As we welcome the class of 2016 to our University community, we have much for which to be grateful. Over the summer we were engaged in a variety of landscaping improvements. Freshly designed and enhanced pathways have pulled the campus together in way that is a pleasure to the eye and lifts one’s spirits. These connective pathways — so resonant of our emphasis at Fairfield on an integrative educational experience — will be getting a lot of traffic! While we are never certain of the precise size of our freshman class until they show up this month, I can say that at the time of this writing we expect that we will be welcoming one of the largest freshman classes in the history of Fairfield University.
It is an academically strong class, as measured by standardized test scores, with more international students than in recent years. We have been working very hard to get our message out to the world, and we are seeing the fruits of our labor. Fairfield is special; it provides a learning environment that helps our students grow in maturity, establishing a foundation on which a confident, creative, and successful future may be built. All of you — alumni, parents, and friends — can attest to that, and I thank all of you for your part in our success.
Together, as a community, we are at a critical juncture in the life of our institution. All universities, Fairfield included, are facing a monumental challenge: The simple fact is that the financial model that has supported most of the universities and colleges in our region is no longer sustainable. Families and students can no longer comfortably shoulder the cost of a university education by themselves. Parents are worried about whether they can afford to cover the costs, and many will find themselves reaching into home equity or retirement savings to pay for those costs.
The reasons for the high costs of higher education are many. A university such as Fairfield is a young, small, full-time, four-year, residential liberal arts university with an emphasis on undergraduate education, specifically teaching. More particularly, as a Jesuit university, we are committed to a philosophy of cura personalis — or care of the whole person — which has been a foundational principle of Jesuit pedagogy since 1548. This emphasis on personal, one-to-one, teaching and mentoring in a full-time residential setting is very labor intensive, dependent on a highly qualified teaching faculty, coaches, student affairs professionals, counselors, and so on. Maintaining quality residential facilities, infrastructure, public safety resources, classrooms, libraries, and computer and communications resources is also expensive.
At Fairfield, we have implemented a holistic approach to address this issue. This year, we had the smallest increase in tuition since the 1970s — below the rate of the cost of living — and we are committed to putting a brake on significant increases in the future. At the same time, we have increased our student aid budget by roughly 100 percent over the last six years — more than 60 percent of our students receive aid directly from the University. We have made significant cuts in our expenses and are also examining the entire portfolio of our academic offerings to see where we might strengthen our core programs and phase out ones that are no longer beneficial.
And we are developing exciting new programs that we think offer a significant value to our students. We have introduced five, five-year dual-degree programs that combine undergraduate formation with a master’s degree: A B.S./M.S. in software engineering, three B.A./M.A. degrees in education, and a B.S./M.S. degree in accounting. We are in the process of developing two other five-year dual-degree programs. These programs contain the costs of an advanced degree while offering the benefits of a liberal arts foundation. They also give these graduates a significant advantage when they enter the workplace.
We have other plans in the works that will increase the value of a Fairfield education, while containing its cost. Ultimately, the responsibility is ours. I know in the coming months and years that I will be making this case to you again and again — and I’m confident that together we will rise to the challenge that has been set before us.
Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J.