Another academic year has concluded, and on May 20th, the Explorer Class of 2018 launched into the world with great joy and celebration. I am convinced that our newest graduates will proceed to impact the world around them as they have impacted La Salle’s campus over the past four years.
As I imagine where their journeys will lead them, I cannot help but reflect upon the profound benefit they have received in spending their formative undergraduate years at a quality Catholic university, one further inspired by core Lasallian values of association, service rooted in solidarity and justice, a spirit of faith and zeal, and an abiding commitment to excellent education.
Sadly, we hear frequently about Catholic schools of all levels closing or consolidating: According to the National Catholic Education Association, over the past decade, the number of students in Catholic elementary or secondary schools has decreased by 19%, and 1,336 Catholic elementary and secondary schools were closed or consolidated. In higher education, on average, two Catholic colleges or universities close each year.
More will merge or consolidate. Data like these naturally raise questions about whether Catholic education has remained relevant, accessible and affordable, ably preparing students for lives of purpose.
I want to take this opportunity to put those questions to rest. Research by the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities (ACCU) provides compelling evidence that Catholic institutions of higher education offer multiple, measurable benefits to students, communities, the Church and the world around us.
Consider these enlightening facts from a recent presentation to our Board of Trustees by Michael Galligan-Stierle, Ph.D., President and CEO of ACCU:
Students attending Catholic colleges or universities:
- Volunteer or participate in community service at higher rates than any other higher education student body;
- Experience affordable access: 95 percent of full-time first- year students receive some form of financial aid, on average $18,950;
- Receive a more personalized education: the average student to faculty ratio for ACCU member colleges is 12:1 compared to the national average of 18:1;
- Earn higher post-graduation salaries ($45.8K) compared to the national average of all college graduates ($33.5K). Just last year, in a comprehensive study by The New York Times, the median income of La Salle graduates at age 34 was in the top 6 percent nationally—an indication our holistic, personalized education supports exceptional outcomes;
- Graduate with a median debt load of $25K, compared to the median student debt overall nationally of $35K. And they default at much lower levels on student loans: 5.5 percent, compared to private colleges (7.4%) or the national average (11.5 percent); and,
- Achieve graduation rates of 57 percent compared to the national average of 42 percent, and they graduate sooner: 44 percent graduate in four years as opposed to 25 percent for public institutions of higher
What’s more, ethics are included in classroom discussions at Catholic colleges at almost twice the rate of public universities, a topic that we know is critical to a graduate’s skill set as he or she leaves college for the world of work.
All of these factors help to shape graduates who are more ethically centered, attuned to social justice, and inclusive in their thoughts and actions. These are students who are simply better prepared for their careers and leadership roles. The ACCU study leaves no doubt that Catholic higher education remains highly relevant, playing a critical role in preparing students for their lives as contributing citizens, seekers of justice and builders of community.
As we look to the next academic year, I would like to extend my gratitude to the entire La Salle community—faculty, staff, trustees, alumni, and parents—for their generous support of time, talent and treasure. Because of those gifts, we are able to innovate and evolve with the goal of providing a continuously more robust student experience for tomorrow’s leaders.
I wish you and your families a blessed, restful and—in the true spirit of La Salle Explorers—adventuresome summer!
Colleen M. Hanycz, Ph.D.