll see where that leads,” he says. “In the beginning I can’t predict where it’s going to end up because it’s a dialogue with a bunch of other smart people.”

Dalrymple was formerly a marketing and strategy professor, so it’s no surprise that he wants to think strategically about Columbia College’s long-term moves.

“As a practical matter, I try to think about: How do we market ourselves, what’s the value we bring to potential students and how do we let them know that? The college has a history of being bold and creative, and that’s why it’s in such good shape. We want to continue in that vein.”

Dalrymple has already made structural changes to the university, including consolidating departments under one vice president to help benefit enrollment and marketing, he says. He and his team will also be reevaluating their marketing strategies, making sure “it’s as good as it can be” in their various markets to ensure the students and locals alike know of the school’s excellence.

But bettering Columbia College isn’t just about planning, Dalrymple says; it’s about acting in ways that continue to develop Columbia College as a leader in its class: a quality educational institution that’s both desirable to students and financially reasonable.

“I’m very concerned about student debt loads,” Dalrymple says. “During the last 20 years, the real big story in higher education has been technology. I don’t believe technology will define the next 20 years; I think the headline for the next 20 years is how people pay for college because that’s where we have a crisis right now.”

With more frequent stories of looming student loans and the difficulty in the job market following graduation, Dalrymple aims to keep Columbia College as one of the most affordably priced private schools in the country, he says. He also wants Columbia College to continue to be involved in the conversation on how to reasonably finance education. “We want to be involved in the solutions,” he says.


Keeping the momentum

Besides Columbia College’s strengths, Dalrymple is tackling the school’s challenges head on. Like many other schools around the country that prize tradition, Columbia College faces decreasing enrollment numbers, he says. “In some cases, students are going to other venues, or some students have chosen to go straight to online degrees,” he says.

Changing demographics in mid-Missouri also plays an important role in enrollment numbers. “Many of us are seeing fewer freshmen coming in because there are fewer high school graduates right now,” he says.

In areas such as enrollment challenges, this is where the strategic marketing and planning Dalrymple started comes into place. “We’re trying to show folks what it is we offer, and I think we’ll be up to it,” he says.

Despite its challenges, Columbia College is in what Dalrymple describes as “very, very good shape.” At a conference at Harvard University earlier this year, a number of other schools were interested in how Columbia has continued to thrive, Dalrymple says. “The reason we’ve been successful is that we’ve kept up with the trends of higher education. Disruptive innovation is exactly what’s been happening in higher education, and Columbia’s been out in front of it.”

And for Dalrymple, he just wants to help keep that success going.



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