IBJ: You came to Lindenwood in Belleville as the head of administration in 2009. At the time, there were only 13 employees and, what, about 100 students?
Bladdick: Yes, 13 employees and about 100 day students. But we did have an evening college that was established before I got to Belleville five years ago. And we also had a graduate program in education and counseling. At that particular time there were about 700 students attending between the 100 day and the 600 in the evening in graduate programs.
IBJ: Where do the numbers stand today?
Bladdick: We are sitting at roughly 2,300 students today. We have about 1,300 day students and about 640 evening students and the rest would be made up of our graduate students.
IBJ: Beginning in the fall of 2009, Lindenwood Belleville became the only one of the extension locations to offer those daytime classes. That seems to be where the big growth began.
Bladdick: It did, and I think our growth is going to continue, but through a variety of different venues. On (Oct. 14) we did a ribbon-cutting and grand opening on our new Collinsville center. I think through corporate partnerships and additional extension centers we will see growth to continue to serve other people in Southwestern Illinois.
IBJ: How is Collinsville going to be operated? What kind of staffing and programs will you have there?
Bladdick: We have secured approval to offer all of our degree programs in our evening college format, so we’ll have five or six undergraduate programs — business administration, criminal justice, human resource management, health care management (among them). And then on the graduate level, we’ll have the MBA program, the master’s of criminal justice, the master’s of health care management, master’s of gerontology, master’s in communication … . And then we’re also going to offer — and this is a little different than the Lindenwood model — graduate education and graduate counseling programs over there as well. We’ll start (the latter) in January.
IBJ: How many students can you actually accommodate in that location?
Bladdick: We have eight classrooms there and each classroom can hold up to about 22 students. If we offer classes four nights a week, our capacity is pretty large. That will be over 700 students (a week). And we’ll keep looking for other areas (communities) that have an unmet need for a quality higher education.
IBJ: You were made the first president of that campus just a little more than a year ago. What’s been the biggest challenge during your tenure?
Bladdick: There have been more rewards than there have been challenges. One of the challenges for me, for me personally, is to make sure I’m in all places at all times. We have so many campus events in which students (are involved) or events that the university helms that I feel so responsible to be there, to be a good ambassador for the university and to welcome our guests. At the same time I have obligations and commitments to the Southwestern Illinois community as well as the residents of Belleville, to attend a lot of their functions. But I don’t think my challenges are any different than any other CEO in the area.
IBJ: What have you been able to accomplish at the campus?
Bladdick: One of the things I’m most proud of is we’ve been able to widen the academic offerings for our students. When I first came there, we had five undergraduate degree programs and seven graduate programs. Today, we have over 30 total. I think it’s 37.
IBJ: Do you have any plans to expand your degree offerings?
Bladdick: We do. Our business model calls for us to initiate one to three degree programs every year for the next four or five years. It’s part of a controlled-balance, growth initiate. We cannot be all things to all people, so we take what we are very good at. We take what our faculty is phenomenal at, and that’s is what we focus in on.
IBJ: How many staff and faculty now?
Bladdick: I think we are at a total of 130 full- and part-time staff members. We have a total of 40 full-time faculty. And you talk about accomplishments? I would put this up against any school in our area: 98 percent of our full-time faculty hold the highest degree in their field of study. Ninety-eight percent — who does that?
IBJ: You must have attracted people from quite a distance away from the area?
Bladdick: We have an that’s something I’m very proud of. Many people think we are football and cheerleaders and student government and yearbook, but we are so much more to the Belleville community and to Southwestern Illinois. Not long ago we issued our economic impact. Look at what a small institution like Lindenwood has done, specifically looking at an unmet need for higher education on the four-year private level, and at the same time bringing the jobs to the community. These are great-paying jobs. They’re buying homes in the community. They’re educating people who perhaps might not have been educated before on the collegiate level.
IBJ: Your main site is the former Belleville West High School campus. Have you had to do much with that facility since you’ve been aboard?
Bladdick: When I came on board, we were only in one building of the seven buildings on campus. We (now) occupy all buildings and we have classes and offices in all seven buildings on campus. We refurbished over the summer the old Belleville West cafeteria. Up until last year, we were still using it as a cafeteria. This year, we’re now using it as a formal dining hall/food court. We spent roughly $300,000 to $400,000 redoing it, making it a food court for our students, which is more conducive to their needs and wants. That’s located in the Alan J. Dixon Student Center. We were also able, two years ago, to repurpose the lower level of that space and put a welcome center/admissions offices in there, along with other administrative and faculty offices.
IBJ: How much has Lindenwood invested in that Belleville campus?
Bladdick: Over $30 million so far.
IBJ: Since 2003 (when it started)? That would surprise a lot of people.
Bladdick. Right. Well, the two dorms we built, we spent about $4 million on each dorm. The men’s dorm opened (Oct. 7). It will hold about 212 men. It’s already been named the Fred J. Kern Residence Hall.
The seven buildings were the original high school campus. We have repurposed them to meet the needs of collegiate faculty and college students. We’ve updated the chemistry and biology labs, and that was a small fortune in of itself. We do have a physical education program, a biology program, a pre nursing program, athletic training and exercise science, and all of those programs are very heavily science oriented. It was well worth the investment.
We started an entire communications department where we have our own television studio and our own radio station. We also have started a program called Interactive Media and Web Design, and it’s one of our fastest-growing programs on our campus right now.
IBJ: As far as the short term, are there more improvements to come?
Bladdick: When you inherit and live in an old facility you’ll always have improvements. Those improvements will be coming in heating and cooling, HVAC, and from physical structure, such as buildings needing tuck pointing. You have to remember it was built as a high school and we so we don’t have offices for our faculty. We have to repurpose our current buildings to create offices for our faculty. Some of them are in old classrooms. In other cases we’ve repurposed other areas. For example there were a number of locker rooms that are now athletic offices for all the coaches.
IBJ: What’s part of the long-term plan?
Bladdick: I think we’ll want to continue to make our campus as student friendly as possible. That includes the potential of looking at additional dormitories. We own three apartment buildings, we own 28 individual homes, we have the old, former Econo Lodge hotel. For us to repurpose the land or those buildings into more contemporary student housing would be a primary goal.
Another primary goal is to continue to make the campus safe as possible, because we’re sandwiched, between railroad tracks and a Main Street that runs right through out campus. Our goal would be to make it more pedestrian friendly.
We’ll be widening our menu of academic offerings as well as our athletic offerings. I think the future holds a phenomenal emphasis in the arts. After all, we are a liberal arts institution.
We’ll look for an opportunity to emphasize that direction, by potentially adding music programs, widening our theater program. Potentially even starting a dance program. All these are possibilities for us.