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Learning curve Fairleigh Dickinson’s new president prepares for changes in higher education

Dr. Christopher Capuano, president, Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Christopher Capuano, president, Fairleigh Dickinson University.-(AARON HOUSTON)

When Dr. Christopher Capuano took over the reigns as the eighth president of Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) on Sept. 27, he assumed the task of leading the school through a transformative strategic plan.

Capuano, 60, is no stranger to Fairleigh Dickinson. He arrived on campus in 1986 as an assistant professor in psychology. He handled the responsibilities of a tenured professor for roughly 20 years before becoming a full-time administrator. Most recently he served as university provost.

After President Sheldon Drucker retired in July of last year, Capuano stepped in. His experience as an administrator and his established relationships with the faculty have made the transition a smooth one.

“I know the university inside and out. I was already on the ground running, I didn’t have to hit the ground running,” Capuano said.

The university is in the process of carrying out a strategic plan that began in 2015 and is structured around six overall goals that aim to make the university more affordable, provide higher quality education and offer more real-world experience.

The sink or swim status of higher education institutions is at the forefront of Capuano’s focus for FDU. Demographics of college students are rapidly changing. Capuano noted that fewer Americans are graduating high school, in particular fewer males and whites.

Among Fairleigh Dickinson’s strategic goals are:

Improve the value of a Fairleigh Dickinson degree.

Examine the portfolio of academic and non-academic programs and services, and determine the appropriate path forward.

Develop delivery models to reach new student markets and generate new revenue streams. Increase public and private sources of revenue to support the university’s goals and initiatives.

With more options for prospective students to choose from and fewer people with high school degrees, Capuano said universities will have to become more agile, innovative and entrepreneurial to survive.

“There will continue to be colleges and universities that will close in the next five to 10 years, FDU will not be one of those,” Capuano said.

As of fall 2016, Fairleigh Dickinson had slightly more than 11,000 students on its domestic campuses including the Metropolitan Campus in Teaneck and the Florham Campus in Madison, with roughly 3,600 graduate students compared to the nearly 8,000 undergraduates. The school shares demographic ratios with the state of New Jersey. More than 57 percent of the students are female, nearly 9 percent are black, a little over 5 percent are Asian and 25 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino.

According to university statistics, roughly 94 percent of graduates from the 2016 class are employed or attend graduate school. However that number breaks down into roughly 48 percent full-time employed and 39 percent attending graduate school, with some percentage of students being part-time workers and/or part-time graduate students.

Average tuition is around $38,000. Capuano said that as the amount of student debt is rising, the cost of higher education is something he hopes to tackle head on.

Universities face an interesting dilemma between the perceived value of an institution and actual cost. Capuano said that studies done by Fairleigh Dickinson have found that consumers would rather pay a higher sticker price and get affordable scholarships than go to a less expensive institution.

Capuano said he’s focused on raising the perceived value of Fairleigh Dickinson degree. With the school’s high attendance numbers, he hopes to shift its reputation from one of the largest to one of the best.

In some areas, Fairleigh Dickinson is already renowned. As provost, Capuano saw the implementation of its Pharmacy and Health Sciences program, which has been listed on NJBIZ’s best places to work for the past three years, and is only one of two in the state.

Capuano recognized that the department has become a strength of the school and hopes to capitalize on that position by adding two additional programs: Doctoral of Physical Therapy and Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies.

The school hopes to improve all of its programs and raise its overall status in the education world.

“We want to move from being the largest private university in New Jersey to one of the best private universities in the New York metropolitan area,” Capuano said.

Part of Capuano’s vision surpasses the borders of New Jersey.

Fairleigh Dickinson is an international school. As of this September, it had 825 students enrolled in its Vancouver campus and about 50 students per semester study abroad on the schools’ campus in Wroxton in the United Kingdom. Capuano said giving students the ability to study abroad is especially important in the diverse state of New Jersey.

“Most kids who come to Fairleigh live in New Jersey, will work in New Jersey and will continue to live in New Jersey,” Capuano said. “We believe very strongly in graduating world citizens.”

Capuano references Fairleigh Dickinson’s founding president who claimed the university to be “of and for the world.” The international goal is meant to allow students from abroad to attend the university without having to travel to the United States, but also offers domestic students the opportunity to experience other cultures. Capuano said one goal of a university education is to create well-rounded individuals for the workforce.

“If you only know what you’re trained to do you’re not going to be an ideal employee in any profession,” Capuano said.

The school is planning to add an additional international campus. Capuano said the details are still being discussed, but he hopes to strike a partnership with an international hotel corporation and expand the university’s School of Hospitality and Management studies. The new campus could potentially be in South America or Africa, as part of Capuano’s overall goal to create a global university with campuses on four continents. The specifics of the plan may not be developed for another five to seven years.

Arthur Augustyn
Arthur Augustyn grew up in Massachusetts and previously covered the video game industry in Los Angeles, city politics in Malibu, California, and local news in Bergen County before working at NJBIZ. He currently covers cannabis, government and tech.

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