Washington Business Journal: Marymount’s president intends to double the school’s size. Here’s her plan.

Irma Becerra hit the ground running the moment she took over the Marymount University presidency.

She and her team crafted a new strategic plan, a framework that shows exactly where the Catholic university’s new leader aspires to take it: Bigger.

As Becerra approaches the end of her first year leading the Arlington college, a role she assumed July 1, 2018, her chief goal is as straightforward as it is ambitious: Double the school’s size in the next five years. That means growing enrollment from more than 3,400 students to between 8,000 and 10,000 by 2024 and, of those, approximately 2,000 would be online and the rest would be on campus. That exponential growth, Becerra said, will begin with a roughly 17% increase in the fall. And it won’t happen without changes “in the form of new programs, infrastructure, branding and other elements.”

“Because we’re smaller, we can be agile, and we can be effective and efficient at the same time,” Becerra said, adding: “We are going to continue to see how we can serve an increasing number of students without having to make huge investments in infrastructure. That’s how we are going to be able to continue to do our part in not perpetuating the increasing cost of education “curbing that rise.”

Marymount is working to this goal with a handful of key initiatives, including:

  • Technology upgrades: Rolling out the cloud-based platform across the institution over three years, starting with a first phase that involves revamping its business operations platform, slated to finish in September. Then comes the financial component, followed by the student-facing module. “We are, so far, expecting to have on-time, on-budget rollout, and it’s very exciting, because this is a big lift for us, but it’s going to be one that is going to really translate into huge benefits for our students,” Becerra said.
  • Physical expansion: Following Marymount’s $95 million purchase in February of the Rixey apartment building in Ballson, the school will look to establish more public-private partnerships to build new infrastructure for students. Though, Becerra said, “the campus has enough capacity for more students for at least the next two years.”
  • New programs: Marymount will launch new degrees this fall, including an accelerated bachelor’s in cybersecurity; IT specializations in game design and development, and cloud computing; a transitional program for physical therapists to get U.S. licenses; a certificate in health care practice management; and a bachelor’s in biology with a teaching license. It will also add an online master’s in merchandising and digital strategy, a doctorate in education leadership, and a degree in digital writing and narrative design the following year. Those additions, she said, will help grow its applicant pool.
  • More partnerships: The school, which requires that all students take on internships, places students with IT firm Mitre Corp., cybersecurity firm CGI and MedStar Health’s physical therapy program. This year it’s added Amazon Web Services to its growing list of partners, as it prepares for Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) to bring its second headquarters to Northern Virginia. With that, the university plans to continue adding internship opportunities, Becerra said. “About half of the students that come to Marymount tend to stay here, which is another reason why these internships are so important. They help predict the possibility for retaining that talent here in this region and serving to continue to enrich the talent pipeline for the region.”
  •  Brand changes: The university launched its “Learn with purpose” branding campaign, which it’s publicizing in TV ads and on social media as it looks to attract more students and make Marymount a global brand. The undergraduate student population alone represents 20% from 68 countries. And “that’s very attractive to Amazon also, especially when you look at companies like AWS and the fact that they will increasingly need to hire a global workforce, Becerra said.

Success, per Marymount’s strategic plan, is defined clearly. It means retaining more than 90% of first-year and transfer students, implementing a new campus master plan and growing donations, to reach 10,000 annual donors and more than a quarter of gifts coming from alumni, among other things.

All of this comes in a moment when universities across the country look to grow their student bodies and physical footprints, as we’re seeing locally “fueled partially by Amazon’s upcoming arrival” with Virginia Tech, George Mason University and others. “It’s all about infusing innovation and technology in many of our areas of strength that we already had at the university before,” Becerra said.

And as to the Amazon effect? “I am anticipating that the Amazon decision to move HQ2 here will definitely impact increased enrollment at Marymount,” Becerra said, “and I’m anticipating that our neighboring institutions will experience that, as well.”