Home Education At 75 years, Fairfield University hardly resting on its laurels

At 75 years, Fairfield University hardly resting on its laurels

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With an approximately 96 percent employment rate post-graduation, 95 percent of its capital fundraising campaign’s goal realized and consistently high rankings by college-rating publications, Fairfield University — 75 years old this year – is in what interim President Lynn Babington calls “a very enviable position.”

Babington said that over the last five years, more than 96 percent of Fairfield graduates secured full-time employment, acceptance into graduate schools and volunteer programs within six months after graduation. Its Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies Class of 2016 achieved a perfect overall placement rate in both the school’s undergraduate and graduate programs.

In addition, 44 percent of students in the Class of 2016 obtained employment through Fairfield University’s senior-year campus recruiting and employment resources.

In addition to securing full-time employment, 20.5 percent of last year’s graduating class gained admission into graduate school, with the greatest percentage — 25.5 percent – entering programs in education, followed by business at 25 percent, arts and sciences at 21.2 percent, health care at 11.6 percent and law at 8.8 percent.

Babington said Fairfield is also growing its undergraduate population from 3,750 students today to about 4,000, a figure she called “the right size.” For a school with an 11-to-1 ratio of students to faculty.

“Part of what makes us attractive is the relationship that our students can have with our faculty,” she said. “Being a smaller school, it’s easier for our faculty to get involved beyond the classroom. They serve as advisers, invite them over for dinner, and in some cases our undergrads work with faculty members on research projects, publish papers and present at national associations. You just don’t see that at larger schools.”

One of 28 Jesuit colleges in the U.S., the university’s reputation is underscored by the record number of undergraduate applications, more than 11,000, it received for the 2016-17 year, Babington said. Fairfield was named the second-best regional university in the North, trailing only Rhode Island’s Providence College, by U.S. News, while USA Today placed it in the top 10 percent of schools in the country and Time’s Money Magazine ranked its science and engineering programs sixth in the country for STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education.

Babington said changes are planned for the university’s traditional core curriculum. A pilot program emphasizing writing across the entire curriculum, as well as interdisciplinary and social justice classes, will be added this fall and be fully implemented in the fall of 2018.

“The core definitely plays a part in our students’ employability,” Babington said. “It teaches them how to think on their own and work with teams in a collaborative, thoughtful way.”

“We believe in the notion of a well-educated person,” said Kurt C. Schlichting, a professor of sociology and anthropology who holds the E. Gerald Corrigan Chair in Humanities & Social Sciences. “And that goes back to the fact that we were founded by the Jesuits in 1942.” The university was launched that year when the Society of Jesus acquired two contiguous estates under the Rev. John McEleney as its first president.

Both Schlichting and Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs Jim Fitzpatrick were in the university’s class of 1970, a time when “there was a lot of campus unrest,” Fitzpatrick said, “both here and across the country. We were the last all-male graduating class. It was a unique time.”

Noting that the Northeast had two major universities in the ’40s — Boston College and Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts — Fitzpatrick said that the Jesuits’ decision to open another in Fairfield “proved to be really smart. We have an incredible location along the Northeast corridor, between Washington, D.C. and Boston, and we’re so close to New York City and New Haven that it makes us even more attractive. Add in that we have the Jesuit foundation, and excellence in education is almost a given.”

Schlichting noted that Fairfield University is one of just 286 schools in the country to have a Phi Betta Kappa chapter. “There are a lot of rankings and ratings out there,” he said, “but that’s something that a U.S. News survey doesn’t capture.”

That the two alumni come from working-class backgrounds — Fitzpatrick’s father was a used car salesman, while Schlichting’s mother worked as a dental hygienist — underscores both the university’s and the Jesuits’ commitment to offering education to the less fortunate. Schlichting said the $400 scholarship he received from the school helped make his decision easier.

Babington said the school since 2008 has offered free tuition to Bridgeport students who qualify for admission and whose annual household income is less than $50,000. “I’ve met many families who have told me that if not for that scholarship, their children would not be going to college,” she said.

According to startclass.com, annual tuition and fees for undergraduates at Fairfield total $43,770; with room and board and other expenses, that cost rises to $59,840.

“When you’re spending that much money a year, you want to feel good about your return on investment,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are able to point to the opportunities that are available to someone with a Fairfield University education, from internships to the academic experience to job placement. All that makes a huge difference.”

The university at 75 is undergoing major improvements to and expansion of its physical facilities. The first phase of an ambitious construction project is entering its final stages and includes a $31 million renovation project at the university’s nursing school, the Marion Peckham Egan School of Nursing and Health Studies; a $22 million renovation of the Leslie C. Quick Jr. Recreation Complex, or “RecPlex”; and a $13 million renovation of Rafferty Stadium.

A second phase, including renovations to the Charles F. Dolan School of Business, construction of a new residence hall and palliative care center and an expansion of the main dining hall is gearing up. The dining hall’s renovations will require everyone to eat under a large tent for a few months, “which should be interesting,” Babington deadpanned.

Much of the funding for the work has come from Fairfield Rising, the largest capital fundraising campaign in Fairfield University’s history. Babington said that to date it’s raised about $150 million of its $160 million target, “and we’re confident that we’ll get there.”

The naming of a permanent Fairfield University president to replace the Rev. Jeffrey von Arx — who announced his departure last summer to lead the LaFarge House Jesuit Community in Cambridge, Massachusetts — is imminent, said Babington, who has served temporarily in the post since January She is also leaving Fairfield soon to become president of Chaminade University in Honolulu.

In recognition of Fairfield’s 75th anniversary, a special exhibit is being readied for the Fairfield Museum and History Center. Running May 11 through June 30, it will include the original campus master plan, photographs and yearbooks, among other memorabilia, said university archivist Elise Bochinski.

“We started about six months ago,” Bochinski said. “Which was good, because it allowed us the time to discover a lot of photographs that had never been developed, like some of the New York Giants, who held training camps here in the 1960s.”

“We’re betwixt and between digitizing a lot of the archives,” said Deirdre Bennett, the university’s integrated marketing manager, “so this project came along at an unusual time. But the 75th is a great opportunity to go through what we have and make it available for everyone.”

A timeline of Fairfield University’s history can be viewed at fairfield.edu/75/.

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