Other voices: ‘All things are possible,’ college chief proclaims

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Ever the showman, High Point University’s charismatic president, Nido Qubein, teased “a major announcement” for all it was worth … and as things turned out, it was worth millions.

But first, Qubein, a motivational speaker, author and businessman by trade, took a few minutes to warm up the crowd with jokes and bold pronouncements of ambition before the main event.

The campus has added 108 buildings and has expanded from 90 to 525 acres since 2005, Qubein reminded us, as slides depicted aerial images of the campus then and now.

He liked those slides so much he clicked on them twice.

“This school is going to the moon,” said a man to whom understatement is a foreign tongue.

Yet, after the litany of big headlines that followed, which he ticked off like a shopping list, who’s to say it isn’t?

Qubein announced that the fast-growing private school in the heart of the Furniture City had received a total of $100 million in donations from three unnamed families within a span of 30 days.

Plus, he unveiled a plan for $400 million in new construction on the campus by the 2024-25 term.

Plus, he announced a new law school, for which a new dean already has been hired, though the person’s name will not be made public until May.

Plus, he discussed plans for new schools of optometry, nursing and entrepreneurship.

“Forgive my enthusiasm,” Qubein told the room full of media, trustees and civic leaders, as well as a streaming audience.

This has become par for the course over the years.

In Nido Qubein’s world, hype and reality are one and the same. Someway, somehow, what you hear is what you get. He just keeps on delivering.

“All things are possible,” he said, “There’s no such thing as unrealistic dreams.”

To paraphrase a line from a famous movie: “We’ll have what he’s having.”

To be sure, there have been more than a few skeptics, who see smoke and mirrors in HPU’s warp-speed transformation from sleepy to unstoppable since Qubein took charge.

They wonder whether HPU has been living on a bubble with all of its aggressive growth and spending and building.

But wouldn’t that bubble have burst by now?

In 2005, when Qubein arrived as a nontraditional choice for president, HPU had three academic schools. By 2025, when the university celebrates its centennial, it expects to have 14. The endowment has tripled.

Qubein didn’t specifically mention those skeptics, but he disputes the perception that the university has had to borrow heavily to sustain its breakneck pace of growth.

“Not one cent will be borrowed,” he said of the funds that will pay for the new construction.

For instance, the $100 million in donations from those three families will go toward the law school, the dental school and a new library.

The university hasn’t taken out a loan since 2010, Qubein said, and it has $800 million in net assets versus $100 million in debt.

Among planned construction will be buildings for the law school and the library as well as the new dental, nursing and optometry schools.

And, as Qubein reminded his audience, all of this has occurred during trying times for many colleges and universities, especially private ones.

When other schools are struggling to maintain enrollment, HPU’s enrollment has quadrupled since Qubein became president.

The university has become both a point of pride for High Point and Guilford County, as well as an economic engine. Qubein cited an annual regional economic impact of $850 million.

As for the impact of the planned new schools, the nursing program’s upgrade from a department to a school may be the most critical to the state, where a severe nursing shortage looms. Under consideration since 2018, the optometry school, meanwhile, will be the only one in North Carolina.

Of course, with each success a question lurks. Qubein has been president for 17 years. How much longer? And who will succeed him?

Then again, you got the impression that he plans to do this forever.

Early on, when Qubein first began to dazzle us with fundraising coups and land acquisitions and new buildings, seemingly by the sheer force of his will, it was easy to be a doubter.

Not anymore.

The results speak for themselves.

That is, they would, if the university’s relentless president hadn’t beaten them to it.


— Greensboro News & Record