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Jesuit Higher Learning in the 21st Century

An education deeply rooted in faith and intellectual rigor
University Business, February 2018

Jesuit education in America has a distinguished history that is deeply rooted in faith and intellectual rigor. Today, according to the Association of Jesuit Colleges & Universities, the 28 American Jesuit institutions educate their students within the Ignatian heritage of Jesuit education “in a way that seeks God in all things, promotes discernment, and engages the world through a careful analysis of context, in dialogue with experience, evaluated through reflection, for the sake of action, and with openness, always, to evaluation.”  

Our journey of Jesuit higher learning starts at Fairfield University in Connecticut. Founded in 1942, Fairfield has a student enrollment of approximately 5,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Within the context of Jesuit higher education in America dating back to Georgetown University in 1789, Fairfield is a relatively young institution.  

That said, Fairfield’s new leadership believes that the University’s best days are still ahead. By way of illustrative example, the Fairfield campus involves a vibrant residential experience paired with a strong institutional emphasis on its core curriculum – focused on nurturing “the formation of the undergraduate student as a thinking and caring citizen of the world of today.”  

From an outcomes perspective, Fairfield can take considerable pride in a 90% first to second year retention rate, a 97% career placement rate, rating by SmartAsset as a Top 10 School in Connecticut for Highest Starting Salaries of Graduates, ranking by Princeton Review as #6 Best Quality of Life and #13 Happiest Students, and rating by USA Today as a Top 10 Best Roman Catholic College.

Beyond outcomes and rankings, Fairfield is located approximately 50 miles from New York City, 150 miles from Philadelphia, and 160 miles from Boston. Thus, students are provided with countless cultural and professional opportunities while primarily residing in a charming, small-town New England Community.      

Uniquely, Fairfield’s 9th President and first lay leader, Dr. Mark Nemec, is somewhat of a nontraditional president, who brings with him a combination of Jesuit knowledge, impressive academic credentials, and relevant business acumen. Dr. Nemec’s education is rooted in Jesuit teaching and learning having attended Loyola High School in Los Angeles, a B.A. in English from Yale, and an M.A. in Education and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan. Dr. Nemec most recently served as the Dean of the University of Chicago’s Graham School of Continuing Liberal and Professional Studies, President of Eduventures, and a member of the Forrester Research executive team. This combination of knowledge, education, and experience enables Dr. Nemec to shepherd the University well into the coming decades. Dr. Nemec shared this reflection:  

“As the institutional leader, I’m part of a broader leadership team and community, and my style of leadership is that we, as a team, will continue to embody and be mindful of our Jesuit traditions and our Jesuit roots and foundation. We’ll have to be mindful and intentional about how we remain faithful to those traditions, and of course continue to work in collaboration with the Society of Jesus. As someone who benefited from a Jesuit education…I have…good thoughts on how one might lead a Jesuit institution so that it is a model with a broader impact on higher education.”

Our next stop on the journey brings us to Creighton University in Nebraska. Founded in 1878, Creighton began with 120 students and now has a student enrollment of over 8,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. While sharing the same guiding Jesuit philosophy as Fairfield, Creighton has advanced graduate, professional, and online educational pathways that have provided the University with the potential opportunity to continuously evolve as a contemporary Jesuit institution.  

The last stop on the journey brings us to Santa Clara University in California. Established in 1851, Santa Clara has a current student enrollment of over 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students. With the same guiding Jesuit philosophy as both Fairfield and Creighton, the location of Santa Clara provides this University with a direct connection to Silicon Valley.  

As Jesuit colleges and universities in America stay true to educating their students within the Ignatian heritage of Jesuit education, these institutions are evolving into contemporary Jesuit institutions, which are here to stay. With forward looking Jesuit colleges and universities like Fairfield, Creighton, and Santa Clara, the future looks bright for the sustainable growth and continued development of America’s premier Jesuit institutions of higher learning.  

James Martin and James E. Samels are authors of Consolidating Colleges and Merging Universities (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017). Martin is a professor of English at Mount Ida College (Mass.) and Samels is president and CEO of The Education Alliance. Michael Healy, post-doctoral research fellow at The Education Alliance, contributed to this article.

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