Pacific Lutheran University names former banker as new president

Courtesy / Pacific Lutheran University

Pacific Lutheran University named one of its own, Allan Belton, as its new president Wednesday morning. Among his plans: A doubling in size of the nursing school, higher retention of students and better access to the PLU campus.

Belton, 52, has been holding down the job for nearly two years in an interim position.

Prior to the interim position, he served two years as the Parkland college’s chief administrative officer under former president Thomas Krise. Belton oversaw finances, technology, facilities, human resources and risk management.

Krise is now president of the University of Guam.

Prior to his time at PLU, Belton spent 25 years in the banking business. By the time he left Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Belton was managing $2 billion in annual revenue from higher education, government and non-profit organizations.

Despite the responsibility, he felt something was lacking.

“After 25 years of banking I was waking up every morning not feeling like I was doing something to change the world,” he said Tuesday.

Belton said that he didn’t desire a permanent position when he agreed to serve as interim two years ago.

“It was not the idea from the beginning,” he said. “What drew to me to the job is that I’m incredibly passionate about the place, and I care about the people.”

“In the end, we feel strongly that the best person for the job was already sitting in the chair,” board chair Ed Grogan said in a statement.

Belton has several initiatives in the coming years. They include:

The School of Nursing will be doubled in square footage with the renovation of the former bookstore on Garfield Street. The project will add classrooms, faculty spaces, a 24-bed skills lab and three simulation labs with robotic patients.

“It allows nurses to get their practical experience,” Belton said.

The nursing programs have a total of 390 students in undergrad, graduate and doctoral programs.

Men’s locker rooms for football, track and field and cross country will be renovated. Women’s locker rooms were previously renovated, Belton said.

Already in place inside the university’s library is the Center for Student Success, a resource center to stem freshmen dropout — a significant problem facing colleges across the country.

Since the creation of the center, PLU has seen its retention and graduation rates go up. The 2017-18 retention rate jumped four points, Belton said.

This year’s freshman class has 41 percent first-generation college students and 45 percent students of color.

“We’re incredibly proud of those numbers,” Belton said. “I’m a first-in-the-family college student myself.”

Belton said the numbers are a reflection of the South Sound and Washington, where the school draws most of its students.

Like other U.S. institutions of higher learning, PLU competes to enroll students.

“Every liberal arts college faces enrollment challenges,” Belton said.

After a decade of declining enrollment at PLU, numbers stabilized in 2017. The school saw a 5 percent growth this year.

Belton acknowledges both the advantages and challenges of the 156-acre campus, its 3,100 students and 650 employees being situated in a heavily populated but unincorporated part of Pierce County.

“This role feels like the unofficial mayor of Parkland,” he said.

The school has invested heavily to make Garfield Street a gateway of sorts into the campus, and Belton is involved with Pierce Transit’s planned Bus Rapid Transit. The $150 million light rail-like bus system is planned to begin operating in 2022 from Spanaway to downtown Tacoma.

“It’s going to take this community and connect it more directly to downtown Tacoma, the Tacoma Dome and light rail,” he said.

Belton holds a B.A. in business administration and an M.B.A. from Washington State University. His wife, Melinda Krotz Belton, is a PLU grad.

“I’m a Lute-in-law,” Belton said.

Their daughter Lane is in college and two sons, Carter and Ian, are in high school. The family lives in Gig Harbor.