“We’re the largest chiropractic college in the world,” Riekeman said. “We have the fastest growing master’s program in the United States. We actually have three master’s degree programs here. We have 13 undergraduate degrees. We were voted one of the top 40 diversity universities in the U.S. So we’ve just been getting a lot of great awards for the quality of our education and some of the stuff we’re doing here.”
Life University was founded as a chiropractic college in 1974 and launched in 1975 with a first class of 22 students by the late Dr. Sid E. Williams.
As of the Fall 2012 quarter, enrollment was 1,667 in the doctor of chiropractic program, 843 in the undergraduate programs and 145 in the master’s programs, university spokesman Craig Dekshenieks said.
Riekeman said his goal is to grow enrollment to 7,000 by 2020.
With an annual budget of $55 million, 95 percent of which is from tuition, Life has a faculty of about 160 and another 300 employees.
“Life is a little different than most of the public institutions,” Riekeman said. “Their money comes from recycled tax dollars. The money that comes here to our institution is all dollars that don’t come from tax dollars.”
Life has about 400 students living on its 100-acre campus.
“We do not want to tear down more trees, and so this is one of the reasons why we’re working with (Southern Polytechnic State University) and the city,” Riekeman said. “We would like to see Cobb Parkway developed with housing where specifically private developers would come in and develop housing for students and faculty so that we wouldn’t have to have them directly on campus, but they’d be in walking distance to campus.”
The university president hopes the partnership between Life, SPSU and the city will end up developing their section of Cobb Parkway into “an educational corridor” that would be a destination point for the region.
“Kind of like you know how you think about Midtown? You think of arts and young people and restaurants,” Riekeman said.
Riekeman wants to see the area developed with green space, bookstores, sporting events, theaters and unique, organic restaurants.
Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton said the city, partnering with Life and SPSU, has submitted an application to the Atlanta Regional Commission for a Livable Centers Initiative” study grant.
“Our common goal is to work together to create an area along Cobb Parkway which is a gateway entrance to the two universities and fosters redevelopment, which blends in with and enhances the university experience,” Bruton said. “The end result will be a master plan for redevelopment in the area that can be used by each of us over the next 10 to 20 years.”
Riekeman credits the growth of Life to a multi-year, multi-phase plan he and his colleagues created seven years ago called the 20/20 Vision. The plan lists goals for where the university will be by the year 2020.
One of the goals was to break into the U.S. News and World Report’s Top 50 ranking, for example. That goal was achieved in 2011 with the publication ranking Life as fifth in the country for most affordable private-college tuition, Dekshenieks said.
Another goal was to become what Riekeman describes as “the preeminent performance-centered vitalistic healthcare institution in the world.”
The university has already completed the first phase of the 20/20 plan, which undertook 26 projects at a cost of $86 million, including a campus cafe and 300 new on-campus housing units.
Life is now wrapping up phase two of the four-phase 20/20 plan.
“It was about how we worked together on campus,” he said. “I went and took the Ritz-Carlton training on service. Arguably they’re the best service organization in the world. And we came back and instituted 16 projects to fit that kind of standard.”
Riekeman said his leadership team has also redesigned the curriculum into one that was more active, recognizing that having students sit for eight hours of classes a day is not the best way to learn.
In addition, Life has encouraged development of a successful sports program.
“We are No. 1 in the nation in rugby right now,” Riekeman said. “We won two of the three national championships last year, including about 30 hours of coverage on NBC.”
Life is planning to move its rugby program into the NCAA in the near future, he said.
Life also offers men’s basketball, men’s wrestling and women’s cross country. It will officially start women’s volleyball this spring to begin competing in the fall.
“We are looking into women’s basketball, men’s and women’s tennis, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s golf. None of these have been officially approved as of yet, but we are exploring the possibilities,” Dekshenieks said.
At the same time, Life is one of six institutions in the U.S. that offers a bachelor’s degree in positive psychology, a program offered at institutions such as Harvard and Yale, Riekeman said.
He also hopes at the international level, Life has a clinic program in the start-up phase in Beijing at Tsinghua University, “the Harvard of China.”
“In China, there’s only 10 chiropractors for 1.3 billion people,” Riekeman said. “So we’re literally helping them rewrite the landscape for health care in China and getting ready to open up a school in the not too distant future in Europe.”
Riekeman said the death of Life founder Sidney Williams has been hard on the campus community.
“He’s a very controversial figure to start with,” Riekeman said. “People either love him or hate him, but around Life University, he’s loved, and so his passing away was certainly a blow to the institution. They had the funeral last Sunday. We’re going to have a major event on campus in mid February. I would imagine we’ll have 2,000 to 3,000 people at that time.”