|Beth Borgen, DBA|
Beth Borgen is no stranger to firsts. She was a first-generation college student, the first candidate in her Doctorate of Business Administration cohort at UW-Whitewater to defend their dissertation, and she will be the first female president of Lakeland University in its 158-year history.
Borgen is passionate about her identity as a first-generation college student, something that has been a driving force in her research. She began her higher education career at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, and then transitioned to Lakeland University in Plymouth, Wisconsin, where she advanced in a series of strategic roles during the last 15 years.
Borgen wanted to advance further in higher education and influence how universities served students of all backgrounds and abilities. She knew her higher education options were limited without a terminal degree, however. After researching DBA and Ph.D. options, she enrolled in the Doctorate of Business Administration program at UW-Whitewater.
“I was intrigued by the DBA concept,” she said. “I felt the combination of coursework and hands-on learning could be applied in any business setting.”
When she enrolled in the program in the fall of 2018 and first met her cohort, Borgen was pleased with the group's professional diversity.
“About half the cohort were academics, including faculty members seeking tenure,” she said. “The other half were executives from various industries. I fell in the middle of these groups because I’m in higher education, but I’m on the business operations side.”
Borgen quickly applied what she learned to her work at Lakeland University.
“I oversee the Human Resources Department as Executive Vice President. What I learned about organizational behavior — specifically psychological capital theory — has had a profound impact. These insights have since been woven into the university’s strategic plan, as well as our HR policies.”
“I also learned a lot about teaching methods. Not only did I feel prepared to teach my first class this fall, but I think teaching will enhance my perspective as university president.”
UW-Whitewater’s three-year DBA program culminates with a dissertation defense. Borgen’s research for her topic, “Self-efficacy and Retention among First-Generation College Students,” focused on improving retention and achievement among first-generation students at Lakeland University.
During her final defense, Borgen explained that, while higher education can be an engine of social mobility, it could also reinforce social inequalities. Her research led her to interview students from a community-based group from the City of Milwaukee.
“The pilot program used in my research showed promising results. I plan to share the results back to the group, as well as similar programs. I also hope to extend this research to high school students as an early intervention.”
Borgen confirmed that the DBA enabled her to meet Lakeland’s presidential position requirements, and that the experience helped make her a strong candidate.
“I think the program’s focus on applied research and business applications prepared me for leadership in higher education better than a Ph.D. would have,” she said. “It stretched my knowledge and strengthened my business acumen.”
K. Praveen Parboteeah, director of the DBA program, noted that Dr. Borgen's experience reflects the DBA's strength.
“Students join the program with practical problems they want to solve, and we provide them with a robust research framework based on the scientific method,” he said. “Students are thus investigating important questions and providing superior answers that affect practice in a wide variety of fields.”
“Dr. Borgen’s findings that self-efficacy and gender can play a significant role in first-generation college students' confidence has wide-ranging implications for higher education.”
Borgen will begin her tenure as president of Lakeland University in spring 2021. She plans to approach the university’s strategy with innovation and collaboration. She hopes these strategies positively impact students seeking their own firsts through education — and will ultimately have a larger social impact by narrowing the achievement gap.
“Completing my doctorate re-inspired me as a learner. I think that’s a good example to set for our students as well as my children.”