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Written by John Ise, BT Contributor   
September 2019

Miami Shores and Barry U. need each other

MPix_JohnIse_9-19iami Shores is considered many things: a desirable, somewhat affluent community in northeast Dade. A collection of whiners who wail on social media when life goes awry, such as when a hurricane hits and villagers lose power for a week. Manicured stiffs who go after granola types who have the audacity to plant vegetable gardens in their front lawns.

But would anyone consider Miami Shores a college town? Truth is, we have a slumbering giant in our midst. Barry University, the 79-year-old Catholic institution, could be the jolt of energy the village and neighboring communities need. After all, this is a university founded in no small part thanks to the efforts of then Miami Shores Mayor John Graves Thompson.

Because my wife works in the school’s office of legal affairs, I’m tuned in to Barry happenings more than most. Its sports, arts, and cultural programs, along with the buzz of academia and youth, exist right on the northern periphery of Miami Shores. More of us should be looking there for things to do.

Tired of watching the travails of the miserable Marlins or plopping down big bucks on Miami Heat? A quick bike ride to watch Barry’s baseball or basketball teams may be your cup of tea. Or its nationally ranked tennis or golf teams.

And truth be told, Barry has much to boast about, in terms of intercollegiate athletic achievement. The university boasts 22 NCAA Division II National Championships in eight different sports. Since the fall of 2004, the Barry “Bucs” have taken 17 national championships -- the most in the Sunshine State Conference and top ten in all of NCAA Division II schools. Cap that with 365 All-American athletes in 13 different sports.

Beyond sports, Barry offers arts and drama performances to entertain and impress. Last March the school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors attracted hundreds of theatergoers and was engaging enough to keep the attention of my three attention-challenged youngsters.

How is it we tend to remain largely unaware of these impressive achievements and amenities? Barry is a gem hidden in plain sight, but the school and Miami Shores-area neighborhoods are too often cocooned, looking in opposite directions.

Barry does face financial challenges in the years to come. Like most private universities, it competes nationally for prospective students -- and increasingly against an evolving low-cost community college system that offers more and more four-year degree programs.

According to a March 18, 2017, Miami Herald profile of the university, “Barry University faces up to $8 million in revenue gap. What happens next?” In 2017, the school’s budget gap totaled $8.6 million, leading to 25 layoffs, a hiring freeze, and few pay increases since then. The financial predicament stems from a 26 percent enrollment decline since 2012, from 9070 students to just over 7000 in 2019.

“Barry depends on tuition for 90 percent of its funding, three times higher than the national average for private colleges,” noted the Herald.

Compounding the problem, in 2016, the New York credit rating agency, Fitch Ratings, revised Barry’s rating from stable to negative. Thankfully in 2018, Fitch upgraded Barry, returning the school to stable, after it exceeded tuition revenue targets for 2019, launched some online degree programs, and cultivated alliances with local Catholic high schools.

Yet Fitch cautions: “Barry continues to be heavily reliant on student-generated revenues (about 91 percent in fiscal 2018, most of which are deeply discounted), which makes it highly vulnerable to enrollment shifts.”

Into the arena has stepped Mike Allen, Barry University’s new president (and now a Shores resident). He’s not only the first male in the position, but he’s also the first layperson. Having served more than 25 years in higher education, he has worked in a variety of capacities with University of Connecticut, Florida Atlantic University in Orlando, and most recently at Catholic University in Washington, D.C.

What immediately impresses is not only the almost electric zeal he exudes, but the deep thought he has given to the challenges ahead not just for Barry, but for higher education in general.

Allen notes that Barry’s academics, which include more than a hundred degree programs and majors, needs to be more balanced, with a greater focus on where the academic market is actually trending. He also wants to take a fresh approach to the delivery mechanisms of academics. A greater emphasis on online classwork and accelerated learning are growth areas for Barry to develop. Being all things to all people using higher-education business models of the past is an area that also needs re-examination.

So just how does Barry seek to compete with publicly funded higher education behemoths like FIU and Miami Dade College? Allen says he’d like to see Barry to deliver personalized education within a values-driven communal environment. Delivering skilled graduates isn’t enough; they must also be conscientious citizens who give back to the broader community. Allen recounts how a hospital patient shared with him the relief he felt when he learned that his nurse was a Barry graduate -- a testament to the high quality of training she had received.

At Catholic University, Allen created a civic initiative called “Our Community, My Responsibility” that emphasized on-campus cultural sensitivity, ethical behavior, and common decency. Listening to how he and his wife adopted two children, one of whom has a serious developmental disability, it’s not hard to see the moral dimension of his vision.

And how might greater Miami Shores and its nearby university foster a mutually beneficial synergy? Allen notes that the surrounding community could tap into the faculty expertise Barry has to offer. The talent of local faculty shouldn’t remain ensconced on campus.

Second, he hopes to engage local alumni so they can become a greater part of Barry’s future. In interactions with Barry alums, I’ve often heard the great love they have for their alma mater. With more than 60,000 Miami-area alumni but a giving rate in the low single digits, Barry has an untapped goldmine of goodwill and financial resources available to it.

Finally, it will be important to find ways to ensure that the vitality of the student body reaches the community, while inviting the residents of greater Miami Shores to take advantage of Barry’s assets, including the natural beauty of its campus. An emerging downtown Miami Shores could become a potential draw for Barry students to patronize and promote a needed buzz along NE 2nd Avenue.

Allen’s vision, energy, and spirit will be needed as Barry navigates an unpredictable future. But it also behooves Miami Shores and surrounding communities to do our part. All sides need to communicate, coordinate, market, and complement one another.

Our futures are linked.

 

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