President weighs in on ‘Strategic Plan’
In 2010, the University released a new strategic plan, “From Strength to Strength,” aimed at placing Seton Hall within the top 10 Catholic and top 100 national universities in the country. Now in 2016, the University is undertaking what President A. Gabriel Esteban calls a “little more aggressive” goal of being placed within the top 5 Catholic universities and top 75 nationwide.
In a wide ranging interview with The Setonian, Esteban said the University should be able to achieve this goal by 2025, and he believes the key is “through investment in academic programs, faculty, and the students.”
Currently, Seton Hall is ranked #123 on the U.S. News and World Report. The University has climbed 13 spots since 2011, which is a significant leap according to Robert Kelchen, an assistant professor of higher education at Seton Hall’s Department of Education Leadership. Kelchen is considered an expert on college evaluations. He oversees the rankings done by the Washington Monthly, which compares institutions based on public service. In order to achieve the goal of breaking into the top 75, Seton Hall would have to overtake peer institutions such as University of Dayton or the University of San Francisco tied at #108, or other universities in the region, like Duquesne University and Temple University at #115.
“There are probably 200 colleges in the country that want to be in the top 75,” Kelchen said. “There is so much that we have to climb and the closer you get to the top the harder it is to climb more.”
Money plays an important role in moving up in the rankings. One criteria for a school’s score is how much money it spends on a per-student basis. Kelchen said that investing in the University’s campus could potentially help improve the University’s ranking.
Esteban detailed recent construction expenses and revealed plans for additional improvements in the near future. In recent years, the University has invested about $134 million in construction on campus projects including the expansion of the parking deck, construction on Aquinas Hall and renovations to the residence halls.
Over last summer, $15 million to $20 million was spent on maintenance. This included repairs and other maintenance such as waterproofing to the walls of the steam tunnel that “connects various utilities” on campus and runs underground from the boiler house to Boland Hall then back to Xavier Hall. Additionally, Boland North and South were painted last summer and bathrooms in Boland North were renovated with new hardware and shower stalls.
After wrapping up a lobby renovation project in Walsh Gymnasium, Esteban said the University will move forward with additional construction plans. “If you look at the next project we’re probably going to work on, it’s going to be the admission space,” Esteban said. “Attached to the admission space (project) is going to be the replacement for our University Lounge.”
According to Esteban, the University plans on building a new Welcome Center and event space in a proposed building located by the Farinella Gate. The Welcome Center will house enrollment management services, including admissions, and it will have additional event space and areas for students.
Investment in the student body is also important to the strategic plan, according to Esteban. Since Fall 2009, SAT scores have risen 95 points and the percentage of incoming freshmen from the top 10 percent of their classes has risen almost seven percentage points, according to Esteban. This year’s freshman class, one of the largest in decades, also had around 40 percent of students coming from out of state—a significant change for Seton Hall.
Esteban said that this year’s class was much larger than the University had budgeted for. This freshmen class has around 1,400 students, substantially more than the original target of around 1,275 students. Additionally, based on historic rates, more admitted students accepted their offer at Seton Hall, in part forcing some students to be housed in Newark.
“If we had the same admission standards for this year’s class as we had for last year or two years ago we probably would have had 1,500 to 1,600 students,” Esteban said, adding that according to guidance counselors Seton Hall is becoming an increasingly more attractive option to students.
“So the goal again is to increase the selectivity, increase the profile a little bit, make sure the students are able to handle the academics and graduate.”
Looking to the future, accommodating larger class sizes is contingent on other University projects that are also in the works. One of these projects is potentially co-locating health sciences with the new medical school. According to Esteban, this could free up space for additional housing to be built on campus.
“Based on some of the conversations we’ve had with our student leaders, there’s apparently a strong preference to be on campus versus off campus,” Esteban said. Eighty percent of the current freshmen class lives on campus. “So right now we’re looking at on campus, if it’s possible, to add more residential facilities.”
Esteban also touched on the process of developing the new medical school. According to Kelchen, the medical school could help Seton Hall substantially in moving up in the rankings.
Originally, the first class was projected for the fall of 2017. Now, the first class is expected to begin in the fall of 2018, according to the University website. Esteban explained that the process for preliminary approval from The Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) is 16 to 18 months.
“We are in the process of hiring a dean because the dean is going to lead that process,” Esteban said. “Then the dean is going to have to hire staff and faculty to develop the curriculum.”
As previously reported by The Setonian, an email announcing the University’s intent to create the only private medical school in New Jersey was sent out on Jan. 19, 2015. Almost a year later, there have been few updates beyond the official formalization of a partnership between Seton Hall and HackensackUHN in June, which signed a memorandum of understanding in January.
Although some members of the campus community have expressed frustration about the lack of advanced notice about the creation of a medical school and a lack of detail about its development, Esteban said the initial announcement should not have come as a surprise.
“We’ve been talking about the med school since 2008 or 9. I was chief academic officer when we formed a task force which looked at the feasibility of the med school,” he said. He added that faculty have been given the opportunity to tour the proposed sites.
“If it’s a secret, it’s a worst kept secret,” he said.
Dr. Brian Shulman, dean of the School of Health and Medical Sciences, said that he and Dr. Marie Foley, dean of the College of Nursing, brought their faculties to the location, referring to the former Hoffman-LaRoche pharmaceutical complex located on the border of Clifton and Nutley, N.J., for a reception in April of 2015. A representative from Hackensack was present to demonstrate the partnership and tours were given to faculty by Roche personnel, according to Shulman.
Shulman also said that user groups consisting of faculty and students from the School of Health and Medical Sciences and the School of Nursing, were involved in a collaborative process with the architectural firm working with Seton Hall and Hackensack on the building project.
“So the School of Health and Medical Sciences and Nursing were in the same room with the architects, and there were faculty and students from both schools who took part in the dialogue in what we wanted to create (at the Roche campus),” he said.
These groups functioned as focus groups to gauge what the campus users want and direct the development to incorporate this input. For example, about 12 students from both schools were asked questions regarding food service, like whether to include a Dunkin Donuts, and which amenities, like a gym, they would want available in the space.
At the same time that formation of the new medical school leadership is underway, a search is ongoing for a dean in the new College of Communication and the Arts.
“I can’t see why, with the support of our alumni and friends of the University, why we can’t be one of the top three to five programs in the northeast initially,” Esteban said.
Plans for the College’s headquarters in Mooney Hall have been released with limited detail.
“We presented to the board concepts of what the campus might look like in 2021,” Esteban said. The plans for Mooney, as well as many other campus projects, are “predicated” on other campus plans, according to Esteban, for example, co-locating the medical school. As of November 2015, the board had not signed off on the 2021 plan. Esteban said more details will be released at an appropriate time.
He explained the new Admissions facility and the new University Lounge are independent of this 2021 plan. According to Esteban, the Seton Hall Board of Regents must first approve campus construction projects and then the plans move to the Village of South Orange for approval.
Esteban explained that there are reasons behind what may sometimes seem to be a lack of information about the University’s plans.
“There’s this whole process that you go through and I think sometimes people get too excited and sometimes there is a reluctance then to talk about it just because it may or may not happen,” he said.
Mary Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.