William Carroll column sig

Radio advertisements, newsletters, interviews, campus tours, enhanced webpage, new academic center, open houses, alumni events, fliers — all from Saint Joseph’s College! What is happening?

As the college set out on its ambitious task of reinventing itself in 2017, the board promised to secure the debt and to come back as a liberal arts institution. How the college would come back would be outlined in a “128 Partners Comprehensive Three-Year Plan.”

The plan was developed and delivered to the 128 partners (individuals who donated in a special fundraising campaign) in January 2020. The plan states: “When the Board of Trustees voluntarily suspended its accreditation, the goal was to return the college to financial stability, continue its mission, and provide state of the art programming on the Rensselaer campus.”

What is happening on the Rensselaer campus is the realization of that promise of the college continuing its mission and providing state-of-the-art programming.

A lot has been learned since 2017 and a lot has happened in the world of higher education. For example, the road back to accreditation is not as easy as turning a switch and resuming operations. It is a long and difficult process — as it should be. Saint Joseph’s College is dedicated to returning accredited programs to the Rensselaer campus.

While the focus continues to be on returning accredited programs to the campus, this cannot and should not be done without understanding and adapting to what has happened in higher education in the last 18 months.

The COVID-19 pandemic is dramatically changing how higher education is offered and even whether some institutions can sustain themselves. Colleges have lost enrollment while the demographic for traditional students shrinks. There is also a subtle focus from offering degrees, per se, to career-oriented programming.

Liberal arts institutions are at the crossroads of what was and what will and can be. It’s becoming increasingly difficult for smaller institutions to survive and thrive on their own. As a result, there is a growing momentum among higher educational institutions to seek partnerships with like-minded and mission-linked institutions.

By embracing and welcoming other institutions to its campus, Saint Joseph’s College can provide accredited programs right now. For the immediate term, it will be under these partner institutions’ umbrella. In the future, it may establish a framework for our own accredited status.

Saint Joseph’s College is pleased to welcome three institutions to campus to offer college-level programming this fall: The University of St. Thomas, Calumet College of Saint Joseph, and Ivy Tech Community College.

The University of Saint Thomas will be offering a two-year degree program in cybersecurity. Calumet College of Saint Joseph will be offering an introduction to business program for traditional students and a fast-track degree completion program for adults who have completed the associate degree. Ivy Tech Community College will begin offering general education classes, including “Introduction to Interpersonal Communications,” “English Composition,” “Introduction to Teaching,” and “Quantitative Reasoning.”

Building on the success of the last year and the promise of career-oriented education in the “128 Plan,” the college will continue offering its health care certification programs, including American Red Cross (CPR), Billing and Coding, EKG, Certified Nursing Assistant, Clinical Medical Assistant, and Phlebotomy.

Students who have completed these programs have been successful in attaining jobs in health care. Additional career certification programs are under development.

Opening this fall in the Core Educational Building. To support these new academic programs, Saint Joseph’s College is creating the Academic, Business and Mentoring Center.

A key component in a traditional liberal arts education is a community of learners interacting with those of similar interests. Through the ravages of COVID, much “community” has been lost in the classroom with the onset of virtual learning. The college’s goal is to keep community in the classroom in this growing online world.

To this end, the center will be available for students taking online and traditional classes, guided by tutors, and will interact with business mentors who will introduce them to the world of work — including possible internships with local businesses.

The center will provide computers as well as facilitators to help students navigate the classwork, interact with fellow students, and network with potential employers.

Looking to the future and responding to community needs, additional institutions will be invited to offer their programs on the Rensselaer campus. Saint Joseph College intends to offer state-of-the-art programs at affordable prices.

To this end, the University of Saint Thomas and Calumet College of Saint Joseph’s will offer their first courses for free. The ongoing tuition for these programs will be affordable. Scholarships will also be available moving forward.

What is happening at Saint Joseph’s College and Rensselaer is truly remarkable. Throughout its 130-year history, it had to adapt. A theme developed in 2017 was that the college would be like the Phoenix rising from the ashes. What’s going to happen this fall is a testament to the Phoenix beginning to rise.

Saint Joseph’s College looks forward to community support and partnership as we make this a state-of-the-art institution for the 21st century.

As an alum said on a recent visit to the college, “We realize that our SJC is gone but it is encouraging that a re-envisioned 21st century college will slowly emerge beginning with a few college-level classes this fall.”

William J. Carroll is executive director of Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Ind.

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