Faced with a decline -- or at least a leveling off -- in high school graduation rates on Long Island, small liberal arts colleges such as St. Joseph's must stay afloat by luring more students from afar, said college president Jack P. Calareso, 64. The college, with campuses in Patchogue and Brooklyn, showed a 9 percent drop in enrollment between fall of 2010 and 2013. As of fall 2014, it had 4,979 students enrolled.
Last week, St. Joseph's announced it will add 15 online master's and bachelor's degree programs, in fields including health administration, human resources, and management.
Calareso is just finishing his first year as the first layperson to head the 99-year-old college, and he also teaches. "It's almost like starting two jobs, because the two campuses are so very different" in regards to diversity and transportation needs, he said.
What changes do you plan?
As an institution, we've had to deal with the practical reality that there are too many colleges and not enough students ... So we are actively [considering] adding a residency component [200 to 400 dorm rooms] so we might be able to attract students further afield than just Suffolk County and eastern Nassau County. We'd have our first residents in the fall of 2017. This fall, we're also launching a really robust online program with complete programs in response to the needs of the nontraditional student. It allows us to stretch the demographics, because you can be an online student anywhere in the world and attend St. Joseph's College. You don't have to worry about traffic on the LIE or commuting.
What are the hurdles to creating online degree programs and building dorms?
Online is really about finding your niche, and so we spent a lot of time in the fall looking at the competition and looking at the programs that were really our strengths. There are a lot of online competitors, but we wanted to make sure that whatever we did, we did well. So it took some time to build curriculum, which we've done, and to train faculty, which we've done and are doing. It wasn't new to me because I had done it in my two former institutions. The residency is really about a decision of investing resources. It's an economic equation, and we have a board, like most college boards, that's careful and conservative. And so we're just trying to find the right way to do this and not put the college in any sort of risk and to make sure it's a value proposition that will have a return. I can't guarantee that in the end students will choose St. Joseph's College residency. But we've done a lot of research, we've done our homework. It will be my 12th or 13th residence hall that I've helped build.
What careers are growing for Long Island students?
Some of the new programs we've developed, like the hospitality and tourism program and nursing program, are really in direct response to needs we've identified on Long Island where they are emerging professions, growing professions. We're in a lot of partnerships with health care and community service agencies, and so we try to be attuned to what they're looking for in terms of the people they're going to be hiring in the next few years.
Why do you still teach?
I still love being in the classroom, and it helps me appreciate and understand what our faculty deal with, and the motivations and skills of the students.
How are older students different?
They have work experience, they have life experience and they're able to connect learning to experience. They may have to take more notes, they may forget some things, but in many ways I think it's a more meaningful educational experience.
Some say it's very difficult to move from adjunct to full time college staff. What's your advice?
If you're willing to relocate, I think there are teaching jobs out there. It's not easy to be an adjunct, but I don't think it's an impossible career path. Many of our full-time faculty started teaching for us as adjuncts, and we got to know them, and when full-time jobs opened up, they were the logical choice because we had a track record.
There are opportunities in education -- K-12 -- but those are not as strong as they were. We're watching to see if that trend will reverse itself. We are trying to get our graduates to think that there could be life beyond Long Island. To take a job wherever doesn't mean you're gone forever.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to Calareso's status. He is the first layperson to serve as president of St. Joseph's.