Fairfield University’s Class of 2026 is often regarded as the “largest applicant pool on record” and the “biggest and academically strongest” group of students since the University’s founding in 1942. However, this class of first-year students is also making history by hosting the first-ever group of Company Scholars; a selective group of fifteen students from different ethnic and racial backgrounds that receive full financial need support as undergraduate students.
The groups of scholars, who have been staying on campus since early August as part of the Academic Immersion program, are also given one-on-one mentorship support by a faculty or staff member, leadership, study abroad and community engagement opportunities.
Although the idea of free tuition and room and board was supposed to attract more underrepresented students to apply to Fairfield University and increase the low student diversity numbers, for most of the current Company Scholars, Fairfield was already part of their college application list. Nonetheless, it was not until they received invitations from the Office of Undergraduate Admissions to apply for the scholarship that they started to think more seriously of the University as a realistic option for their education.
“I didn’t remember applying to this school,” said Blessed Barrios, a Black student from Illinois, when asked about her application process. “It was based on the opportunity (referring to the scholarship) because it’s a full ride. They’ll be paying for my flight and more.”
To others, the benefits of the program encompass more than financial freedom and peace of mind.
In the case of Stephanie Suarez, a Hispanic student from Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, Ill., the mentorship aspect of the scholarship has been fundamental in her transition from high school to a university far from home.
“Having my mentor has been so great. I feel like I can go to her for anything. She also happens to be the Associate Dean of Students, so she’s been such a huge help,” Suarez stated.
They both agree that part of the program’s success, for now, has been creating a “sense of community within the larger community,” which allowed them to start the college experience with a group of friends that relate to their identity and needs.
A lack of diversity remains a concern for prospective minority students.
For Suarez, the lack of diversity at Fairfield University was “for sure” a serious concern during her application process. Because of this, she felt uneasy about attending Fairfield, but the notion of having a diverse cohort of scholars influenced her commitment to be part of the new program.
Tayana Jones, a student of color majoring in Biochemistry from Cristo Rey Philadelphia High School, stated that the lack of student diversity on campus was something she paid attention to, but did not affect her decision to apply.
“So it definitely was a concern but it was not surprising at all since I know most of the larger colleges are PWI’s [predominantly white institutions], so I did know that I had to face that at some point,” said Jones while discussing race and diversity as a factor during her admissions process at Fairfield. “But when I did look at the specific statistics of Fairfield, I was much more surprised since they were increasingly higher than the rest of the schools I applied to.”
According to the latest available data from the University, only 13% of the current undergraduate population identifies as students of color, while 12% of the Class of 2026 shares the same identity.
“As a university, we want to continue to invest in our students, as well as diversify our population, and this new program is just one of many initiatives we are committed to upholding,” said Corry Unis, Vice President of Enrollment Management when introducing the scholarship program to the community in September 2021.