Concordia, a Lutheran accredited university located in Northwest Austin, turns 90 on Oct. 26 and has matured from a one-room high school in downtown Austin to an accredited university on 386 acres with graduate programs, a doctoral program, online programs and about 2,500 students.
CEO and President Don Christian said Concordia has a plan for the next five years as well as long-term goals. He said his strategic plan includes offering better resources for the university’s students, such as a new Doctor of Education program and a proposed Center for Meaningful Work, working with students’ future employers to ensure the university meets employers’ needs and creating significant work for faculty.
“Our vision is that we will be the premier university where the adventure of faith, learning and life-changing experiences leads to meaningful work,” he said.
Christian outlines several of the university’s initiatives in his 2016 strategic plan, including the Center for Meaningful Work—similar to a student success center—strategies to form partnerships with the community and a proposal to revise the campus master plan to align with the university’s new vision statement.
He said he is also planning the Center of Innovation, similar to an incubator, that would help students, faculty and community members generate and collaborate on business ideas.
Christian said other initiatives include creating an institutional research office to track student engagement and success as well as more academic and co-curricular programs that include athletics, health sciences, business, fine arts and theology.
Although no timeline is set for action items within the strategic plan, the document outlines steps that will be taken each year, including selecting a set of initiatives to focus on when going through the budgeting process, forming executive teams for each initiative, reporting on each team’s progress and delivering results.
Christian said when he began his role in fall 2014, he was tasked with creating a strategic plan that would guide the university through its 100th anniversary in 2026. Although the strategic plan outlines strategies for the next five years, Christian said those strategies will also apply far into the future.
Concordia’s local impact
One of the goals outlined in the strategic plan is to “embrace the greater Austin region and other areas as a partner and a place of calling.”
“It’s been great to have [Concordia] out there,” said Ray Freer, chairman of the West Austin Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a recognizable university, and it brings value to our community.”
Freer said the school’s location has created opportunities for students to obtain jobs with businesses located around Concordia as well as helped local businesses thrive economically.
“You look at the representation [of Concordia] and the quality of education that they bring and the type of leaders they produce—it’s a great asset for our community,” he said.
Freer said he has not seen traffic affected by Concordia commuters since the school’s relocation.
Kristi Kirk, executive vice president and chief mission officer, said the school has about 900 commuters.
“It’s not like a mad rush where everyone is in class at 8 [a.m.],” Freer said. “I think [university traffic is] more diversified.”
He said foot traffic has increased since the campus relocated, and he often sees students walking along
RM 620 to various businesses.
Cyndra Larsen, who owns Angel Donuts at the Trails at 620 shopping center across the street from the university, said her business has been successful because of the students.
“We kind of designed the place with the college student in mind,” she said.
The eatery has small tables often used as student workplaces and a section of couches where students are frequently studying, Larsen said.
Other local businesses near the university, such as Redfin Seafood Kitchen and West Salon by Leah, offer discounts to Concordia students and staff.
Amir Hajimaleki, who owns Oasthouse Kitchen+Bar at Trails at 620, said he has held alumni happy hours and seen faculty at his restaurant several times. He said he hopes to be involved in a marketing class with the university in the future.
Apartment complexes close to Concordia—such as Abelia Flats Apartments, Sonterra Apartment Homes and the Verandah at Grandview Hills—have also benefited economically from the students.
“[Concordia students have] helped our occupancy for sure,” said Laurel Carroll, a leasing consultant with Verandah at Grandview Hills, is located on RM 620.
Since opening in May, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites at Trails at 620 has received business from the university in the form of families of prospective and accepted students, said Brodie Havel, the hotel’s front desk assistant.
“At [Concordia’s] orientation we almost had a full house,” he said of the July two-day session attended by incoming freshmen.
Becoming a destination school
Christian said he credits the recent success of the university to its 2008 relocation to 386 acres in a forested area of Four Points—of which 250 acres is Balcones Canyonlands Preserve land that is set aside for endangered species.
“When you have space that looks out here, it doesn’t help but change the learning environment,” Christian said in his office, gesturing to the trees visible through the windows.
In the past two years, there has been a significant increase in graduation and student retention rates, a fact Christian said he attributes in part to the campus’s new location. Last year’s freshman retention rate was
75 percent, the highest in Concordia’s history, he said.
Recruiting professors has not been a problem for the school, because many staffers are happy to avoid the downtown commute, Christian said. He said he does not have a difficult time recruiting students; however, he said his biggest challenge has been affordability, or the perception of affordability.
“People look at us, or private education, and go, ‘I don’t think I can afford that,’” Christian said. He compared Concordia’s $29,460 yearly tuition with South Austin’s St. Edward’s University, which charges $38,720 for yearly tuition.
Christian said one of the goals of the strategic plan is to balance the costs of running the school and being fiscally responsible with making college affordable and showing students the value of Concordia.
He said academic opportunities, such as its online degree program, Master of Business Administration program, Master of Education program, and the university’s multiple satellite campuses throughout Central Texas, have made the school more accessible in recent years.
“We are trying to make getting a degree a reality for people,” Christian said.