SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – Dr. A. Gabriel Esteban, the President of Seton Hall University, gave a State of the University address to faculty and employees on Thursday morning. The back-to-school welcome from the President struck a hopeful and optimistic note.
In his sixth year at SHU, Esteban took time to review the school’s mission, its vision plan and goals, where things stand right now and the challenges being faced.
Seton Hall is home to “the largest seminary in North America, and we have at any given time, about 40 priests on campus, “ Esteban said. “It adds a whole other dimension,” to campus, he added.
Three years ago, Esteban and the school’s Board of Trustees set the goal of becoming a top-10 Catholic university by 2017. To get there, they decided to make investments in their Catholic mission, in the campus, the students and the faculty.
“We have made good strides in faculty development,” he said. He also expressed pride in the school’s new tradition of holding a tree lighting.The first year, they hoped 50 or 60 students might attend, and they had 300. Over the past three years, that number has swelled to 1,500, and younger students on campus often think this is a longstanding tradition.
Five faculty members and four students were Fulbright awardees this year. Esteban attributes this success to hard work and striving for excellence.
Enrollment numbers for the incoming freshman class are higher than anticipated, with 1,325 new students coming after the school had set a goal of 1,250. The school had accepted approximately 8,400 applicants.
SAT test average for this new class is 1120, which is higher than last year’s class and marks the third year in a row of elevating scores, a goal the university had set. Being more selective has changed the student body for the better. The school rejected 45% more applicants than it had the year prior.
In 2011, the number of freshmen dipped to only 986. The school had experienced bad publicity and a string of unfortunate events that led to the drop in enrollment and the first layoffs in school history. They learned that the are vulnerable to bad press and must work to overcome negativity.
Fortunately, student retention rates have remained high, with 84.6% of freshman remaining. With higher enrollment back on track, he said keeping the retention rate high is also paramount.
The situation at Seton Hall Law School is a bit different. The sizes of incoming classes have dropped from 358 in 2010 to 266 to 200 and now to 170 this year. The decision was made to accept reduced numbers rather than accepting applicants of lower quality. Esteban expects the decision to cause the law school’s rankings to rise, as its peer schools accept students of lower quality to keep their numbers up.
SHU’s graduate school enrollment for the new year is about 900, which was the goal. Graduate school tuition accounts for one third of the school’s revenue, so is vitally important. Grad school tuition is rarely discounted, unlike freshman tuition which sees the bulk of scholarship monies. The freshman class accounts for about 11% of revenue.
In athletics, the school is a founding member of the “new Big East,” and Esteban sees the strategic alliance with similar schools to be a good fit. A media contract with Fox Sports has been agreed to, and although he would not divulge any details, Esteban said, “We did well,” and said the deal would fund numerous scholarships and faculty expenses. Visibility nationwide through athletics is important to the school’s image and will help attract new students.
Alumni giving increased 19% this past year, which is a good sign. The participation of alumni donating rose from 6.8% to 8.1%.
Net operating ratios at SHU are lower than at some peer schools like Villanova and St. John’s, and work must be done to find areas of improvement.
An important decision was made to make improvements on infrastructure. School officials worried that their facilities were no longer on par with their competitors, so are spending $91 million over three years to add to Aquinas residence hall, Stafford Hall classroom building and the Reagan athletic center. Construction on the new student center is hoped for in the summer of 2016. Esteban said the school’s efforts to expand the parking deck have been delayed by South Orange officials who question their need for more parking. This drew hearty laughter from the audience, as parking on campus is a crucial need.
Challenges in attracting non-traditional students grow as the population of traditional college age students shrinks and online schools grow in popularity. The school must ask itself, “What makes us different?” A brand study is underway and a national outreach and advertising program is planned to attract a wider array of students.