In his annual State of the University address, presented on Sept. 12 at the Rose Hill campus, Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham, painted a picture of a University community that is evolving to meet the challenges of the day while staying true to its shared values.
In a 70-minute speech in Keating Hall’s first floor auditorium, Father McShane took time to reflect on some of the difficult times in the recent past, including the painful loss of five students last year, and look to the future, with introductions of Dennis Jacobs, Ph.D., the University’s new provost, and Laura Auricchio, Ph.D., the new dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center.
“It was a hard year, but a year in which the University was at its best: a community marked by mutual respect, reverence, and affection, and by a deep and abiding faith,” he said.
Though “the admissions scene is getting more competitive,” Father McShane said, Fordham saw its 27th year of application growth, with 47,868 applications for admission—a 3.7% increase over last year.
Of the 2,265 entering students, the number of National Merit Scholars increased from 45 to 54 and the number of National Hispanic Scholars increased from 57 to 62. The average high school GPA for entering students was 3.64. Connecticut and Massachusetts overtook California this year to tie for the state contributing the third-most students in the nation, after New York and New Jersey.
These numbers, he noted, are all the more impressive given the fact that in the Northeast, the college-age population is shrinking. At the same time, New York state alone has 64 SUNY campuses, 24 CUNY schools, and roughly 140 private colleges and universities.
“Quite honestly, we have more colleges and universities than we need, or that we can fill with students,” he said.
“As a result, we are seeing schools missing their budget targets and raising their discount rates rather precipitously. We are also seeing mergers, partnerships, and closings.”
Forty fewer international students enrolled this year, for a total of 167. This was caused by a decline in enrollment by Chinese students, Father McShane said, with 59 fewer than last year. That decline was offset somewhat by a growth in enrollment from other counties, notably Vietnam. As with last year, 37% of students in the class of 2023 are from traditionally underrepresented groups in American society, he said.
On the graduate level, the picture remains similar to last year, as the Law School, the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and the Graduate School of Social Service continue to grow or maintain steady rates of enrollment. The Graduate School of Education, the graduate division of the Gabelli School of Business and the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education continue to deal with challenging national and regional trends.
Father McShane said that rules governing the U.S. News & World Report’s ranking system, which dropped Fordham from 70 to 74 this year, had “mystified” him. In addition to changes in its methodology, the magazine also added another 100 institutions to the pool in which Fordham competes.
Nonetheless, Fordham was the fifth-highest-ranked Jesuit university in the country, the seventh-highest-ranked Catholic university in the country, and the 45th highest ranked private national research university. Also notable, he said, is that the Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Fordham 15th among private colleges and universities for improving the upward social mobility of students who come from families of very modest means.
Father McShane also said the University has taken steps to keep students on the path to graduation.
“The Retention Task Force has outlined for us an action plan that promises to enhance both our first-to-second year retention rates and our graduation rate,” he said, “both of which carry great weight with U.S. News.”
Progress on Diversity
Among one of the brightest spots of news, Father McShane said, is the University’s effort to become a more accepting and affirming community of scholars and learners. After asking a task force to recommend ways to make the university more welcoming, he proposed embedding diversity efforts into three key areas: academic affairs, student life, and human resources.
As a result, the University has in the last two years welcomed three new administrators devoted to diversity: Rafael Zapata, chief diversity officer; Juan Carlos Matos, assistant vice president for student affairs; and Kay Turner, vice president for human resources. The creation of a first-year experience course containing a significant diversity component is also underway.
“While progress has been made, there is still much to be done to bring the University to the place it wants to be,” he said.
Fundraising, Facilities, and Finances
In the course of the past year, the University had the second-best fundraising year in its history, and the $67 million raised helped bring a conclusion to Faith & Hope | The Campaign for Financial Aid, with more than $175 million raised for student scholarships, Father McShane said. He also noted that the University’s endowment currently stands at $840 million, the highest it has ever been.
Planning for the next campaign has already begun, he said.
“We have already entered the very silent phase of our next campaign, a campaign that will seek between $200 and $300 million for the student experience at Fordham. One of the major foci of the campaign will be to raise money to build an extension to the McGinley Center and to renovate the original building. This will enable us to create a university gathering and event space that can serve our whole community,” he said.
The Walsh Family Library will also soon be the site of a joint venture with Fordham IT called Learning and Innovative Technology Environment (LITE). When complete, the facility will provide collaborative workspaces for faculty and students and a Makers Space, where visitors can access innovative and specialized technology such as virtual reality, podcasting rooms, and 3D printing.
A Defense of Liberal Arts
Father McShane also had sharp words for those who accuse colleges and universities of being reckless spenders and of being out of touch with what the nation’s needs are.
“Some of our critics would say that the perfect college would be one that understands that it is devoted to workforce development, with boards composed of the members of their local chambers of commerce,” he said.
“It is no wonder, then, that some are especially critical of liberal arts education—which they dismiss as divorced from real life. We, of course, would fall into the category of schools that are especially suspect, since we value liberal arts as the way to a full and satisfying life, and the perfect vehicle for producing educated, critical citizens who both value and devote their lives to developing civic virtue.”