Dear NJCU Community:
As the author of Ecclesiastes says, “For everything there is a season, and a time for everything.” The time is right for me to move on to the next opportunity, as I look back fondly at 10 productive and fulfilling years at NJCU. What a remarkable time this has been for the university. We have accomplished so much.
To mention just a few of the highlights:
- The new honors program attracts students from places like McNair looking for a high-quality academic experience that prepares them for graduate school or a competitive job.
- New doctoral programs have strengthened the leadership in the state and helped our academic portfolio to grow.
- Our school of business academic offerings are cutting edge and helping to drive new directions in finance, logistics, and other areas.
- The Innovation Center is bringing together our SBDC, the Guarini International Institute, and the state’s commitment to financial technology and port logistics to improve economic impact and provide a place for our students to innovate and learn.
In addition to the above, the arts have flourished with new and improved programs like graphic arts, illustration, musical theatre, jazz, orchestra, the Joffrey Ballet, and a MFA that has brought Grammy Award-winning students to further their education. The Center for the Arts engages community arts organizations along with our own performances and exhibitions. As part of the revitalization of the West Side, we have partnered with businesses to ensure housing and amenities alongside our new residence hall housing our athletes, international students, honors students, and other students.
Building from scratch, our Global Initiatives Office brings in international students to bolster our enrollment and provide opportunities for our students to travel abroad as part of their academic studies. This, along with the growing internships, is part of the holistic approach to the educational experience, better ensuring that students thrive when they graduate.
Student success and engagement have been paramount to our work during these past 10 years. Through activities such as retreats, the Faculty Fellows program, and multiple meetings of faculty and staff, we have built a robust structure to ensure that we meet the needs of the students: a full-service center that provides advisement, payment options, registration, tutoring, and degree progress reports. Complementing these services, we have reformed our curriculum and developed student leadership programs. These notable accomplishments came about because we have had “all hands on deck.” The NJCU community is justifiably proud of the results. Our four-year graduation rate has grown from 9% to 23% this spring and the six-year graduation rate has followed suit from 29% to a high of 39%. We are on the right trajectory and are well-positioned to continue to improve on this, the most important measure for any quality institution of higher education.
Our sense of community and pride in NJCU has been enhanced by the growth of our athletics program. It has blossomed under dynamic leadership. Pride in the institution has also been enhanced by our Student Leadership Program giving students opportunities for civic engagement in and out of the classroom.
NJCU has responded effectively to the state need for affordable and high quality higher education in the center of the state at Fort Monmouth, offering public degree options that are otherwise unavailable. As new businesses come to the area, NJCU will be there to provide the educated work force.
We took a leadership role in ensuring that our students left us debt free, something the state has implemented. Simultaneously, our Foundation has grown and prospered, and fundraising has increased significantly. Annual giving is at an all-time high and NJCU has received the largest gifts in the University’s history.
Over the past 10 years, our goals have been ambitious and laudatory. As would be expected, not all that we hoped to accomplish has been accomplished—“our reach has exceeded our grasp” as Robert Browning famously summoned us to do. We, as could be expected, have encountered setbacks along the way. Chief among these setbacks has been the pandemic. In this we are not alone. But the challenges have been greater, because we serve large numbers of students from families whose median family incomes is $42,000. These families were especially hard hit. A large number of our students needed to work to help their families and were unable to continue their studies. Compounding the problem, our transfer enrollment declined as fewer students attended community colleges and the competition from other four-year universities for students intensified. This will need to be turned around.
NJCU is a remarkable institution, located in the fastest growing and most diverse city in New Jersey. The degrees it confers make NJCU a national leader in social mobility for our graduates. It has been a distinct privilege and honor to be part of this work. As I bid farewell, I look forward with pride and confidence to the impressive future that lies ahead for NJCU. In this time of “sturm and drang” in higher education, I’m reminded of the Chinese blessing and curse, “May we live in interesting times." No one knows how higher education will evolve in the coming years. We just know that it will be a time of unprecedented change and considerable stress. Yet we can be confident that NJCU will be a shining light for years to come.
Sue Henderson, Ph.D.