Cover Story

Pathways to Success

The ROI of a La Salle degree Earned National Recognition. Students and alumni share their transformational experiences.

Alessandro Maldonado, ’21

Alessandro Maldonado

On any given day, Alessandro Maldonado’s, schedule is shifting. He might be logging hours in a co-op, or interning with an accounting firm in Center City Philadelphia. He might be attending alumni events as a Student Ambassador, taking notes in a Founders’ Hall classroom, or helping fellow students chart their futures as an advisor in the Career Center.

Speaking of the future, it’s a topic Maldonado likes discussing.

“I like to get involved and prepare for the next stage of my life,” said Maldonado,
a junior at La Salle University studying accounting. “I focus on the present moment, but I choose not to get caught up in it. I’m always looking ahead, thinking about what’s next.”
A first-generation college student from Northeast Philadelphia, Maldonado is making the most of his time at La Salle. The Honors Programs student would prefer to be short on free time now, rather than short on career opportunities after graduation. The latter, he said, isn’t a prospect for which he is preparing.

“I’m proud that I chose La Salle,” he said. “This university shapes young people, helps them get out of their comfort zone, and is forming me into someone who is intellectually curious and ready for the next steps.”

Third-party research confirms Maldonado’s assessment of La Salle. In November, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) published an extensive study in which it analyzed data from 4,500 colleges and universities across the nation, regardless of their size, scope, geographic location, and programmatic offerings.

Georgetown’s study found the return on investment of a La Salle degree to be among the strongest in the nation, with a value that continues to appreciate for the next several decades. In particular, the University ranked among the top-4 percent in the nation in 10-year earnings; top-10 percent for lowest debt incurred by its students; and top-14 percent in net price rank, which accounts for all costs associated with attending La Salle.

La Salle placed in the top-14 percent nationally in what Georgetown’s CEW study called seven-year repayment. This metric accounts for the share of borrowers who have repaid at least one dollar of principal in their first seven years after graduation, meaning the earnings of La Salle graduates are sufficient to cover their debt payments.

“It’s widely understood that college is a long-term investment, and what we see from the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce is validation of the strong return on investment of a La Salle degree,” said

La Salle University President Colleen Hanycz, Ph.D. “This study demonstrates that our ROI is among the most competitive in the nation. The average earnings of our alumni are competitively high and the level of debt taken on by our graduates ranks among the lowest nationally.”

Georgetown’s CEW published its findings amid an increasing desire by today’s college-age students to bypass college and launch their careers. The rationale, according to research hubs like Georgetown’s CEW, is reasonable. The cost to attend a four-year university has never been higher. Similarly, national student loan debt has eclipsed $1.6 trillion—the highest in U.S. history.

But data from the CEW and other sources highlight the value of a college degree on lifetime earning potential. Another recent CEW study found that students who earn a bachelor’s degree earn 31 percent more than their peers who hold an associate’s degree, and 84 percent more than those with a high school diploma. A bachelor’s degree is worth, on average, $2.8 million over a lifetime, the study concluded.

Locally, data published last year by Business Insider revealed Pennsylvanians with at least a bachelor’s degree will make 81 percent more than those with no college degree. In Delaware, that figure leaps to 88 percent. In New Jersey, it’s 100 percent. Up and down the Mid-Atlantic and New England regions, those percentages hover between 75 and 125 percent.

“Whether here in Philadelphia or across the country,” Hanycz said, “La Salle presents one of the strongest value propositions in higher education.”

Maldonado is a current student whose transformational experiences at La Salle are creating a pathway toward future success. He isn’t an outlier.


Judy Spires, ’75, MBA ’09

Judy SpiresThe middle child of five, Judy Spires said she “never wanted for anything.”

“I had parents who valued their children above themselves,” Spires said.

She was born in Cherry Hill, N.J., to a truck-driving father and a stay-at-home mother. Every step of Spires’ maturation, she said, was marked by her parents’ selflessness and emphasis on education. It was not uncommon for her father, Bill, to pick up overtime shifts weekly, or for her mother, Madeleine, to prepare pancakes for family dinners multiple times toward the end of each month.

“My parents worked hard and sacrificed to get their children where we are today,” said Spires, a La Salle University Trustee. “We stretched every dollar. Waste not, want not—right?”

Her father’s career with Acme Markets helped Spires land a job as a cashier. At 17 years old, she started picking up shifts and stashing money for college. While she would eventually earn a bachelor’s degree in special education, Spires could not shake her passion for the food and beverage industry.

She craved a career in management.

“I didn’t see any bosses in the business who looked like me, but I wanted to be there,” Spires said. “I knew I was destined for it.”

So she kept working, climbing the ladder, moving from department to department—and taking with her the skills she had plied at La Salle. She interviewed with Acme’s human resources department, becoming the first woman accepted into the company’s management program. She managed stores for 11 years before becoming vice president of sales and marketing

“The liberal arts education and the Lasallian values instilled in us a strong civic and spiritual responsibility to ourselves and to others,” she said. “It taught us to think, question, and problem-solve. My upbringing and work ethic, which I got from my parents, along with those skills from La Salle put me on a path to success.”

The promotions followed. She was vice president of administration, vice president of operations, vice president of marketing and merchandising, and president of two regional sectors of Acme Market’s national operations—in the Rocky Mountain and Dallas/Fort Worth divisions. Through mergers and acquisitions, Acme became Albertson’s. And Spires later became president of the company.

Today, she is chief executive officer and chairperson of KB Holdings, a Delaware- based firm that owns Kings Super Markets and Balducci’s Markets. She credits her La Salle education for helping her reach her potential. “You go from one family to another when you arrive on that campus,” she said. “It embraces you, celebrates you, and prepares you.”

As for her biological family, Spires said she constantly reflects on her father’s advice.

“I’ll never forget telling my dad at 22 years old, ‘I’m not going to use my teaching degree. I’m going to work for Acme.’ And you know what two things he said to me? ‘Judy, you can be anything you want to be, and as long as you work in the grocery business, you’ll always be employed because people always have to eat,’” said Spires, who later earned her MBA from La Salle.

Her father died before Spires had reached her professional pinnacle.

“That’s OK. He didn’t need to live to see it because I know he sees it today,” Spires said.

Harry Chugani, M.D., ’72

Harry ChuganiBorn in Hong Kong, the fourth of six children, Harry Chugani’s introduction to Lasallian education began as a teenager. He attended a high school run by the Brothers of the Christian Schools. His academic performance at this highly ranked school led Chugani to begin thinking about a future as a doctor.

His pathway was littered with obstacles.

Chugani was 11 years old when he lost his father, a business owner. The sudden death left Chugani’s mother to raise a half-dozen children and operate three stores. Without a formal business education, his mother floundered. Rampant dishonesty by their employees left Chugani’s family with nothing. His three oldest siblings went to work to support the family.

“We weren’t in a position to think about college for me,” Chugani said, “but my mother, she scrounged enough money from friends and relatives to help me pay for my first year.”

Chugani’s experience at a Lasallian secondary school led him to apply to
La Salle University—the only U.S. university to which he applied. He enrolled in 10 courses that first year, and earned an A in each course. Despite his academic successes, his future at La Salle faced uncertainty.

He set a campus meeting with Br. Daniel Burke, FSC, Ph.D., La Salle’s President during that time.

“I explained my situation and he awarded me a Presidential Scholarship,” Chugani said. “I can’t imagine where I would be today without that.”

Even still, the scholarship covered only tuition and required Chugani to maintain at least a B average. To support his remaining expenses like books, room and board, and summer courses, Chugani went to work. He would attend classes by day and earn a living at night. He accepted a position as an orderly at the former Germantown Hospital. He cleaned messes in the hallway, made beds, emptied bedpans, and changed oxygen tanks in patients’ rooms. Later, he became a laboratory technician tasked with running complete blood count tests—“basic clinical chemistry,” he said—in the middle of the night.

“It was the dirty work. Somebody had to do it,” Chugani said. “I needed to make enough to continue my education and this was the way to do it. Everyone has
to start at the bottom. This was my start.”

With limited financial means during his undergraduate years, Chugani worked nights and weekends, and picked up as many hours as he could. He leaned upon the generosity and hospitality of his family at La Salle. Classmates routinely invited him to join their families for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

“I met so many kind people (at La Salle),” he said. “It was a life-changing experience.”

After studying pre-med at La Salle and graduating in 1972, Chugani pursued his medical degree at Georgetown University before entering a career in pediatric neurology.

He practiced neurology, researched, and taught at UCLA from 1981-1993, achieving accelerated tenure in 1988. Then, he was recruited to a leadership position at Wayne State University
in Detroit and Children’s Hospital of Michigan, where he served as chief of the pediatric neurology division and director of the Positron Imaging Center. He referred to his time with Children’s Hospital of Michigan as the height of his career. He and his team studied brain development and brain plasticity, earning nine National Institute of Health research grants and an invitation to the White House on behalf of then- President Clinton.

“Here I was, a poor kid from Hong Kong and I end up at the White House,” he said.

Today, Chugani is approaching retirement. He recently accepted a position as a research professor in New York University’s department of neurology, where he balances clinical practice with research activity. He is part of a robust educational network at NYU that features two medical schools and more than 200 neurologists. “It’s a wonderful place to work,” he said of New York City.

Chugani has neither forgotten his roots, nor La Salle’s role in accelerating his career. He recently established the Chugani Family Scholarship to support students pursuing degrees in the sciences.

“I wanted to give back to a place that means very much to me,” he said. “I’ve been giving for more than 20 years. However, the present commitment is to build a scholarship to $100,000 and support as many students as possible. I’ll continue to build on this and nurture it. La Salle will always be special to me.”

Dajah Canada, ’21

Dajah CanadaA native of Philadelphia’s Hunting Park section, Dajah Canada routinely drove past La Salle’s campus during her youth, on her way to visits with her grandmother. How many times had she crossed over 20th Street and Olney Avenue?

“Too many times to count, probably, to be honest,” she said.

When it came to deciding on where she would pursue a college degree, Canada knew she desired a Philadelphia university. But which one? She first honed in on institutions with AACSB- accredited business schools. From there, she focused on the campus experience and possible professional outcomes.

The oldest of five children, Canada’s family home is “only a subway ride away,” she said. The junior accounting major has made La Salle her new home, where she participates in the Business Fellows program, engages with the campus chapter of the National Association
of Black Accountants, and builds a professional network that has led to two internships.

“This place has been a blessing,” Canada said. “It’s always felt like a home away from home.”

Just last year, she also traveled with classmates to Chile for her first trip out of the country. Canada and her fellow business students analyzed local businesses and the level of their commitment to sustainability and recycling.

The recent findings from Georgetown’s CEW study provided little surprise for Canada.

“This university challenges you. It prepares you. It allows you to be yourself,” she said. “That’s what La Salle is to me, and what it’s instilled in me. My La Salle experience has prepared me for what’s ahead. My internships are helping, too, with the soft skills that you can’t get perfect until you’re in the workforce. I’m ready. I have La Salle to thank for that.”