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October 2004
Expanding Charlotte’s Educational Horizons: Montreat College
By Susanne Deitzel

     As Charlotte grows into its new identity of world class city, its leaders have placed a gigantic emphasis on growing the intellectual capital of the region. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte has become a significant player in research and development, CPCC has excelled in its specialized corporate education offerings matching business needs, and Johnson & Wales has made a high-profile foray into the market with an urban university offering technical training.

     Yet, as these well-known institutions grow into their own niches, there are other smaller educational outlets that offer their own special attributes, no less enhancing the offerings of the city. Such is the aim of Montreat (pronounced mon’-treet) College, the Charlotte campus of which is located in LakePoint Business Park off Tyvola Road.

     Montreat College is a Christian college founded 88 years ago in the Presbyterian tradition. It offers fully accredited associate’s, bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business and education. While Montreat’s program provides a deep exposure to Christian teachings, Christianity is not a prerequisite, nor a required aim for attending the college.

     According to Dr. Dan Struble, president of the college, Montreat seeks to extend educational empowerment to people who have for whatever reason been unable to achieve it through traditional schooling.

     Says Struble, “There are a variety of reasons people are unable to complete a traditional education. Whether it is a career, family, or financial considerations, many people encounter stumbling blocks. It is our mission to provide a learning environment for these people, to make them educationally prepared, as well as philosophically motivated to serve the community.” 

     Struble received his B.S. degree with merit in Naval Architecture from the United States Naval Academy. He went on from there to earn his master’s in Comparative Politics and his doctorate in American Politics from the University of Southern California. After his own schooling, Struble returned to teach at USC and Occidental College, where he honed his talents for fundraising, and revisited the Naval Academy where he would breathe new life into the school by creating the Naval Academy Foundation. During this time, Struble helped increase alumni contributions from $5 to $6 million annually to over $40 million dollars, as well as co-designing the present $225 million campaign for the foundation.

     Of his relatively new position at Montreat (he started in January), Struble says, “Montreat utilizes my academic experience from USC and Occidental College, my fundraising experience from Occidental and the Naval Academy, and my emphasis on faith in my personal life. I think many students feel as I do, that Montreat allows me to be a whole person.”


A Flexible Format

     In an increasingly dynamic workplace, Montreat provides an educational format that accommodates the needs of adults seeking to improve their business acumen, receiving a higher degree, getting a promotion, or pursuing a different skill set to replace outdated or obsolete competencies. This is especially notable in industries such as textile and furniture manufacturing which have been hardest hit in the local economy.

     Says Deborah Wright, Montreat’s Charlotte regional director, “It is true that we have definitely seen an increased enrollment as a result of the downswing. But, it is at times like this we are glad to be able to offer a powerful, positive solution to help people continue to pursue their dreams.”

     Montreat’s program is designed to not only provide a program which is practical in terms of scheduling for adult students, but also to provide a robust peer-support system from which to glean vicarious experience and camaraderie.

     Explains Struble, “Our programs are structured to last from five to eight weeks, with one night of class and one night of study group per week. Upon entrance to the school, a student is assigned a cohort of 16 to 22 students that will be the peer group that person will travel with during the course of his or her program. Within that cohort, there are an even tighter-knit group of three to five students that meet in the study group. This way, the students graduate with the people they have shared a relationship with during their course of study.”

     This peer group approach appears to increase the benefits of the course of study exponentially. According to Wright, the non-traditional student is by nature committed and dedicated to making the most of his or her experience. “Add to that the desire and ability to apply that person’s unique set of real-life experiences, job-related or otherwise, and you have not only a great student but an invaluable resource for the rest of the cohort.”

     She adds, “We have a remarkable faculty here, but we still say that in a class of 17 students and one professor, we actually have 18 instructors. That is how our classroom community is designed, and one of the things that makes it truly special.”

     Another unique aspect of the college is its profound dedication to creating community leaders with a strong sense of self, and a strong commitment to ethical practices by virtue of its religious affiliation. Explains Dr. Struble, “By being a Christ-centered institution, we believe in living a life dedicated to service. Jesus taught that in order to be a leader, you must first be a servant, and we attract both faculty and students that espouse similar values.”

     Struble says that Montreat students are, “unique, God-created individuals, not numbers. And that is the treatment they receive from our staff and curricula.” He adds, “We invite people of all faiths. Some seek us to strengthen their faith and integrate it with their career, some come to us and find Christ for themselves, but others simply come for the strong educational product that we offer.”


Learning and Leadership

     Struble points out that Montreat’s strong suit is business, which makes it a great match for the Charlotte community. “There is a great need and desire for business leaders in the community, and teaching the leaders of tomorrow is a great way to impact the community in a positive way. Business is a formidable force that shapes the world we live in and we can create a positive impact by preparing Christian leaders.”

     To that end, Struble says that one of his greatest ambitions is to engage Charlotte leadership so that Montreat can provide the best intellectual capital for the region.

     “We aim to serve people and their communities by offering the best educational resources, in a format that works best to accommodate their lifestyles, and to create a positive impact on the world as a whole. And, there are many ways to do that even outside of providing a degree program.”

     Montreat extends its educational resources to businesses and their employees, oftentimes generated by the interest of its students. Explains Struble, “We had a student studying a computerized strategic- planning model that he thought would be an asset to his company. We coordinated with that company to provide a class that eventually led to a greater understanding of decision-making company wide. For rising management, it represented a method of problem solving that would help them achieve company goals. For upper management and lower-level personnel, it opened an avenue of communication that facilitated understanding of the decision making process. We feel this to be a perfect example of the service we provide.”

     Struble says that by working with the business community, Montreat hopes to develop new programs, modify its offerings, facilitate on-site company opportunities, and generally take whatever measures best accommodate and serve the community.


Faith in the Future

     “We have a unique way to serve Charlotte. We attract and educate a core group of adult learners who are looking to answer their dreams. They have a very strong sense of self and high expectations. Our students leave Montreat with a strong business acumen, high ambition, and heightened problem solving skills. Plus, we hope exposure to Montreat’s Christian environment will play a part in heavily rooted, positive business ethics,” comments Struble.

     At the heart of Dr. Struble’s duties is developing his own strategic planning initiative to garner awareness and support of the school: “We are embarking on the strategic planning process to determine the needs in the Charlotte market and our other campuses (Montreat, Black Mountain, Asheville, and Cherokee). We are establishing strong lines of communication in the community, and have developed the first stages of a strategic planning coordination center on our Web site. There, interested parties, such as alumni, students, community leaders or businesses can fill out surveys, suggest new programs or new sites, and receive information on how they can contribute to our mission, or how we can best serve them.”

     Struble hopes to complete this important process during the 2004-05 academic year with planning currently underway and final trustee approval in late April 2005. The plan will look out as far as 2015. Comments Struble, “Fundraising is simply developing relationships with people who have a dream to help their fellow man, and working with a vision to develop programs and services to make that dream a reality. Charlotte has a real desire to nurture, and a sense of loyalty to its workforce and the community. We look forward to working with our leaders to facilitate these ideals.”

     Struble concludes, “Businesses have a keen desire to be as efficient and as productive as they can. Charlotte leaders have a reputation for giving back to the community. Our mission and our students are dedicated to bettering ourselves and the community we serve. These three factors working in concert provide a great future for the relationship of us all.”

Susanne Deitzel is a Charlotte-based freelance writer.
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