By way of demonstration, he showed the popular Super Bowl commercial of the cowboy cat-herders and the difficulties of a cat roundup.
As in the video, Knowles said being a college administrator “Is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done.”
With Tennessee Wesleyan for only eight months, the college president was quick to say that East Tennessee is a warm and welcoming community. “I’ve had eight great months,” he said.
A fellow Kiwanis Club member, he said the Cleveland club is a little more active than the one in Athens. “But, don’t tell them that,” he joked.
Knowles has been in education for 24 years, 14 as an administrator. His wife has also been an education administrator.
“We try to impact the lives of youth,” in helping them prepare for life, he emphasized, adding Tennessee Wesleyan has a strategic plan.
“We’re at 1,100 students and feel we need to be about twice that size,” he said. “We’re affiliated with the United Methodist Church, were founded 150 years ago, and offer [several different] degree completion programs,” he said.
“We live and breathe on enrollment, with some small endowments,” he added in explaining why the college would like to double its enrollment. “We’re a small, personalized approach to education.
“We have a symbiotic relationship with the community,” Knowles added. “We have high values.” He said the small, four-year school almost always has financial challenges.
Knowles went on to say there are huge changes happening in higher education. “We’re trying to reposition Wesleyan among the 4,800 colleges and universities across the nation. Students today have tremendous choices.”
“College (and universities) today are globally interconnected,” Knowles emphasized. “Students from China and India want to come to America for an education.”
For small colleges, such as Wesleyan, Knowles said technology is a challenge, and costly. “It is also critical,” he said. “Technology is an opportunity, but cost-strategic.
“The economy right now is tough on all higher-education institutions,” Knowles said. “It calls on us to be entrepreneurial.”
A big question for Wesleyan, at this time, is how do you make yourself stand out in a crowd of smaller colleges. “We try to focus on our nursing and business programs,” Knowles said. “We put results at the top of our list, and we try to trap unique markets. We’re looking at niches.”
He also praised the college’s relationship with the Athens-McMinn County community. “We’re a workforce pipeline to the community and community service (for students) is one of our key components.”
“People ask ‘Why are you here?’” Knowles continued.
“We’re preparing students for this global society,” he said in closing. “It up to our generation to do this, and not mess it up too much.”
In a question-and-answer session, Knowles was asked about online education availability. He said it is abundant and allows students to catch up on studies when they’re at home on vacation.
Asked about for-profit colleges and possible regulations, he responded “Congress is looking closely at that. Perhaps for-profit colleges will become more selective.”
Comparing Tennessee Wesleyan with other four-year colleges, Knowles said, “We’re in the middle with small endowments and local availability.”
n Kathy Austin reminded Kiwanis Club members the Great Strikes Walk is scheduled for Saturday, March 31.
n Alan Winter, Youth and Community Services chairman, was getting names of Kiwanians to work at the Saturday, March 3, Dr. Seuss Birthday Party at the Cleveland State Community College library. Last year the Kiwanis Club gave away about 800 Dr. Seuss books. The book to be handed out this year will be “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish.”
n Next week’s program will be the Harlan White Citizen of the Year award.
n The club’s pancake breakfast committee held a brief meeting following Thursday’s luncheon.