WV | Alderson Broaddus University (2024)

WV | Alderson Broaddus University (1)

Alderson Broaddus University, which officially closed in 2023, went through some permutations during its long history, including several changes in name and location. The college was in four different places and had eight name changes in its existence.

The roots of Alderson Broaddus extend back to post-Civil War Virginia, and to the personal efforts of Edward Jefferson Willis, peripatetic adventurer, war hero, and devout Baptist layman. In 1871, at the prompting of local Baptist congregations, Willis founded the Winchester Female Institute in Winchester, Virginia, the ancestor of Broaddus College. From this point the college has hewn steadfastly to its American Baptist identity. In 1875 the name was changed to Broaddus Female College in honor of Baptist preacher William F. Broaddus. In 1876, Willis moved the school across the mountains to Clarksburg, in response to a depressed economy in Virginia. The name was changed to Broaddus College in 1885 and to Broaddus Classical and Scientific Institute in 1894 when male students were first accepted. The college moved to Philippi in 1909.

Miss Emma Alderson founded Alderson Academy in Alderson, Greenbrier County, in 1901. Coeducational from the start, the Academy announced an enrollment of 40 students its first year, and 107 students had enrolled by the end of the year. In 1911 the name was changed to Alderson Baptist Academy, and in 1919 to Alderson Baptist Academy and Junior College. In 1932 the Academy merged with Broaddus College and moved to the Philippi campus. The Great Depression had put both institutions in dire financial straits, and the West Virginia Baptist Convention ordered the merger of the two. Out of this marriage came Alderson-Broaddus College, the name the school holds to this day.

The tiny college, whose early Philippi campus consisted of just three major buildings, struggled during the 1930s and World War II. The Depression drained the college’s finances, while the war took away male students. The end of the war, however, brought better times and an influx of GI Bill students. Enrollment increased significantly and with it the college’s finances. In 1945, A-B established the first baccalaureate nursing program in West Virginia.

In 1950, a young pastor, Richard E. Shearer, accepted the offer of the board of trustees to assume the presidency of Alderson-Broaddus College. At 30 he was thought to be the youngest college president in the country. Under Shearer the fortunes of the college improved dramatically, ushering in two decades of growth. It was during Shearer’s 32-year tenure that the modern campus and identity emerged.

The 1950s saw the construction of the Pickett Library-Funkhouser Auditorium, the Benedum Residence Hall, and Broaddus Hospital. The decade was capped, in 1959, by the achievement of accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. This signal event was made known to students, faculty, and staff when Dr. Shearer, an avid amateur pilot, tossed a doll out of his airplane while flying over campus. Excited students, intercepting the doll as it floated down by parachute, read this message emblazoned on its chest: ‘‘We Made It!’’

The 1960s and 1970s witnessed continued growth with the addition of eight new campus structures. Through the commitment and vision of Dr. Hu Myers, a revered Barbour County physician, the college established in 1968 the first baccalaureate physician assistant program in the country. Building on the successful nursing program, this underscored the growing importance of the health sciences at Alderson-Broaddus. Rising from the ashes of historic Old Main Hall, destroyed by fire in 1978, was New Main, which opened in 1980 at a cost of $2 million.

The 1990s were another time of fundamental change for the institution. Having weathered wars, depressions, and social upheavals, Alderson-Broaddus now confronted sweeping social and economic changes. During this time the institution carried out its most successful capital campaign, which brought more than $12 million into college coffers. The money helped bring upgrades to the computer system, comprehensive renovations to three of the four residence halls, and the building of the Erickson Alumni Center. The college also had its share of setbacks. Undoubtedly the greatest was the temporary loss of accreditation of the Physician Assistant Program in 1995 and the extensive restructuring and downsizing of the program that followed. Although accreditation was restored in 1996, it was clear that A-B could no longer depend so heavily on the health sciences.

By the end of the decade a newly streamlined college was beginning to implement a new set of educational programs—distance learning, professional training, and adult education. Innovations include on-line certificate programs in business fundamentals and computer science and new RN-BSN and LPN-BSN degree programs. The institution first offered a Physician Assistant master’s program in 1991 and has since added a surgery track in that program. In 2002, the Mollohan Work Force Training Center was opened.

In 2013, the college changed its name to Alderson Broaddus University. In fall 2021, its enrollment was 828, which dropped to 674 by the following year.

By 2023, Alderson Broaddus had come under scrutiny from the state’s Higher Education Policy Commission (HEPC), which develops and oversees a public policy agenda for West Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities. In July 2023, due to the university’s declining enrollment and incomplete financial information, the HEPC gave Alderson Broaddus provisional approval to proceed with the 2023-24 school year based on its ability to meet specific benchmarks. After it was publicly disclosed that the university owed more than $775,000 in unpaid utility bills and was facing campus-wide shut-off notices, the HEPC called an emergency meeting for July 31 to address what it called the school’s “rapidly deteriorating financial condition.” At the meeting, commission members voted unanimously to revoke the school’s authority to confer degrees, effective December 31, 2023. It also recommended that Alderson Broaddus not enroll any new students for the Fall 2023 semester. In response, the university’s board of trustees voted to develop a plan of dissolution that would close the school at the end of 2023 and provide contingency plans for current students, faculty, and staff. The university has arranged for existing students to continue their studies at other institutions of higher education in the state and advised faculty and staff to seek unemployment benefits. On August 31, the university filed for bankruptcy, ending its long history as an institution of higher education.

Written by Kim Smucker


  1. Withers, Richard & Martha Rose Roy. Light on the Hill: A Pictorial History of Alderson-Broaddus College. Virginia Beach: Donning Co., 1995.

  2. McElhinny, Brad. Alderson Broaddus Gets Provisional Authorization, But Must Provide Hard Financial Figures in Coming Year. WV Metro News, July 12, 2023.

© 2006-2024 West Virginia Encyclopedia

WV | Alderson Broaddus University (2024)
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