Neil D. Theobald is like many Temple Owls: Born to working-class parents, he was first in his family to attend college, and he was able to do so only because of a scholarship paid for by philanthropic donors. President Theobald is succinct in stating his goals: that Temple should emerge as a model of affordable, accessible excellence in higher education in the U.S. and that it should help Philadelphia emerge as a major force in the global economy.
In his two years as Temple’s president, the university has reached several milestones. The first two classes of new freshman and transfer students in Theobald’s tenure were the most academically qualified and diverse incoming classes in Temple history. Both of the first two fundraising years overseen by Theobald broke university records for philanthropy. And though overall national research funding has declined, Temple has experienced a double-digit increase in research awards, reaching $230 million. Not surprisingly, Temple has increased its ranking among institutions of higher education.
In his role as president, Theobald has implemented several changes that helped make those achievements possible. He introduced a decentralized budgeting model to reduce costs and improve efficiency. He hired more than 100 new tenure and tenure-track faculty members, a new provost, six new deans, and four new vice presidents. He also launched Visualize Temple, a campus development plan.
One of Theobald’s signature initiatives is Fly in 4, a partnership between the university and incoming freshmen to help students take charge of their futures and limit their debt. In his inaugural address, Theobald also outlined six commitments that will define Temple’s future.
Under Theobald’s leadership, Temple has emerged as an innovative leader in public higher education with bold, cutting-edge strategies to reduce student debt and improve student learning. He is recognized as a national expert on education finance, and his research interests in the role of decentralization in educational financing and modeling educational labor markets have resulted in more than $1.5 million in funded research, as well as many published articles, books and reports.
Theobald came to Temple after a successful faculty and administrative career at Indiana University, where he was named senior vice president in 2007. Previously, he served as senior vice provost at that university’s flagship campus in Bloomington and directed a university research center that assisted five state governments in designing K–12 funding systems.
A native of Peoria, Illinois, Theobald planned to enter an electrician’s apprenticeship after high school. But donors to Trinity College in Connecticut made it possible for him to pursue higher education; Theobald earned a bachelor’s degree there in 1978. He also earned a doctoral degree in educational finance from the University of Washington in 1988.
Theobald and his wife, Sheona Mackenzie, have three adult children: Roddy, Kinnear and Mattie. In his inaugural address in October 2013, Theobald said the college education he received “has carried me every day since.
“More importantly, it put my children on paths to pursue their dreams as university professors, physicians, and wherever else their talents and desires lead them,” he added. “That is the impact of a college education.”