On Jan. 29, University President Jeffrey P. von Arx, S.J. launched a refresh of the University’s Strategic Plan, Fairfield 2020: Building a More Sustainable Future. In a packed Oak Room in the Barone Campus Center, Fr. von Arx told the assembly that it was time to “reimagine Fairfield in response to a higher education environment that is fundamentally changing.
“We must respond with energy and imagination, creating a bold new vision for the future that ensures our viability, builds upon our foundations, and propels us to a secure leadership in this new era of higher education,” he said.
Executive Vice President Kevin Lawlor ’79 called upon the University community to unite behind its leadership and remain true to its mission and tradition as it enters into the planning process. A Steering Committee made up of faculty, administrators, students, and others will lead the planning process. That committee will appoint working teams that will examine all areas of the University’s operations, looking for opportunities to find efficiencies, better utilize technology, and propose new programs in order to broaden the University’s income stream and respond more quickly to market opportunities.
Fr. von Arx stressed the University’s core mission — to be a four-year, residential liberal arts University in the Jesuit tradition — would not change, and that it would also continue to provide first-class professional education at the master’s degree level.
However, he cited a number of converging factors in higher education that made it essential for the University to take action now. It is no longer feasible to continuously raise students tuition and fees to meet costs. Demographic shifts in the Northeast suggest that there will be fewer high school graduates over the next decade; the pool of prospective students will also be more diverse and come from families with more financial constraints than in past years.
“These are not temporary trends,” he noted. “They are converging forces that demand a sense of urgency from us all. We can and must remain dedicated to a personal formation model for our undergraduate [and graduate] students, teaching and mentoring the leaders of tomorrow. But we must also broaden our economic foundation in order to be competitive in the future. If we aren’t able to grow, we will not be able to deliver our mission effectively, and we will be in danger of undermining the foundation of integrity that we have all worked so hard to build and maintain.”
In his remarks, Fr. von Arx challenged those who will be participating in the task forces to address a number of challenges. Among them, he called for a new business model to broaden the University’s revenue stream; to lead in transformational education and pedagogical innovation; to find ways to keep the cost of a Fairfield education within the reach of the average student; to expand continuing education and non-degree programs; and to modernize operations in order to lower costs.
To inform the process and stimulate ideas, a series of lectures by leaders in the field of higher education and other experts on market trends and technological innovations is planned for the coming year. It is anticipated that the planning process will take a year, with the Steering Committee submitting an action plan by March of 2015.
The planning process will be documented online through the University’s website. For the full text of Fr. von Arx’s charter for Fairfield2020, a video of the launch event, and other materials, go to strategicplanning.fairfield.edu.