Meeting the needs of today’s students and those of generations to come.

Meeting the needs of today’s students and those of generations to come.

fall2015_2020Fairfield University’s new Strategic Plan — Fairfield 2020: The Way Forward — was presented to the University’s Board of Trustees in June.

The plan is the fruit of 17 months of meetings, involving 11 different task forces comprised of over 200 faculty, students, administrators and alumni.

In the words of University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J., these task forces “examined every aspect of our University’s programs and operations and asked probing and at times provocative questions about how we could better serve our students, enhance our financial support for student scholarships and faculty research, increase our revenue, cut our costs, and expand our reach to meet the growing number of men and women who need further education, but require more flexible, affordable and tech-savvy approaches in order to reach them.”

“This is a plan that builds on our strengths,” he continued in his introduction to the 28-page final report (for the full report, go to strategic “Above all, this is a plan that offers us the opportunity to more fully explore our Jesuit mission by transforming ourselves from within — boldly recreating our institution to serve the world as it is.”

The report’s recommendations are sweeping in their breadth, and in essence call for a transformation of the University’s culture — embracing innovation in developing new academic programs, utilizing technology to grow online and hybrid learning opportunities, upgrading classrooms so they match the quality of our distinctive programs, to name only a handful of the report’s many recommendations.

At the same time, the report calls for the preservation of our liberal arts foundation and a deeper exploration of the University’s Jesuit and Catholic identity.

To accomplish all of this, the report calls for new gathering spaces on campus where interdisciplinary teams can interact, for more employee mentoring and for an ongoing and deepening engagement with the University’s alumni network.

“Jesuit communities often refer to our way of proceeding,” the report notes in its final recommendation on collaboration and community, “a phrase that invokes the distinctively vibrant, creative, and collegial tone of their communications, structure and interpersonal relations.”

The Strategic Context:

The plan comes as a response from the University to the dramatic changes in the landscape of American higher education. As Fr. von Arx noted in January 2014 as he set the planning process in motion, there are a number of converging economic and demographic forces that undermine the old way of doing things.

“Quite candidly,” he wrote, “the financial model on which Fairfield has operated throughout its history, principally dependent on undergraduate student tuition to fund our operations, has reached an impasse that we must address if we are to thrive and grow.”

First, and foremost, the cost of traditional undergraduate University tuition has become an unsupportable burden for many families. While Fairfield has tried to maintain a cap on tuition, costs continue to rise. As a result, more students are dependent on University aid, putting pressure on the University’s finances.

Second, there are long-term, demographic trends that suggest there will be fewer prospective undergraduates in the Northeast in the foreseeable future — a decrease of more than 10 percent over the next 15 years according to one study.

Third, there are more and more students who don’t want the traditional, four-year residential college experience. They want to use online technologies, hybrid classes, and other strategies to get the training they need. The students of the future, some suggest, will cobble together their education from a variety of sources.

Finally, there is a growing population of prospective students who are non-traditional learners, who present a great opportunity for the University.

So that’s the context — major changes that call for a response. “We must respond with energy and imagination, creating a bold new vision for the future that ensures our viability, builds on our foundation, and propels us to a leadership position in this new era of higher education,” wrote Fr. von Arx.

TECH TALK:  iPads for faculty, faster connectivity & smarter classrooms

Fairfield’s Information Technology Services (ITS) is at the forefront of the Fairfield 2020 initiatives, with many upgrades already in place to make Fairfield a smarter and faster learning environment.

The latest innovation that has everyone on campus buzzing is a big one: the University will be leasing 275 iPads to full-time faculty members and will provide access to loaner iPads to part-time faculty for the semesters in which they are teaching.

The iPads will facilitate a plug and play learning platform for faculty. Classrooms were recently upgraded with new technology, which included wireless projection capability. iPads can be plugged into the classroom systems and with just a few taps, be ready to display material immediately.

While iPads for faculty is a visible and exciting change on campus, the ITS department has accomplished many vital improvements behind the scenes such as protecting the campus community from phishing attacks, improving wireless connectivity on campus and integrating campus systems. All are ongoing activities essential to the daily functions of the University.

For example, ITS reported that their recent addition of Event Management Software (EMS) to the University software portfolio made it possible to use the University’s classrooms and other working spaces more efficiently — in effect, all the spaces can be reserved or in some cases rented out for events, through one system. Last year over 75,000 reservations were made, which included classes, labs, exams, events, lectures, club meetings and celebrations.

ITS will also be installing new mobile device charging stations across the campus this year. “To some, these might not seem like a massive undertakings, however to those that are reliant on mobile devices for their coursework, success relies on a thorough — and fast, convenient — charge. These days, we absolutely must sweat the small stuff,” said Chief Information Officer Paige Francis.

Competitive Edge: A new Career Planning Center & other professional mentoring programs

Most Fairfield students — and their parents — recognize the value of a Jesuit education, grounded in the liberal arts, but they also want to know they’ll be well prepared for a job when they graduate.

The University’s embrace of focused career planning throughout a student’s undergraduate career has evolved into a full-service Career Planning Center (CPC), which has recently been incorporated into a new unit within the University — Academic and Career Development.
“With this new integration, Fairfield University offers a seamless interface for students seeking academic support and professional development services,” said Heather Petraglia, the new dean of Academic and Career Development.

Both students and Fairfield alumni have 24-hour access to extensive online job postings through Stags4Hire and Stags4Hire Alumni. Last year, 1,406 jobs and 676 internships were posted.

More students than ever are taking advantage of one-on-one sessions with staff for advice tailored to their experience and aspirations, with 2,097 counseling visits last year.

The CPC offers more than 100 panels, workshops and networking sessions every year to help students — and alumni — develop the skills and connections they need to successfully navigate the employment process.

Topics range from “Creating a First Year Resume,” to “Building Your Digital Identity” and “Understanding Offer Letters.” Examples of other programs include:  StrengthsQuest: Starting this fall, first-year students are all completing a “StrengthsFinder Inventory,” which helps them discover their natural talents based on how they think and behave as unique individuals.

Redefining Leadership: First-year students learn how to practice leadership as individuals, work collaboratively with team members and further develop their civic identity.

Sophomore Success: Sophomores are invited each fall to participate in a 10-week dinner series taught by CPC staff on topics such as studying abroad, resume writing, interview skills and more.

Job Shadow: Now in its fifth year, alumni mentors are recruited for the Job Shadow program and matched with junior and senior students for a day of “shadowing” alumni for a firsthand view of different industries and career paths.

Internships: Internships continue to be one of the most valuable ways students find their way into the job market. Twenty-seven percent of respondents to a post-graduation survey of the Class of 2014 had found a job through an internship.

Fairfield’s focus on preparing students for careers is clearly paying off: Of the 78 percent of the Class of 2014 who responded to the post-graduation survey, 98 percent secured professional employment, admission to grad school or a volunteer service program.

Future students: Non-traditional learners & more efficient enrollment

The phrase “non-traditional” student has been increasingly part of the conversation about the future of higher education. But there may be no such thing as a “traditional” student anymore.

Roughly 71 percent of all U.S. undergraduates defy the typical college-student stereotype, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. These students are most likely to be 25 or older and considered financially independent, so Mom and Dad aren’t part of the equation. Often these students have to balance work and family obligations while attending school. Many go part-time to earn the academic credentials necessary to help them secure a more stable and financially rewarding future.

In Fairfield County, 54 percent of people aged 18 to 64 have a high school diploma, an associate’s degree or some college, but have not earned their bachelor’s degree — given the right circumstances, many would be eager to better their education at Fairfield.

The University is actively engaged in ramping up the infrastructure as well as increasing the research and development of new programs that will meet the academic demands and career goals of adult learners.

In preparation for this growth, Catherine O’Donnell ’79, MA’83 the University’s former Director of Marketing for Admission and Academics, was appointed to the new position of Senior Director of Recruitment and Retention for Part-Time and Continuing Studies in November 2014.
Since that time, O’Donnell has collaborated with many and overseen the analysis and implementation of new admission practices for part-time students including a new online application, admission procedures, new reporting systems and one central admission office to serve as a gateway for non-traditional students.

“These foundational steps are necessary in order for the institution to be well prepared for new adult enrollments of the future,” said O’Donnell. “We will need to identify new academic offerings that will complement Fairfield’s Jesuit mission and leverage our faculty’s expertise to match the educational demands of adult students and needs of their employers.”

New program delivery formats which include online, hybrid and accelerated seven-week formats will also be developed as necessary to accommodate the flexibility requirements of adult learners.

New Intiatives: Applications are Up

Fairfield is making giant steps in refining the enrollment process and it’s paying off.

For the incoming freshmen class of 2019, Fairfield achieved a new milestone of 10,764 applications, an eight percent increase over the prior year. The percentage of those applicants admitted fell to 65 percent — down six percent from last year — signifying a more selective admission process.

Financial aid measures also saw improvements for the Class of 2019, meaning that the amount of aid needed by those admitted is on the decline.  Finally, geographic diversity goals have been achieved with an increase in the number of students enrolling from beyond the core states of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Some of the rise is thanks to recent organizational changes as well as more international recruitment under the Enrollment Management unit. The University is taking greater advantage of staffing expertise, as well as targeted recruitment, communication and marketing to prospective students.

In the coming year, more targeted enrollment plans are being put in place.

“Fairfield Fit”: today’s students embrace a healthy lifestyle

Today’s students are more focused on health than ever before — and that includes healthy eating options as well as a desire for exercise and recreation options. As part of Fairfield 2020’s focus on the student experience, there are scores of initiatives underway to ensure the University is a leader in campus wellness.

As announced in the last issue of Fairfield University Magazine, the University began work on a major renovation and expansion of the highly utilized Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex this past summer.

With the RecPlex closed for renovation until 2016, the division of Student Affairs has made it a priority to ensure that the healthy lifestyles of our students continue with no disruptions to their fitness routines.

“We know the physical, emotional and overall care of our students is extremely important. A healthy student is more engaged in their academics, less prone to challenges related to homesickness, depression, alcohol or drug use and have an overall more positive Fairfield University experience,” said Karen Donoghue, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students.

Beginning this semester, Fairfield will be offering these diverse fitness options under the umbrella of “Fairfield Fit.”
Staying Ahead: new academic programs in ‘Big Data’ & communication

One of the emphases of Fairfield 2020 is a commitment to continually and swiftly updating Fairfield’s academic programs.

New Master’s in Business Analytics: In February of this year, Fairfield’s Dolan School of Business launched a new Master of Science degree in Business Analytics (MSBA). The first program of its kind in Fairfield County, this graduate program was introduced with a flurry of publicity and a robust marketing plan to support its launch.

Business analytics skills and knowledge are much in demand in today’s marketplace, where corporations are swimming in data. It’s estimated data collection volume increased by 400 percent in 2012 alone. Increasingly, corporations depend on data-savvy employees to help make crucial planning decisions.

Fairfield’s MSBA focuses on developing new insights and understanding of business performance based on data and statistical methods, attributes increasingly in demand in a variety of industries. This 30-credit program is designed with special emphasis on database management and business intelligence.

Dr. Donald Gibson, dean of the Dolan School, said, “Our innovative business analytics program, led by faculty who are experts in forecasting, business intelligence, data mining and other analytical techniques, provides the Big Data tools companies need for today and the future.”

New Graduate Business Essentials Certificate: Call it business for non-business majors — or business boot camp.  However you describe it, the new Graduate Business Essentials Certificate is just what the modern liberal arts major wants, and the Dolan School has risen to the challenge.
Students who find this graduate certificate attractive are people who graduated with a degree in the arts or humanities and find themselves in a business setting needing a stronger understanding, BA’s who desire to apply for business positions, and those with non-business graduate degrees who need fundamental business knowledge for their professions.

Students who have already expressed interest in this new program range from current Fairfield undergraduates to graduates of Fairfield’s graduate programs who run their own businesses.

Five-Year “4+1” Business Master’s Programs: In an ongoing effort to offer students the degrees they desire, the Dolan School has created the 4+1 opportunity for Fairfield undergraduates who are considering a graduate degree.

If an undergraduate has performed well academically, they now have the option of completing a graduate degree program (MBA, MSA, MSBA, MSF) in a one-year time frame, including at least one summer. Students today know just how important a graduate business degree can be and now they can get one when they need it most.

There are also five-year master’s programs in Math, Communication and American Studies.

Emerging Media Options — Public Relations and Digital Journalism majors: Two new majors in the College of Arts and Sciences have created quite a buzz on campus and with our prospective students. In response to market research, Fairfield has introduced two new undergraduate majors: Public Relations and Digital Journalism.

The opportunities and combinations for success are endless: A student can major in Digital Journalism and minor in Film, pursue a double major or take multiple courses across numerous programs for a broader experience. Thanks to the College of Arts and Science’s array of options, the choice is entirely customizable for a student and his or her specific career goals.

The Master Plan: focus on new facilities as Fairfiled implements ITs strategic plan

While members of the University community were engaged in the Fairfield 2020 strategic planning process, a cross section of groups throughout campus were pursuing a complementary project — developing a first cut of an integrated master plan that when completed, will describe the facility improvements necessary to achieve the Fairfield 2020 vision and goals in terms of classroom, parking, dining, housing, recreation and financing.

There have already been major upgrades to the look and feel of the campus in recent years. New walkways, sidewalks and other improvements to the flow and sightlines of the campus have created a significantly more integrated and aesthetic experience overall.

In 2012, a major initiative to improve the overall conditions of the academic spaces was undertaken, and that work continues. As of the fall semester, 60 percent of the general use classrooms have been upgraded with more slated for this academic year.

The School of Engineering received a new materials testing lab adjacent to the mechanical engineering lab in the Bannow Science Center, and the completion of a collaborative classroom space in Canisius Hall is scheduled for this fall, to name just a few of these projects.

Earlier this year, the 3,500 seat Rafferty Stadium was completed. The majority of the funding for the project came through donations from alumni, parents and University benefactors.

Meanwhile, a $22 million renovation and enlargement of the Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex got underway this spring — again largely funded by benefactors — with an expected completion in the summer of 2016. With an additional 13,000 square-feet of space, the facility will feature a new entrance, and a new upper-level mezzanine, an elevated indoor running track and other upgrades.

The next significant project on the horizon is the development of an enhanced Integrated Nursing and Health Sciences facility. The plan calls for renovating the existing 16,000 square foot nursing building and the addition of 25,000 square feet of gathering places, classrooms and offices.

These are the projects that are already underway — but they will be joined by other new projects still in the discussion phase. Included in these discussions is an analysis of the needs of the Dolan School of Business facility — and while no plans have been developed as yet, there is a clear requirement for additional space. Other projects are under consideration.

“Fairfield is on the move with exciting upgrades, additions and refurbishments underway or in the planning stages,” said Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Kevin P. Lawlor ’79, P’17,’19. “We are working on our back office systems as well to ensure the levels of productivity called for in our strategic plan. Our classrooms are all being updated with a standard suite of multimedia technology to foster state of the art pedagogies. We are planning more gathering spaces around campus, enhancements to our dining facilities and improvements to our transportation system.”

An exciting and historic time for Fairfield, Lawlor also spoke of the University’s promising future even beyond Fairfield 2020 initiative. “Our beautiful campus will also see some other new, exciting changes in the years ahead as we build the infrastructure to support a diverse, growing and demanding population of new students; both undergrad, grad and continuing studies.”