Outdoor program

E&H sets off to Elevate in Excellence

Move to university status in fall 2024 underway while focusing on student success

Posted July 03, 2023

Throughout its 187-year history, Emory & Henry has been a higher education leader in Southwest Virginia. During that time, Emory & Henry has continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of students and the region. Today’s world calls for the kind of forward-looking approach to higher education that Emory & Henry has always embraced. It’s time for Emory & Henry to take the transformational step of announcing its status as a private regional comprehensive university.

The Move to University Status Announcement Celebration The Move to University Status Announcement Celebration

In 2019, the Board of Trustees approved “The Pivot Toward the Future,” a strategic plan to prepare Emory & Henry for the changing world of higher education. Building on the success of “The Pivot,” this new strategic plan, “Elevate in Excellence,” takes Emory & Henry to a new level of delivering on the institution’s historic mission. This plan recognizes the evolution of Emory & Henry to its current role as a university, reflected by its multiple campuses that deliver baccalaureate, master and doctoral programs across diverse academic offerings that are rooted in the liberal arts, its broadening appeal to wider student audiences, and its expanding role as an economic driver in the region.

This plan includes five strategic emphases that will proactively and strategically elevate the position of Emory & Henry to meet the challenges in higher education. These emphases are:

  • Expanding Academic Offerings
  • Engaging Students
  • Supporting a Robust Infrastructure
  • Leading in the Community
  • Marketing a Distinct Value Proposition

These emphases will enable Emory & Henry University to thrive as the premier private comprehensive university of the region.

Rusty Young ('27) lecturing in Miller Hall But First, Foundational Principles

This strategic plan elaborates and activates these foundational principles, supporting the identity and vision of Emory & Henry. These principles are recognized to be fundamental to Emory & Henry and therefore permeate all aspects of the strategic plan. Even though they may not be explicitly written in each strategic area, they define an essential character that, through this plan, will fuel the institution’s growth.


Emory & Henry’s identity is built upon a well-deserved reputation for excellence in education. Emory & Henry strives to produce graduates who apply their education to effect positive change in society, whether on a local level or in an international context. In this regard and through this plan, Emory & Henry reinforces its commitment to educate leaders who can positively shape the world through a wide range of perspectives, including, but not limited to, business, health science and community engagement.

The Liberal Arts

Fundamental to the educational philosophy at Emory & Henry is the belief in the value of the liberal arts as the foundation of all quality education. The liberal arts offer an essential, unparalleled approach to learning that serves students in all disciplines, at all degree levels and in all professions throughout their lives.

In addition, the liberal arts encourage students to appreciate the value of learning and to practice the skills that facilitate lifelong learning and application. This strategic plan seeks to underscore the value of the liberal arts by pursuing objectives that strengthen their ongoing connections and applications to students’ careers, lives and communities.


Since its founding, Emory & Henry has been committed to providing a quality higher education that seeks to advance the larger world while remaining rooted in the assets and character of Southwest Virginia.

As a cornerstone of its region, Emory & Henry honors its shared environment, which is rich in ecological diversity, beauty, history and culture. Through community partnerships and its outdoor programming, Emory & Henry will continue to provide a student experience that nurtures an appreciation for and attachment to its place.


A commitment to strengthening the region requires an appreciation of diversity and all the numerous benefits that come with manifold experiences and perspectives. In this regard and through this plan, Emory & Henry assumes responsibility for reaching out to the larger community to encourage a welcome reception of a diverse college community and to stand as an example of inclusion and acceptance.

Emory & Henry’s mission to prepare students for a global society necessitates a learning and growing environment that fosters an understanding of differences and commonalities. As a result of this imperative, Emory & Henry not only initiates strategies to enrich the lives of members of a diverse community but to be known and respected for its determination toward this goal.

Strategic Emphases of Focus

The van Vlissingen Career Center Director, Lee Svete, leads a student panel at dedication. The van Vlissingen Career Center Director, Lee Svete, leads a student panel at dedication.

1) Expanding Academic Offerings

To be responsive to the expectations of students and to address market demands reflected in a changing economy, as well as to proactively respond to challenges that threaten the world of higher education, Emory & Henry seeks a more expansive approach to providing opportunities for a broader range of potential learners.

The emphasis on academic programming in this strategic plan will focus on the applied liberal arts to support a greater population of non-traditional learners facing a changing job environment. At the same time, academic planning will enhance the institution’s mission of leadership in community service while attracting and retaining a more geographically diverse student population.

New in-person, online and blended undergraduate and graduate programs are currently in various stages of development across all four E&H schools (arts and sciences, business, health sciences, and nursing), with planning and/or implementation happening within the timeframe of this strategic plan.

In response to disruptive forces and changing demands, Emory & Henry must continue to strategically strengthen and diversify its portfolio of academic programs while also attracting and retaining a more significant percentage of non-traditional learners. Creating revenue streams through new market-driven and work-based programs will be essential to the continued growth and evolution of the institution as a comprehensive regional university.

A focus on retention must correlate with the creation of new academic programs and initiatives designed to attract students from more diverse populations and non-traditional groups and in a range of delivery methods. Emory & Henry has invested in student success on both the Emory and Marion campuses, serving primarily students in a traditional setting. Enhancing regional partnerships will be essential to Emory & Henry’s evolution. Several programs serve as channels for the expanded inclusion of regional resources for the mutual benefit of the institution and the communities of Southwest Virginia, including the Appalachian Center for Civic Life, the Center for Outdoor Studies, and the van Vlissingen Center for Career and Professional Development. Likewise, Emory & Henry’s reputation of educating outstanding public school teachers, the potential for expanding as a partner for economic development and innovation through the School of Business, and the contributions of the School of Health Sciences and the School of Nursing to the region’s healthcare needs position the institution to reinforce its role as a comprehensive regional university and signature resource in Southwest Virginia and beyond.

Physics Professor Charles Fay utilizing SMART Board technology. Physics Professor Charles Fay utilizing SMART Board technology.

2) Engaging All Students

Emory & Henry has worked vigorously and successfully in recent years to enhance student life with an eye toward student satisfaction and retention. Knowing that more needs to be accomplished to renew the E&H student experience and energize those who deliver it, the institution is committed to supporting additional investments in athletics, student engagement, student success and campus safety.

In all areas, Emory & Henry seeks to increase the engagement of students in minority and underrepresented groups while supporting the co-curricular and interpersonal needs of students at all levels. Backed by research and its retention data, Emory & Henry seeks to bolster student engagement that augments a sense of belonging, ownership, and pride, both on and off campus, focused through its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Belonging initiatives.

Research in student retention suggests that students are more likely to remain in college and graduate when they have strong ties to and are engaged with the campus community. In addition, the positive impact of engagement far outlasts success in college and leads to positive experiences in the workforce; this is especially true for students from marginalized groups.

Emory & Henry has launched the process toward full NCAA Division II membership in 2024 and has established a scholarship model that provides opportunities for competitive success and support of the institution’s financial goals. The Division II philosophy aligns seamlessly with the mission of Emory & Henry, calling for an all-inclusive learning and development program that is proven to improve graduation rates and overall enrollment growth. This move to NCAA Division II provides opportunities to increase Emory & Henry’s diversity which impacts the experiences of all students, all while remaining a point of access for first-generation and Middle- Appalachian students.

With the steady growth and enhanced diversification of the E&H student population, the College must continue refining and expanding new-student experiences, accessibility services, academic advising, mental health counseling and success coaching to provide students the support systems they need to realize a positive and sustained educational experience.

Emory & Henry students outside 3) Supporting a Robust Infrastructure

“Elevate in Excellence” acknowledges that people and the tools they rely on provide the backbone for success at Emory & Henry. For this reason, this strategic plan strives to strengthen and sustain a productive workforce, build and maintain adequate and attractive facilities, and develop and expand programs, services, and community partnerships.

Human and technology resources are integral to the success of the initiatives of this plan. New facilities will require additional staff for maintenance and operations, while appropriate technology is essential for scheduling and operating the facilities. New and expanded student services and programming will require additional personnel and the continued advancement of technology resources to support these programs to deliver a high-quality product.

Emory & Henry’s institutional infrastructure is the foundation to becoming a premier employer of choice in this region and beyond and home to a diverse and inclusive workforce where employees feel a collective sense of belonging, collegiality and mutual respect.

Emory & Henry benefits from iconic facility infrastructure, which enhances the beauty of the campus and draws praise from visiting prospective students and their families. This praise is a reminder of how valuable infrastructure–including everything from parking lots to the dining hall to the library–is to the image and operations of the institution.

However, the significant amount of deferred maintenance that exists in many areas of campus is often overlooked. Emory & Henry will strive to align its physical spaces with its strategic vision through enhancements to athletic facilities, residence halls and academic buildings.

As Emory & Henry seeks to improve its facilities, it must also look for opportunities to adapt those facilities to creative opportunities in student recruitment. Such opportunities may include residential high school academies and transition programs. Emory & Henry will explore the development of “pathway” programs that engage pre-college students in the E&H experience.

Students volunteering at the Service Plunge 4) Leading in the Community

As Southwest Virginia’s first and oldest private institution of higher education, Emory & Henry is an economic engine for the region. Not only do its students, faculty, staff, and visitors generate substantial economic activity annually through payroll, construction, service and spending reverberating throughout the local economy; many of its graduates remain in the area and positively contribute to more robust, diverse and vibrant communities.

An integral part of the region for nearly two centuries, Emory & Henry is committed to serving as a resource to and partnering with businesses, governments, nonprofits, organizations and individuals who collectively seek to enhance the regional economic outlook. The future of Emory & Henry and the region are inextricably linked.

Emory & Henry seeks to lead regional economic and workforce development, foster valuable partnerships in problem-solving, utilize and enhance academic and non-academic programs in service to community objectives, and continue to promote enhanced healthcare and healthy living.

Various additional efforts will help the institution establish itself as the region’s premier academic institution for leadership in community advancement. Those strategies include enhanced partnerships with community colleges to provide pathways to bachelor’s degrees and beyond; professional development resources for local school districts; academic pipelines for middle and high school students to explore and pursue career pathways, particularly in healthcare; academic offerings or programs in Abingdon and Bristol; and engaging donors and community leaders in E&H’s initiatives.

2023 graduates ready to take on the world after receiving their diplomas. 2023 graduates ready to take on the world after receiving their diplomas.

5) Marketing in a Distinct Value Proposition

For Emory & Henry, the pivot from a small local college to a comprehensive regional university includes expanding undergraduate and graduate programs at multiple campus locations and enhancing career readiness, all with the foundations of the liberal arts and professional preparation that differentiate its graduates in the marketplace. Emory & Henry will strive to expand its market reach for all students, both undergraduate and graduate, through the aggressive promotion of new programs and initiatives.

“Emory & Henry seeks to be ‘the premier private comprehensive university of the region,’ to have a broad presence to signify that Emory & Henry is a ‘university as great as the region.’”

—John W. Wells, E&H President

The scope and demands of this strategic plan require Emory & Henry to continue to refresh its brand to underscore the new University’s distinctiveness and expand its visibility. The institution must build its brand alongside authentic, measurable guarantees and solid commitments to its students across the timeline of the student experience, including commitments to access, support and career success.

Effective marketing requires collaboration across campus with a commitment to customer service. Strategic initiatives across this plan must take into account the four Ps of marketing: product–classes and credits, faculty and student experience (are they in demand and relevant); price–competitiveness, revenue impact and value-added opportunities; place–on campus and online; and promotion– marketing, public relations and reach.

Effective marketing begins with a strong brand. In the words of President Wells, Emory & Henry seeks to be “the premier private comprehensive university of the region” to have a broad presence to signify that Emory & Henry is a “university as great as the region” and, while honoring the institution’s past, to elevate and articulate the next iteration of higher education in the United States.

Two Emory & Henry graduates smiling at Commencement Day

Your Elevating Support

As alumni, friends and donors to Emory & Henry, you have the most significant opportunity in the next three years to offer your support toward the institution’s growth.

By staying engaged and informed, your conversations with others and the community will favorably accelerate the growth and the speed at which to succeed. Please share your connections and contacts that might support the new plan and let President Wells, the Office of Advancement or the van Vlissingen Center for Career and Professional Development know of your ideas and support. You may also send ideas of support to

Thank you for your support in tending to Emory & Henry over the next three years and beyond. Together we will make a difference and elevate Emory & Henry in excellence.

People watching the Commencement 2023 ceremony

From Your Voice:

“Congratulations, Emory & Henry! This is an incredible milestone in a storied history and one that’s long overdue, given the amazing strides made by the institution over the past two decades. University status is truly fitting.”

“So surreal. Never did I think a small college like this experienced this much growth and change. Now it will be officially Emory & Henry University by fall 2024. I’m so proud of my alma mater.”

“As an alumnus and donor, I’m glad to see my undergrad alma mater thriving under the impressive leadership of President John Wells.”

“What an exciting time to grow and celebrate the future while honoring our shared foundations. Proud of us, y’all!”

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