Opening Remarks

Opening Remarks

While the tide of public perception has begun to shift back in favor of higher education, the impetus remains — as it should — on colleges and universities to demonstrate their societal value.

In recent years, critics argued that a college diploma wasn’t worth the investment. Cynics suggested that young people should bypass college and insert themselves directly into the workforce.

For some, that’s the correct path. For most, recent data paints a much different picture.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in its report from the second quarter of 2015, found that the median earnings for a full-time worker who held at least a bachelor’s degree were $532 per week higher than their peers who earned only a high school diploma. This comes on the heels of data showing that the unemployment rate for a high school diploma recipient is double (5.4 percent) that of someone possessing an undergraduate degree.

By 2020, almost two-thirds of American jobs will require some form of postsecondary education beyond high school. And three of the world’s fastest-growing occupations (STEM, healthcare professionals, and community services) require postsecondary schooling.

Make no mistake, education arms people with the skills to achieve success.

To improve the productivity of American workers, we need to create more coherent and effective education and workforce development systems, focusing (though not exclusively) on disadvantaged youth and adults. In our global, knowledge-based economy, competitive advantage comes from a talented and trained workforce. As President Obama noted, “Education is an economic issue when we know that countries that out-educate us today will outcompete us tomorrow.”

The solution to our economic challenges is not to underinvest in college. Rather, it’s to increase affordability and accessibility to education, a major focus of my presidency at Niagara University. It’s also to streamline college and university operations, and realign institutional priorities to complement the needs and objectives of our region, country, and the world.

Already wielding an annual economic impact of $227 million, Niagara University’s plan is to become even more intertwined with the longterm economic success of Western New York. We’ve constructed the B. Thomas Golisano Center for Integrated Sciences and reinstituted our nursing programs to support the growth of the health and life sciences in our region. Meanwhile, the Niagara Global Tourism Institute will help Niagara Falls fulfill its enormous promise as an international tourism destination.

The onus is on academic institutions to train young people in disciplines that meet the demands of firms and sectors that offer sustainable career paths. At Niagara University, this philosophy is evident in the establishment of new programs in nursing, STEM education, computer science, sport management, TESOL, and healthcare administration.

Does this mean that Niagara will abandon its longstanding tradition of preparing students in the liberal arts in favor of straight vocational training? Not by a long shot.

Niagara University has been — and always will be — an institution that values “STEAM” education, placing the arts at the core of the studies of science, technology, engineering, and math. Several recent studies have found that applied skills such as oral communication, critical thinking, creativity, and teamwork are at least as valuable to career success as technical training. After all, what CEO wouldn’t value an employee with creative, communicative, and problemsolving acumen?

As Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist David Leonhardt explained to our new graduates during his commencement address last May, “College forces you to complete an obstacle course of life. You have far more autonomy. You must make many more decisions. You have many more chances to fail. Once you do, you need to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and find another way to solve the problem in front of you. You need to rethink the problem and improvise.

“Learning how to complete such an obstacle course, gaining the confidence that you can complete one — sometimes brilliantly, sometimes just across the line — brings even more value than any book or any problem set does. When you think of college in these terms, when you think of it giving you a lifelong confidence, even if you fail along the way, you understand why college matters.”

When students matriculate through college, they come to understand the importance of passion and perseverance. In many ways, Niagara has utilized these same traits to emerge from these trying times for higher education stronger and more vibrant than ever.

By demonstrating our value to students and families, we have surpassed our goal for incoming freshman deposits. Our freshman-to-sophomore retention rate is at an all-time high. Graduate enrollment for the fall is trending significantly ahead of 2014. We are attracting more international students than ever before.

Niagara University is in the business of educating individuals for the betterment of society, framed by the service-oriented vision of St. Vincent de Paul. Like any business, we are beholden to our customers and stakeholders: you, our students, alumni, and friends.

We are laser-focused on providing you with the most efficient return on investment for your educational dollar. We absolutely cherish the blessing of creating successful futures for our students. That, Niagarans, is a responsibility we value immensely.

Should you have ideas on how we can further enhance the value of a Niagara University degree, please feel free to contact me at president@niagara.edu.