Mark Lombardi

If Maryville University isn’t top-of-mind when you’re thinking about St. Louis’ great universities, you might want to re-think that list, says university president Mark Lombardi. “St. Louis deserves another great university; and the good news is, they’ve got one—it’s Maryville University.”

And you don’t have to take his word for it, either—he’s backed by U.S. News & World Report, which recently named the university the No. 1 ‘Overperforming University’ in the country. “They took a look at the data of what universities are doing in terms of graduation rate, retention, career placement, and other important results that universities track, and looked at that vis-à-vis reputation,” Lombardi notes. Reputation typically lags behind performance, a fact that the report took into account. “It was a national, external validation in terms of all the good work we’ve been doing for our students,” he says.

U.S. News & World Report was not the only national entity to recognize the university for its performance during the 2012-2013 school year. Forbes Magazine also named Maryville to its ‘Best Colleges’ list for the second straight year, while the NCAA honored it with the Division II President’s Award. That prestigious title was given in response to its student-athlete graduation rate—Maryville was the only Division II school in the country to graduate 100 percent of its student-athletes in four years. Lombardi attributes the unusual achievement to a great coaching staff, peer mentors and the athletes themselves. “We recruit student-athletes who are well-rounded and have the discipline to excel on the fields and courts, and also carry that into the classroom. We’re very proud of them.”

G.I. Jobs also recognized the university for the third year in a row as a ‘Military Friendly’ school, a designation given to the top 15 percent of colleges and universities. The recognition was based on a well-facilitated admission process, as well as online learning options. Maryville offers a fully online MBA program through its partnership with Scott Air Force Base, which allows soldiers to continue their studies even if they are deployed.

Lombardi attributes partnerships with local organizations and businesses for many of the school’s recent strides. Among them are Mercy, SSM, St. Luke’s Hospital, Rawlings and Edward Jones. “Those extensive partnerships involve our students in clinical practicums, as well as internships. We really listen to those entities in terms of what they want their teachers, physical therapists or financial advisers to know, and we structure the curriculum around those needs,” Lombardi says. “We strongly believe in an innovative liberal arts core for all students; but we’re in a period today where young people, and people of all ages, need a set of experiences that gives them the practical ability not just to get a job, but to move from career to career. It’s not either a liberal arts base or practical knowledge anymore—it’s both.”

Beyond its national and local recognition, the pure numbers speak volumes for the university’s successes—with a record 4,300 students last year and an expected 5,000 this fall, representing a 19 percent year-over-year growth. That’s due to a certain level of foresight: “At a time when the economy was faltering in 2008 and 2009, when a lot of universities turned inward and focused on recruiting locally, we expanded our recruitment base nationally,” Lombardi says. “We now have students from 47 states and 32 countries.”

And those students are completing their studies at the school in healthy numbers, as well. Maryville ranks second in the metropolitan area for retention, at 87 percent; and also second for its student graduation rate, at 76 percent, Lombardi says. “It’s not just the great faculty in the classroom, but also the mentoring and advising—from the moment that we recruit them and beyond—that accounts for our success. That’s why students want to come here, and they want to stay.”

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