Catawba president says school can be more selective
By Sarah Nagem
As the new president of Catawba College, Dr. Craig Turner wants to attract smarter, driven students to the school ó even if that means a drop in enrollment for a while.
Catawba doesn’t want just anyone with a high school diploma.
“That’s not what Catawba wants to be,” Turner said last week during the first day of classes.
Instead, Turner said, Catawba is looking for students with a history of academic success who want to challenge themselves in a close-knit college community.
When deciding whether a student will be admitted, Turner prefers to put more stock in the student’s high school grades than SAT scores. But looking at scores on standardized achievement tests is one way the college can become more selective, he said.
“I want to raise the quality of our students,” Turner said.
But in doing that, Catawba’s enrollment has decreased slightly ó by almost 60 students in the day program compared to last year.
About 900 day students are enrolled at Catawba this fall.
Turner said he’s not worried about shrinking numbers.
“When you’re becoming more selective, you anticipate that,” he said.
“We turned down 100 more students than we turned down last year.”
Partly through a school marketing campaign, Turner said he wants to “grow (the) student body with more good students.”
He hopes many of those students will be local.
For just starting out on the job, Turner obviously has big plans for Catawba. But he’s no novice when it comes to running a higher education institution.
Turner, 61, came to Catawba in June after he spent six years as president of Hardin-Simmons University in Texas.
He joined the faculty of Hardin-Simmons in 1992. During his time there, he served as an English professor, vice president for academic afffairs, executive vice president, chief academic officer and chief operating officer. He was named president there in 2001.
Before Hardin-Simmons, Turner was an English professor at Texas A&M University and Baylor University. He went on to become head of the English department at Mississippi College.
Turner earned a bachelor’s degree in English and history and a master’s degree in English from Baylor. He earned a doctorate in British and American Literature from Tulane University in 1977.
He has spent most of his adult life working in higher education. Turner still likes being in the classroom ó he plans to teach an English class at Catawba next year.
The students keep him going, Turner said.
“It’s great,” he said. “They’re energized.”
Outside the classroom, Turner said he wants to help grow Catawba’s endowment.
During his time as president at Hardin-Simmons, Turner said, the school’s endowment grew from $65 million to $125 million.
Right now, Catawba’s endowment is about $40 million, Turner said.
“We just need to keep building on that,” he said.
Turner wants the college to invest more of its money instead of spending funds on construction projects ó at least for now.
The school has enough space for classrooms, offices and student residences, he said.
“Every area on campus has wants, but I will differentiate between wants and needs,” Turner said.
A drop in enrollment means less money coming in to the college. But Turner said he isn’t worried about that, either.
Catawba isn’t in the money-making business, he said.
“All we want to do is balance the budget,” Turner said.
The school also wants to continue to offer good educational opportunities. Turner said he envisions Catawba playing a role in the N.C. Research Campus in Kannapolis.
The school does not offer a biotechnology degree, but it has other science majors. Turner said he hopes some Catawba undergraduates can work as interns at the Reseach Campus.
He hopes business students also can get on board.
“With the science comes a lot of business aspects,” Turner said.
If the Kannapolis area sees a population boom as people come here for jobs, Turner said Catawba students studying education will be ready to move into teaching jobs.
And Catawba graduates will be ready for graduate work in the science fields at schools like the University of North Carolina and Duke, Turner said.
“What we will do is provide those programs with excellent students,” he said.
Turner said he wants to work with other local colleges, too.
He wants to help create a “seamless transfer” for Rowan-Cabarrus Community College students to come to Catawba. And he wants to make Catawba’s football game with Livingstone College this fall a community event.
Turner and his wife, Annette, have two grown children and two grandchildren.