Meet the Presidents
Dr. Kent Ingle
President of Southeastern University
Written By RJ Walters | Photography in Inklings Book Shoppe by Jordan Randall and Jon Sierra
Dr.Kent Ingle has a gift for seeing the end from the beginning and for constructing a winning strategy that he believes will garner purposeful results.
From a young college student crafting scripts and studying shot sheets for an NBC affiliate TV station—where he interviewed global icons including Michael Jordan and Muhammad Ali—to developing attainable and repeatable leadership tactics that benefit ministry and higher ed leaders, to leading the ascension of Southeastern University as its President since 2011, Dr. Ingle is a man with a plan, or in his words, “a framework.”
His cheerful confidence and knack for defining “simple” solutions to complex challenges might make him appear formulaic at times, but the reality is he’s just really good at staying focused on how God uniquely designed him and how that translates to making transformative Christian education accessible and affordable for as many students as possible.
He credits Fred Cottriel, the pastor of the church he attended in Bakersfield, Calif., for first calling out his servant leader abilities and introducing him to the idea of “divine design”—the concept that God has uniquely created each person with distinct skills to use for a specific purpose.
“One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner…says, the place where you’re called is a place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet,” Ingle said. “And if you follow what gives you a sense of gladness and satisfaction and joy, you’re always gonna be in a place where you feel like you’re making a contribution, you’re creating a difference, you’re leading a change.”
The change in the 12 years since Ingle took over as President of Southeastern has been seismic for the Assemblies of God affiliated institution. That change has included, but not been limited to: the addition of more than a dozen athletic teams, including a football team that was the catalyst for a state-of-the-art stadium that sits near the main campus entrance; the addition of a nursing program, the construction of a variety of modern facilities, like the 125,000-square foot Live/Learn facility Buena Vida; the launch of more than 100 SEU extension sites across the United States; and more ideas constantly being processed through the well-established framework of Ingle’s team alongside the school’s board of directors.
His efforts at a respected university that was in need of renewal when he took over has pushed enrollment from 2,546 students in 2011 to more than 10,000 this school year (including 2,300+ on the main campus). Southeastern is more of a household name than ever before, in part because Ingle has an established presence on national news outlets and recently joined the Forbes Business Council.
SEU leadership frames the present and plans for the future by: listening (to students, faculty, the board, trends, etc.), auditing the context, clarifying the goals and aligning the vision.
It’s no accident that the framework begins with listening. Ingle admits he is driven to learn from other people’s journeys of growth and development, from global leaders to the students on campus.
“I’ve heard many times students ask about [meeting up for] lunch or coffee…and believe it or not, I tell ’em, just reach out to my office and we can make it happen,” he said. “(Through conversations with students) we’re making sure that we’re creating the right university environment that integrates faith learning in life for them…once they step out, they’re not only gonna have the strong academic skills, but they’re gonna have those soft skills, the emotional intelligence that allows them to really take their skills and enhance that from a relational standpoint.”
Being open for conversation has also led to new programs that Ingle said are often launched within a year or two of ideation so long as they fit the school’s vision and help it achieve its goals. An example is SEU Trades, a brand new degree and certificate program that will initially help students pursue careers in construction technology, electrical, HVAC, plumbing and project management.
“How SEU Trades really started is we received a call from John Deere and they [said], ‘We’re struggling in trying to certify mechanics across the country, and we have heard about your model and your networking in education, and how you are hitting the issue of accessibility. Would you consider partnering with us?’”
The new program addresses one of the university’s primary goals of making education more accessible, because as Ingle sees it, “Not everybody needs a degree, but everybody needs an education.”
He is also a stalwart for making higher education more affordable, stating “it’s really the university’s responsibility to drive down the cost of tuition.” On occasion you can see Ingle on Fox News sharing how SEU staff try to take scholarships to the streets instead of expecting students to come to them.
The cost of tuition to take courses at the SEU campus in Lakeland ranges between $30,432 and $32,968 per year for full-time students. Credit hours cost nearly two-thirds less at the extension sites because the university does not have “brick and mortar costs,” but those students are also not eligible for all of the same financial aid.
Ingle shares university staff are tirelessly working to bring down the out-of-pocket costs for students by directing them to scholarships and grants—such as federal pell grants—and also through establishing new partnerships with more faith-based and non-profit organizations that are looking to strengthen communities where SEU is present.
The decision makers at the university are locked in on creating an “experiential education” for students that promotes learning, living, working and serving in Lakeland. Last year, SEU students served for approximately 60,000 hours in local communities.
As Ingle keeps pushing the pedal to create what he dubs “new curves of opportunity” for students, he acknowledges that he is grateful for a team of Christ-centered leaders who keep the school’s original mission at the forefront.
“The board of trustees will always make sure…we never have mission drift,” he said.
That’s no small feat for a school that has quadrupled in size since Ingle came on board, but it’s a challenge they have certainly planned for.