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High Point rising

The sun shines brightly on High Point University, all 210 acres of it, from the gleaming royal- purple bleachers and the emerald playing fields they gaze down to the long stretch of’ what used to be Montlieu Street but is now the Kester International Promenade, the main thoroughfare on campus described by sidewalks and lush patches of green, intervaled with flags of the world and iron benches upon each of which sits a statue of someone… extraordinary..

cover1.jpgBecause of this last feature, it is possible at High Point University to have your morning coffee with William Shakespeare on a park bench, to kill time between classes with Aristotle or Marie Curie, to sidle up to Mark Twain and put your arm around his shoulder.

Elsewhere underneath this brilliant morning light, students in tie-dyed university gear swarm incoming cars like pit crews, loading gear on dollies, ushering new students and their parents into the open doors of the dorms, their first moments of life at HPU. And like a lot of other moments here, this one is an event.

As the freshmen load in, bands play on stages at the dorms. Shiela and Bubba Klinefelter, also clad in HPU tie-dye, sit in rockers awaiting their turn.

“They’re good to the local musicians,” Shiela says. “All my friends are here today.”

She adds, “Their checks clear every time.” On the second floor of the dorm at University Center II, freshman Mike Miller of Darien, Conn. meets his roommate Bobby Rollins, from Kennebunk, Maine, for the first time. It seems to be going well.

Miller’s got his stuff piled on the bed, his new steamer trunk on the floor. Rollins got here first, with his parents and little sister. He’s already got his new sheets and blankets laid on the full-size mattress, unloaded much of his clothing and electronics.

Miller looked at schools closer to home:

Roger Williams University, Rhode Island College and the University of Connecticut, before deciding on HPU.

“He needed more of an intellectual challenge,” his father Richard says.

Rollins, the first one of his siblings to go to college, says he chose HPU from a crop that included Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., Pennsylvania’s Gettysburg College and Elon University.

“The weather’s nice,” he says. “It was the right size school, and they had the right major,” which in his case is business.

“And President Qubein,” his mom Julie pipes in. “The whole mission here. They want the kids to succeed. They want them to be successful. And the scenery isn’t too bad, either.”

“Especially the girls,” her son says.

In the old days, like five years ago, you could drive through High Point without even realizing there was a university here. Now the campus dominates this corner of the Furniture City, a monument to itself that cannot, will not be ignored.

Since 2005, HPU has expanded its campus from 90 acres to more than 200. Some 15 buildings have been erected, including the athletic arenas, and admissions are on the rise. They’ve added dorms, opened new fields of study and beefed up faculty — just this year HPU hired 40 new instructors and more than 70 staff. And they’ve instituted programs — or perhaps they’ve created a lifestyle — that for some turns the notion of college on its ear.

There are rumors about HPU: that students get their laundry done and rooms made up, that there’s live music every day and free ice cream every afternoon. Concierge service. Steak dinners. Nap time.

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And like all rumors, each contains a nugget of truth. Vice President of Administration Christopher Dudley will tell you all about it as he give you a campus tour.

Turns out there is a concierge service for students at HPU, responsible for things like restaurant reservations, wake-up calls and taxicabs, yes. The concierge desk is also the place where students can return library books, check out iPads and GPS devices, get tickets for campus events and book tutors.

“The idea is, we don’t want to give our students the runaround,” Dudley says. They can see the concierge desk “for any reason.”

“We don’t actually do laundry,” Dudley adds. “Our laundry machines are free, so you don’t have to pay for it. And as a concierge service, we will take your dry cleaning and get it back to you. But you have to pay for it.”

The steak dinners have a foundation in reality as well — on the third floor of the University Center. HPU’s very own steakhouse, 1924 Prime, has dark wood walls, white linen tablecloths, heavy flatware and a fabulous view of a lush, green quad. Students can get one meal a week here as a part of their meal plan. Dudley explains it as more of a lesson than a perk.

“It’s a learning lab,” he says, “so when they get out of school they’ll be comfortable with fine dining, taking a client out to dinner.”

There are rules at 1924 Prime. The dress code is business casual, and students not adhering to it will be asked to change their clothes. And you must make a reservation to eat there. Students who make reservations and do not show are kicked out of the restaurant for a month.

“That’s designed to teach courtesy,” he says. “We have this holistic approach to education. We want this entire environment to be about learning.”

And what about the ice cream? “We do have an ice cream truck,” Dudley admits. “There is some truth to that rumor.” But, he says, there’s a lesson to be learned from free ice cream, too.

“You know,” he says, “even if you’re having a bad day, you see the ice cream truck and you immediately feel better. It models the value of joy.”

You can trace HPU’s ascension to the very moment Nido Qubein agreed to be its president in 2005.

He didn’t need the job — Qubein was already an internationally recognized motivational speaker and businessman at the time — but he was an alumnus of the school, having transferred there after earning an associates degree at Mount Olive College. And it was an interesting opportunity to put into practice what he had been preaching since 1977, aptly named in the title of one of his books, Stairway to Success: The Complete Blueprint for Personal and Professional Achievement.

Qubein was born in the Middle East to a Lebanese mother and Jordanian father. He came to the United States as 17 with $50 in his pocket, as the story goes, and made his mark while a grad student at UNC-Chapel Hill by turning a newsletter he founded called Adventures With Youth into an international publication that eventually found more than 68,000 paid subscribers in 32 countries.

From this cradle he began a career as a public speaker and professional motivator that propelled him to great heights — his resume includes his consulting business, Creative

Services Inc. begun in 1980, the founding of the National Speakers Foundation, a current post as chairman of Great Harvest Bread Co., positions on the boards of BB&T and La-Z-Boy, a slew of national and international awards and authorship of 15 books on business, leadership and self-realization.

“While I did not really come through the traditional world of education,” he says, “I have been in education all my life in the sense that I have brought the classroom to the people…. In a very real way, I believe what I’ve done before coming to High Point has really set the stage in measurable ways.”

Qubein’s presence is all over HPU, from the many prominently placed portraits of the man to the eponymous School of Communications, and the culture is steeped in the man’s roadmap to success.

“Everything we do here is connected to learning, to education, to personal improvement,” he says. “There is nothing here that is frivolous— everything is linked to a value. We want to model our behavior pattern in a way we think students can benefit from.

“The common thread,” he continues, “is this mindset, this culture that I think I’ve brought to the school: potential, gratitude, God created for you a purpose and you can do amazing things in your life if you’re willing to work hard enough and smart enough.

That rings true in the minds of young people.”

The transformation he’s enabled on the campus is physically remarkable — a billboard by one entrance boasts of the univer sity’s newest facilities, each with massive square-footage, impressive columns and brickwork, loaded with amenities and chandeliers.

The 270,000 square-foot University Center 2 has a sports bar with free video games (and no alcohol, in line with school policy), a fitness center with an outdoor pool, a free movie theater that can double as a small auditorium or classroom for film students and a dynamic cascading water feature.

The Plato S. Wilson Family School of Commerce has a trading room that would rival anything you might find in a small New York brokerage house, and also a marbleinlaid floor in the domed lobby.

The Nido R. Qubein School of Communications has leather couches in its lobby, and in the fourth-floor broadcasting department a curved wall holds 19 television screens of varying sizes, airing at any given time stations like al Jazeera, BBC, Thai TV and Indochine news. There’s a recording studio, an impressive college radio set-up (though the school’s station, the Sound, is currently only available online.), digital editing suites, two TV studios with a green screen, a survey research center where students conduct polls and a video game lab as big as a racquetball court with all the bells and whistles: storyboards for plotlines, the bodysuit with digital contact points for animation, the 30-foot gaming screen for road tests. Portraits of past speakers at the university line one wall, an impressive cast including Bill Cosby, Mitch Albom, Cal

Ripken, Buzz Aldrin, Clarence Thomas, Rudy Giuliani, George W. Bush and Thomas Friedman. This year’s commencement speaker, it was announced last week, will be Lance Armstrong.

Blessings Residence Hall. A revamped Slane Student Center. The Earl N. Phillips School of Business. The Jerry & Kitty Steele Sports Center. All of them built within the last five years. And ground has been broken on a stretch near the back of campus for a Greek Village to house the burgeoning fraternity and sorority scene. A School of Education is in the works.

“We didn’t want to have incremental change,” says Dudley.

The movement at HPU is gaining traction.

Enrollment is up 20 percent to more than 4,000 students, average SAT scores are up 100 points, curriculum has grown to include 50 major courses of study and seven graduate programs, and overall employment has ballooned 89 percent since Qubein took office.

The school has cracked the nation’s college-listing cabal, garnering Third Place in the US News & World Reports annual college issue for Southern regional universities, up from No. 5 last year. Parade magazine listed it as one of the Top 26 small private schools in the nation. It also nabbed mentions in similar lists put out by Forbes and USA Today.

“We’re making lots of A lists,” Qubein says. “That’s something we’re proud of: that acknowledgement that America is watching with admiration the transformation of High Point University.”

HPU, Dudley says, is dedicated to creating what they call “wow moments”: the classical music piped across campus, the acquisition of enough brand-name grand pianos to earn the designation of “All Steinway School,” care- fully tended gardens and trees, a proliferation of large outdoor fountains, a bronze riot of outdoor art. “Those are the ‘Dream Big Chairs,’”

Dudley says, pointing to a couple of white wooden rocking chairs, each three stories high, inspired, he says, by a letter from an alumna who said HPU taught her to do just that.

Then Dudley pauses, frowns, reaches for his cell phone and issues a text message. “Looks like the geese have hit us pretty good,” he says, gesturing to a brick pathway shellacked in heavy green goose turds. “That’s what we call an ‘un-wow moment.’”

A clean-up crew is on the way. It’s the kind of operation you might expect at Disney World, not a private university. Which leads to the main criticism of HPU, usually leveled by college graduates of days gone by who wonder if HPU isn’t just a little too… well… nice. After all, isn’t college supposed to be a Spartan existence of relative hardship, poverty and discomfort? When you replace the Ramen noodles, parking issues and bureaucratic woes with steak dinners, ice cream trucks and con- cierge service, are you robbing students of the typical college experience? More importantly, are you giving students unrealistic expecta- tions of the world into which they will gradu- ate? Qubein shrugs it off. “My view is that you can live in a nice place,” he says. “You can eat fine food, have beautiful classrooms. That does not spoil you, it elevates you to certain heights. It prepares you to be more discerning when you make decisions and pursue success. If you define ‘real life’ as less than extraordinary, then I guess you’re right.”

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