Speaking to an audience of students, faculty, administrators, staff, alumni, members of the Vincentian community, and members of the Board of Trustees and Board of Governors, Dr. Gempesaw delivered his fifth State of the University Address, setting high expectations for the University in the future.
“I state with confidence,” he said, “that St. John’s is a much stronger University than it was five years ago.”
The address, presented from Marillac Auditorium on the University’s Queens, NY, campus and streamed online, focused on the theme “Advancing Mission, Strategic Priorities, and Change.”
“When I started the State of the University Address five years ago, my goal for making this an annual event was to promote an atmosphere of open communication, collaborative leadership, and shared responsibility,” Dr. Gempesaw said in his opening remarks.
Over the next hour, the President celebrated the University’s recent accomplishments, acknowledged its challenges, and provided a roadmap for continued success.
This semester, he announced, St. John’s enrolled a class of first-year students of approximately 3,110, which stands as the largest of any Catholic college or university in the nation. For many local Catholic high schools, he added, St. John’s is the number one destination for graduating seniors. The incoming class hails from 33 countries and 40 states (plus Washington, DC).
With a mean grade point average (GPA) of 90, the Class of 2023 excelled in the classroom and matched the record-high GPA set in 2015. This gifted group also had an average SAT score of approximately 1200—the highest for an incoming class since the SAT returned to a 1600-point scale in 2016.
The class also includes nine valedictorians and eight salutatorians, and more than 450 students are enrolled in St. John’s Honors Programs.
This year, the University has a total enrollment of approximately 21,300, an increase of 852 students over 2014. In 2018, Dr. Gempesaw noted, the University achieved the highest total enrollment in its 149-year history with 21,643 students.
“I always emphasize that student retention and graduation must be our priority and should be our shared responsibility,” he said. “From 2003 to 2013, the average retention rate dropped to 78.1 percent. From 2014 to 2018, we improved average retention rates to 82.7 percent. This means that an additional 130 to 140 students were retained annually and will hopefully graduate in four to six years.”
“This is, indeed, remarkable,” he said.
“We must sustain what we started five years ago and continue to support the success of our students—because that is what excellent universities do.”
St. John’s graduates succeed after college. Since 2016, 94.3 percent of students who graduate from the University are either employed or enrolled in graduate school, up from 86 percent in 2011. Students who earned a graduate degree in 2018 have a 94 percent career placement rate, while last year, St. John’s School of Law recorded its highest-ever employment rate—92 percent.
Dr. Gempesaw introduced Rev. Bernard M. Tracey, C.M., Executive Vice President for Mission, who discussed new initiatives for the University to address the issue of college students who experience housing insecurity and homelessness.
“The issue of college student homeless and housing insecurity is becoming less of a hidden issue and is more commonly discussed as a national crisis for higher education,” Fr. Tracey said. Citing a 2018 survey of City University of New York students, he noted that “almost one in two students experienced food insecurity and 55 percent were housing insecure in the previous year.”
While St. John’s addresses the basic needs of many of these students, the University wants to offer a more robust program. Responding to that need, he announced plans for Depaul USA to establish the Dax Program: New York.
Through the Dax Program, qualified students pay a minimum rent of $150 per month and work 10 hours per week in exchange for housing, food, case management, counseling referrals, transportation, and textbook assistance. Upon graduation, a three-month extension helps to ensure a smooth transition into the workforce and marketrate housing.
“We know that when the basic needs of our students are met, they have a greater likelihood of achieving academic success,” Fr. Tracey noted.
“As a Catholic and Vincentian university, we are obligated and remain committed to finding new and innovative ways to ensure that all of our students succeed.”
Returning to the podium, Dr. Gempesaw highlighted the exceptional work of several faculty members and offered an update on hiring trends.
“Since Fiscal Year 2015, we have hired 222 new faculty members,” he said. “This fall semester, we welcome 32 new faculty. Next year, the Office of the Provost has approved the hiring of 31 new faculty members.” Among this year’s incoming faculty, 55 percent are female, and 42 percent are from historically underrepresented populations in higher education.
The University’s Strategic Priorities, he noted, include enhancing the teaching and learning environment. This past year, Campus Facilities and Services completed more than 60 projects, including renovations to the first and second floor classrooms and hallways of Marillac Hall; renovations and repairs to labs in St. Albert Hall; upgrades to The Little Theatre A/V systems; and several improvements in the Residence Village and Carnesecca Arena. In addition, Marillac Hall now features an advanced graphics lab, which will include advanced Virtual Reality technology.
The University continues to expand its global and community partnerships. In Fiscal Year 2019, the President announced, cash gifts to the University totaled $25.9 million. “This is the second-highest fundraising amount in our University’s history, following our record cash gifts of $27 million in Fiscal Year 2018.”
“We thank our generous donors for their strong belief in our mission,” he said, “and their confidence that our University is moving in the right direction.”
In closing, Dr. Gempesaw offered thanks to the entire University community. “I am sincerely grateful to all of you for your efforts and your commitment to strengthening the foundation of our University,” he said. “With your support and cooperation, I am confident that we will continue to meet the mission set by our Vincentian founders 149 years ago: to provide an excellent education for all people, especially those in need—because we are St. John’s!”