University of Saint Joseph President Dr. Rhona Free announced Wednesday afternoon that the Board of Trustees has unanimously approved a plan to admit men as full-time undergraduate students on its West Hartford campus beginning in the fall of 2018.
By Ronni Newton
The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) will undergo a transformation in its mission with the announcement June 14 that the Board of Trustees had just unanimously approved a plan to admit men to all of the university’s undergraduate programs.
Men will be admitted as full-time undergraduate students on the West Hartford campus beginning in the fall of 2018, according to a plan that had been developed after months of research and analysis.
“It’s very exciting. We look forwarding to implementing plans to bring in male students for the fall of 2018,” USH President Rhona Free, Ph.D., said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
Free said the decision would “reaffirm our commitment of educational excellence to our undergraduate women students, reinforce our culture of openness, diversity, and inclusion established by our Sisters of Mercy founders, and continue our mission of responding to the needs and interests of today’s students.”
The University of Saint Joseph was founded by the the Sisters of Mercy in 1932. Men have been a part of the USJ student body as graduate student for decades, Free said, but opening up the campus to men on a full time basis will allow for more opportunity for all students.
The plan is to add 50 male students in the fall of 2018. The current undergraduate student body is approximately 775, Free said, and ideally the university would like to grow that to 900.
Initial plans to recruit males students will include a focus on student athletes. Free said that the existing cross country and swimming and diving coaches look forward to expanding their teams to include men, and USJ will move to hire coaches right away to establish men’s basketball and soccer programs to compete at the Division III level.
“We will be recruiting immediately. We hope to get students locally as well as from far away,” Free said. The recruiting plan extends not only to male student-athletes, but to those interested in the academic programs the university provides.
“We anticipate this will create more opportunity, more programs, new majors, including study abroad,” Free said. Not only will including men add to the diversity of the student body, but the administration anticipates that it will greatly increase the pool of women who will consider attending USJ.
USJ began reviewing plans to become co-ed in November 2016. This is the third time that the university has considered the change, Board of Trustees Chair E. Clayton “Skip” Gengras Jr. said, although not to this extent. “This was a wonderfully run operation with regard to due diligence.”
Before making the decision, 12 task force groups studied the impact the change would have on mission integration, academic programs and consortia, athletics, student life, and academic and administrative support.
“The data we received and analyzed during the last eight months was conclusive: by opening the admission process to all academically qualified students we would have significant opportunities to expand our undergraduate programs and increase the diversity of academic thought in the classrooms, while also providing a catalyst for a more active campus life,” Free said in a statement. “Studies show that less than one percent of full-time female college students today attend a women’s college and only two percent of female high school seniors say they would consider attending a women’s college. Admitting men will open our doors to 98 percent more women who would otherwise not even consider our high quality, distinctive educational experience here at USJ.
“There is great enthusiasm among Board members,” Free said during the press conference. The decision is very much consistent with USJ’s mission, she said, a mission which “is elastic and certainly to envelop and welcome a broad range of students.”
Gengras said that the decision to make the historic change in USJ’s undergraduate enrollment “followed a thoughtful and inclusive process based on a lengthy accumulation of data, followed by a detail-oriented process of overview and discussion.”
Free said that there are no current plans to build any new dormitories and that the campus has capacity for more students. Decisions will be forthcoming about how to structure living situations.
“We’ll be talking to our students to see what they say is the best way to accommodate men in residence halls,” Free said. “We know that we will continue to have an all-women living-learning community, so we will have a residence hall that’s all for women.”
Empowering women “is going to be a key emphasis for us,” Free said. That will continue with men on campus with small class sizes and ensuring that “faculty understand that women’s voices need to be keyed on in classes.” She doesn’t anticipate there will be a loss in women’s empowerment.
USJ student Morgan McDonald of East Hartford is a rising sophomore. “I definitely think it was in the best interest of the future of the school,” McDonald said of the decision to admit male undergraduates.
She said it will be a bit different, but she’s really excited. It will bring a more diverse student population to the university, McDonald said.
McDonald chose USJ for its accredited program in nutrition, because it is one of the few schools in Connecticut with a pathway to become a registered dietitian. “The all girls school did not factor into the decision but I ended up loving it more than I thought I would,” she said.
“I think it would be cool to keep some aspect of it but I’m really open to whatever change may come in the future,” McDonald said.
“Education is a very difficult business and this broadens what we have to offer to many more people,” Gengras said.
“Right now we have all the financial resources that we need. We know right now is a good time to make this decision,” Free said.
The decision was not made on a purely financial basis, Gengras said, noting that USJ has had two years in a row of surpluses. “This is opportunity. This is opportunity chance for us as a university to grow and this is an opportunity for the community to see the type of education that we afford,” Gengras said.
Gengras and Free admitted that this is the end of an era. USJ was the last all-women’s Catholic college in New England.
“But we will still be a Catholic college that has a strong focus on women. I don’t really thing that there’s a loss of opportunity for women. It’s just that we are opening the doors to a broader population,” Free said.
“The determination of the Founding Sisters to provide higher education for women will continue with this decision to become fully coeducational,” said Patricia J. Rooney, RSM, secretary of the University of Saint Joseph Board of Trustees in a statement. “As a University, we will continue all efforts on and off campus to ensure that the Catholic tradition and original mission remain central to the identity of USJ.”
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