St. John Fisher College
St. John Fisher College (visited 10/20/15)
Fisher, nicknamed the College on the Hill, is a much newer university than I realized. They opened with 110 students in 1951 to give an education to local Catholic boys, often from immigrant families. Now, they’re coed and have 2600 full-time undergrads and still hold the ideal of providing college access to generally underrepresented students. About 1/3 of their students are first-gen (their First-Gen scholarship provides support for up to 24 students) and 1/3 receive Pell Grants. 30-35 HEOP students enter each year with a 92% graduation rate.
St. John Fisher was the Bishop of Rochester, England and the Chancellor at Cambridge. He was martyred when he was executed for refusing to accept King Henry VIII as the leader of the Church of England. SJFC broke away from the Catholic Church in the early ‘70s but retained their core beliefs – “Teach me discipline, wisdom, and knowledge” – but nothing is forced. Religious classes are offered but not required.
The student who ate breakfast with us said: “I’m pretty happy with the diversity. There’s a lot of religious diversity and I’ve seen a growth in the number of African-Americans since I’ve been here. I knew them all when I was a freshman, but I think the college saw that this was a problem and they’re working to recruit more people of color.”
People are committed to the success of the students. People take care of each other and help each other out. In 2015, they received the Presidents Higher Education Community Service award for the 9th year in a row. The Service Scholars program provides 50% tuition scholarships; these students commit to 130 hours of service the first year and 200 hours every other year. We spoke to a student in this program; she’s currently doing Service Learning at the Galway Autism Program.
Fisher combines the Liberal Arts (college of A&S) with professional training (Education, Business, Nursing, and Pharmacy). Even the academic buildings are connected (except for 2): when the floor changes, you know you’re in another building. Students in the 2+4 Pharm program are assured an interview and are put into seminars for prep work. Media Studies provides training in new medias but also teaches older ones and how they inform the new. Nursing saves spots for the declared majors. Students who change majors and transfer students compete for the remaining spots. The Education Department is 1 of only 3 NYS schools with a teaching simulation lab.
They’re clearly doing something right: the faculty get rave reviews from students (5 have received a Fulbright), and their alumni have met with a lot of success. Alumni include Ed Stack (Chairman and CEO of Dick’s Sporting Goods) and Martin Mucci (founder and CEO of Paychex). A junior we spoke to was surprised by the alumni connections. About 70% live within 100 miles so it’s easy to get in contact with them, shadow them, get internships, etc. The new President is committed to “creating a transformative educational experience for the students;” he particularly wants to grow the study abroad program (only 10% of students currently go abroad.
This is still very much a regional school (many students are from 100 miles) but they’re working on changing this. Only about 10% of their 550 freshmen commute, but only about 55% of all students live on campus. They do bring in a lot of transfer students who usually commute. Freshmen are not allowed to have cars on campus. They get free bus tokens for the RTS (city) buses which run through campus every hour; 1 token lasts all day. Campus shuttles run about every 5 minutes, and there are even shuttles to Wegmans (the iconic supermarket that has its roots nearby).
None of the students we spoke to ever had a class larger than 25; the smallest classes were almost all in the single-digits. Students had great things to say about the Honors Program: our tour guide is in this; she’s mentoring freshmen and doing research on mentoring in academia.
Fisher provides freshmen with a core group of advisors who also teach the Freshmen Seminar classes. They meet with these advisors before they’re moved off to an academic advisor. Additionally, Learning Communities helped them adapt better and it enriched their experience right off the bat. One student said: “It taught me a lot about my interests. I took Americans Abroad, and we went to Quebec.” Another said, “It answered any and all questions. It’s really helpful.”
Sports are strong here both in terms of involvement on the teams and in drawing a fan base, particularly the football team (and the college has hosted the Buffalo Bills training camp). They have about 800 athletes, 80 of whom play for 2 or 3 seasons in one (or more) of the 23 DIII sports. Teams have made it to the quarterfinals twice in the last 3 years. Crew has tanks in the boathouse for year-round training. Athletes’ overall GPA is higher than the campus average, and retention tends to be 3-4% higher (86% vs about 82%).
Dining services get rave reviews and even won the “2014 Best of Rochester” in the Food Service Category. They have a Stir Fry station that our tour guide made a point of showing to us: “Where else can you have shrimp, steak, and lobster every day? Also, the dining staff knows you. The woman checking us in can tell when we’re not having a good day.”
A couple of students’ favorite traditions include:
- Every other Thursday, a different food truck pulls up. The first 100 students eat for free! The Dining hall is good, but it’s nice to have the variety.
- Courage Bowl, an annual event that benefits Camp Good Days and Special Times. They bring in campers to be honorary cheerleaders and coaches.