As Iona College President Joseph Nyre prepares to leave the college to take the top leadership post at Seton Hall University in New Jersey, he said there is still work to be done in New Rochelle.
“I met … with our cabinet and board chair,” Nyre told the Business Journal in a phone interview, “and the message was that we have one team, one set of goals and we’re going to keep moving forward.”
While he called his time leading Iona a “personal and professional highlight of my life,” he will be leaving the school June 30 to take over at Seton Hall, which he described as “one of the top Catholic universities in our country.”
In his last few months at Iona, Nyre will oversee the continued buildout of the Roman Catholic college’s new School of Business building, the third full year of the Hynes Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation and new academic programs, including a degree program for occupational therapy.
He said he was recruited to the position by Seton Hall and is excited at the chance to build on the legacy of the South Orange college, which has a total enrollment of about 10,000.
“I think Iona’s future is quite bright,” Nyer said. “And until June 30, my responsibility is Iona College.”
In its announcement of his departure, Iona credited Nyre with introducing new academic programs and a new core curriculum, funding new endowed professorships, reducing the school’s tuition dependency and tripling Iona’s endowment. The footprint of the campus also expanded, both through the new business school building and two new residence halls.
Nyre said he is most proud of his role at the school during each commencement ceremony, but also cited the college’s recent growth a point of pride for his tenure.
“When you see an institution triple its endowment, grow its campus and appreciably improve like this, you know it’s the result of a lot of people working together: faculty, staff, students, the board, alumni,” Nyre said. “I’m very proud of a multitude of accomplishments, but I think those are some of the highlights.”
He also noted Iona’s economic role for New Rochelle and Westchester County. The college contributed $284.4 million to the regional economy and was responsible for 1,930 jobs in 2017, according to a study conducted by the Albany-based Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU). Nyre noted that number marked a $26 million increase from 2016 estimates.
“The college has a massive impact on the greater area,” Nyre said. “It’s important for people to know what Iona is doing in terms of its cultural impact and educational impact, but I’d also like to underscore that a strong system of college and universities in Westchester makes the county stronger.”
New York’s private colleges have spent much of the past two years leading public outreach campaigns about their economic importance. The advocacy came in response to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pledge for a state scholarship to cover the cost of tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for students from families making under $125,000. Private colleges lobbied strongly against the scholarship, which they said could distort the market for students and limit choices. Cuomo’s vision passed in the 2017 state budget and now operates as the “Excelsior Scholarship.”
Asked about the scholarships impact at Iona, Nyre said it’s still too early in the program to know.
“I am concerned that this delicate balance we had in New York between private and public education, which is a marvelous state system, could be disrupted if additional changes aren’t made in consultation with the (CICU),” Nyre said. “We want to have a strong public-private partnership, vital to New York. We want to make sure the system remains strong and that college is affordable and accessible.”
While this is a problem his successor will face, Nyre noted this is not a challenge unique to New York.
“In New Jersey and other states, this isn’t the only state that is trying to sort of how best to ensure that college is accessible,” Nyre said. “But I want to make sure that college choice is front and center… we need a significant amount of diversity in the type of institutions we lead and advance.”
As for who that successor will be, Iona hasn’t yet announced a timeline for an appointment. The college said it will lead a nationwide search. While Nyre will not be part of the committee to pick his replacement, he said he expects Iona will have its pick of talented options.
“It’s a stronger institution than it was eight years ago and I take some personal pride that I think their applicant pool will be stronger than when they hired me,” Nyre said. “I’m confident they’ll have a lot of talented people looking to come to Iona College.”