Fairfield University announced that it’s exploring plans for a new academic unit that will offer an associate degree to students from nearby low-income, under-represented communities.  

This initiative will happen in partnership with the Diocese of Bridgeport, according to a press release published by the University. The new academic program is part of a larger initiative called the “Pathways to Higher Learning” and is “designed to serve as a platform for access to the University’s resources for the people of the Diocese and the greater Bridgeport community.” 

According to the press release, this launched on the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola on July 31 and encompasses “ongoing projects and joint initiatives to empower students through learning, mentoring and service opportunities.” 

Vice President of Marketing & Communication Jennifer Anderson gave comments on behalf of the University Administration to the Mirror. 

“Fairfield’s commitment to the 500-year-old tradition of Jesuit pedagogy — an emphasis on excellence in all things, care for the whole student and a broad-based liberal arts and sciences foundation is expected to be integral to the proposed curriculum and programming for this new [academic] unit,” Anderson said. 

She continued on to cite that the University’s “values-based, student-centric and outcomes-focused approach is dedicated to forming men and women for and with others” will be the foundation for the unit, “as it provides the foundation for all we do.” 

University President Mark Nemec, Ph.D sees this new initiative to represent “a major step toward increased educational access at a critical moment in our society.” 

Nemec also hopes to see this new program be “a pathway to a four-year degree and lifetime learning.” 

He continued to say, “We believe that Fairfield University can leverage its current position of strength to build on existing efforts and establish the University as a leader in educational access in our own community.”

Nemec said that this initiative is designed to improve upward mobility and career trajectory for students who are not currently served by Fairfield University and will expand upon the work headed up last year by the President’s Commission on Educational Access which was chaired by the former Dean of the School of Education and Human Development Robert D. Hannafin Ph.D. 

The President’s Commission on Educational Access last year explored ways to increase educational opportunities for first generation students, Pell-eligible students and students of color. 

Anderson stated that Fairfield aims to continue its efforts to serve as a beacon in the Jesuit, Catholic ecosystem. 

“The institution has elevated our commitment to access and affordability through the exploration of a new academic unit that could offer an associate degree to students from low-income families and under-represented communities as a significant example of this commitment,” she said. 

Aside from the new academic program, the University has ongoing programs within sixth through eighth grade nativity programs at St. Martin de Porres in New Haven, Conn., Brooklyn Jesuit Prep in Flatbush, N.Y. and St. Ignatius Preparatory in the Bronx, N.Y.. The recent partnership with the Diocese of Bridgeport helps the University to “further provide pathways and bridges to postsecondary education for all.” 

Anderson explained that, “…in addition to the consideration of a new academic unit, President Nemec also commissioned the Presidential Working Group on Diversity and Inclusive Excellence.” 

This group was composed of leaders across the institution “to lead the efforts in developing partnerships and recruitment initiatives from Nativity and Cristo Rey high schools, expanding our financial aid programs and enhancing our academic immersion programs.” 

In Nemec’s first Fairfield Friday address this academic year, he announced that the University offered over $100 million in aid, according to Anderson. 

“As the work on a potential new academic unit is just now moving from exploration to proposal development, further details of the unit’s operational structure are still to be determined,” Anderson said.

The Mirror will continue to update as the story develops.

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