“Together, we’re going to stomp on the gas pedal of progress. We’re going to ensure that OWU’s best days are ahead of us, and nothing will hold us back but the extent of our own imaginations.”
Matthew P. vandenBerg, Ed.D., CFRE
17th President, Ohio Wesleyan University
Meet Matt vandenBerg
On Jan. 11, 2023, Ohio Wesleyan announced that Matt vandenBerg would become the University’s 17th president when he takes office July 1. vandenBerg comes to OWU from Presbyterian College, where, as one of the nation’s youngest college presidents, he led the work of the South Carolina-based college to redefine itself with distinction and propel its recognition in the higher education landscape.
“My life’s work focuses on championing small, independent colleges, on tackling the uncertainty they face, and on securing their current and future prosperity, particularly through bold thinking, innovative problem-solving, and strategic partnership building,” vandenBerg says.
Indeed, vandenBerg set his sights on becoming a college president while still an undergraduate at Alma College in Michigan. It was an “oddly specific goal,” he acknowledges, and one based on Alma’s then-president suggesting that he would flourish in the role while simultaneously fulfilling his desire for a meaningful career that would benefit others.
As vandenBerg prepares to begin his second college presidency at Ohio Wesleyan this summer, he brings an impressive record of accomplishment to draw upon as a Bishop.
A second college mentor taught vandenBerg the value of projecting confidence and, when warranted, even a little swagger.
Today’s students, he explains, expect small class sizes, mentoring professors, hands-on learning experiences, and good jobs after earning their degrees. To be successful in this highly competitive marketplace, colleges and universities need to do a better job of cutting through the “white noise” to explain clearly and confidently who they are and what they provide that prospective students won’t find elsewhere.
At Presbyterian College, vandenBerg’s accomplishments include:
- Leading the college through an intensive and inclusive process to identify a distinctive new market position as “America’s Innovative Service College” and launching a strategic plan, with unanimous Board of Trustees’ approval, to support the position.
- Launching the nation’s largest service-based entrepreneurship case competition for high school seniors.
- Establishing a flex plan that provides a pathway for students to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in select majors in three years.
- Building a new Division of Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion for the College, including an endowed vice presidency.
- Partnering with Indiana University, including its Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, to create new preferred admission and scholarship opportunities for Presbyterian graduates and to launch a certificate program in religious fundraising taught in South Carolina.
- Creating partnerships with an area technical school and high school to create South Carolina’s first 2+2 bachelor’s degree in education.
- Building partnerships with the community to drive economic development, cultural enrichment, and student engagement. This community collaboration includes:
- Working with the City of Clinton to transform a downtown building into a student hub and restaurant and also to launch a business incubator in the downtown. (vandenBerg, a member of the Clinton Economic Development Council, and a faculty member are teaching a service entrepreneurship class to engage students in the incubator project.)
- Partnering with the City of Laurens to purchase and remodel a vintage theatre into an esports arena, performing arts space, and restaurant.
- Purchasing a vintage trolley to travel among the campus and the city sites.
- Partnering with a nearby camp to establish the Lake Campus of Presbyterian College.
- Growing first-year student admission substantially in his first year as president.
- Leading the most productive fundraising year in the college’s history (from $9.9 million to $18.3 million) during his first full fiscal year as president.
- Securing the largest individual gift in the college’s history ($5 million) and several other seven-figure commitments.
As for Ohio Wesleyan, vandenBerg credits the campus faculty, staff, students, alumni, and leadership with working together to keep the University moving forward.
“We have the tools to win in today’s competitive landscape,” he says of OWU. “We’re an engine of social mobility for our region and our state; we’re one of America’s most entrepreneurial colleges; we’re one of the best bargains in American higher education; we are primed to play a critical role in the growth of Columbus.”
Prior to joining Presbyterian College, vandenBerg most recently served as the vice president for advancement and external relations and as the vice president for advancement at Alma College, as the associate vice president for development at Albion College in Michigan, and as the assistant dean for development and alumni relations at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing (Bloomington and Indianapolis campuses). His background also includes working for more than a year as a legislative assistant and deputy press secretary for former U.S. Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan.
During vandenBerg’s six years at Alma College, his accomplishments included:
- Designing and managing a fundraising campaign that raised $125 million on an initial goal of $40 million.
- Leading the five most productive fundraising years and five largest annual fund results in the college’s history.
- Creating an award-winning constituent engagement program.
- Conceiving and building the college’s immediately profitable hospitality program (including a hotel, events, and conferences).
- Assisting in developing 19 new majors and minors, and launching eight new athletic programs.
For his fundraising work, vandenBerg earned 14 advancement awards from Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) in four years.
vandenBerg holds a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in higher education management from the University of Pennsylvania, where his dissertation earned CASE’s 2019 John Grenzebach Award for Outstanding Research in Philanthropy for Educational Advancement and he conducted and presented original research at Peking University in Beijing, China.
He holds a Master of Public Affairs degree with concentrations in nonprofit management and public policy analysis from the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs. vandenBerg also holds a Certificate in the Principles and Techniques of Fundraising from the university’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
vandenBerg earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with a political science major and Spanish minor from Alma College, graduating summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa.
Ohio Wesleyan’s incoming president also is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE), and in 2020-2021, he was selected as one of 35 cabinet officers from across the country to participate in the American Academic Leadership Institute’s Executive Leadership Academy, a yearlong senior leadership development program. vandenBerg also holds certificates for completing both Harvard University’s Seminar for New Presidents and Peking University’s Higher Education in China program.
He and his wife, Melissa, have two children, Jackson, age 10, and Sylvia, age 6, and a 1-year-old golden retriever named Penny.