Xavier and Mercy Halls

Introduction: The Transformation of Saint Joseph’s College of Maine

Starting in the Spring of 2021, Saint Joseph’s College of Maine began a multi-year process of transformation from a “liberal arts plus” college into a focused learning center dedicated to growing leaders for sustainable communities. This transformation will go far beyond a rhetorical shift. It will redefine our promise and reorient our programs, all while recommitting our community to the mission and values on which SJC was founded. Our transformative goals and initiatives are captured in our refreshed strategic plan, Sustaining the Promise: 2021-2026.

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Why We Must Transform

Like many colleges, SJC’s recent operations have been shaped by austerity – a natural response to declining enrollments, the looming demographic cliff, and now the COVID-19 pandemic. Putting us on a path first to survival and then to success means turning around our financial outlook using four key metrics: market durability, cash flow, wealth, and liquidity. Positioning us to improve on each of these will allow us to offer competitive compensation, fund program renewal and strategic initiatives, update our infrastructure, and grow our reserves to manage operating expenses.

The post-Covid world will accelerate already rapidly shifting market dynamics in higher education. Students of all ages will expect customized learning on their terms, when and where they choose, using diverse and dynamic platforms, enriched by purpose, and hyper-focused on career paths, all while banking on a meaningful and rewarding life.

SJC’s new brand story promises that we are the place where community grows. Our transformation will uphold that promise, creating a distinct and focused environment that grows true community leaders in the Mercy tradition. SJC is also proud to be a learner-centered environment – a promise to shepherd each student’s investment in a better opportunity. As we transform, the definition of learner-centered must expand, providing continual support throughout our lifelong learners’ lives.

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How We Will Transform

How will we become a focused learning center dedicated to growing leaders for sustainable communities? This transformation will unify and focus our academic offerings, but it will also shape the entire institution. Each facet of the College must work collaboratively to support our forward progress: campus and online learning, recruitment, the student experience, advancement, mission-aligned businesses and events, athletics, technology, employment, mission integration, community engagement, marketing, infrastructure, and more.

1. Leadership

SJC prepares learners to imagine – and then shape – their careers, their lives, and their world in service to others. They carry the legacy of Catherine McAuley and her pioneering spirit of service.

2. Sustainable

Defined more broadly than an environmental ethos, we use sustainability to mean our stewardship of knowledge and resources that envisions a world of equitable and just communities, where each member and our planet can flourish.

3. Communities

We define communities as the “integral ecology” of people serving and supporting each other in myriad ways, with the intention of creating a more compassionate world.

The core of our transformation will occur within our academic program, differentiating us from our competitors in both content and form. We will weave the bright thread of Leadership for Sustainable Communities across all disciplines, orienting our most valuable (and valued) programs to address the dominant challenge of today’s world – the erosion of community. This focused identity will also form the basis for new undergraduate degree and certificate programs, graduate degree and certificate programs, non-degree educational offerings of varying lengths and levels of complexity. Secondary programs, including certificates, workforce development, summer camps, and academic enrichment will also adhere to this identity to generate ancillary revenue streams.

Developing tomorrow’s leaders requires meeting our prospective learners where they are now. While SJC’s campus and online programs currently exist in two separate spheres, adapting to the pandemic has elevated hybrid learning and work as a new norm with powerful benefits. Chief among these are greater personalization and more immersive learning experiences – two features that today’s learners expect. Classroom, online, experiential, professional, synchronous, asynchronous – we use all these modalities, which can now be mixed and matched according to each student’s goals. Additionally, our residence halls and campus services can serve multiple purposes for different kinds of learners at different moments, creating flexible new roles for our existing infrastructure. Our transformation will take stock of our unique capabilities to provide a more targeted, personalized, and even accelerated learning experience.

People are living longer, exploring more career options over their lifetimes, and seeking out new knowledge, skills and pathways to sustain them long after the traditional college experience. Anchored by our continued push via the Institute for Integrative Aging to create a true multi-generational campus community, we must continue to build wraparound and professional services for all of our “long-life learners” – from early childhood to the golden years – into multiple aspects of SJC’s work. Bespoke training and certificate programs. Ongoing Career Studio coaching. Camps and childcare. Enhanced Alfond Center programming. Online Student Support for every type of student. Lifelong mental health services. SJC will transform our amenities to be available when our community needs them, and whenever they might need them again.

Partnership is a hallmark of successful communities, and should be at the core of how SJC achieves its mission. We will be implementing closer partnerships as part of this transformation, connecting us to important external stakeholders to help both our learners and the College become leaders for sustainable communities. Academic and service departments will build stronger service, workforce and other experiential partnerships into their program design, creating clearer career pathways for the leaders we train. Simultaneously, College leaders will take advantage of new affiliations that help us improve our systems, work more efficiently, recruit international students, increase retention, and boost our data-driven marketing and customer experience.

Technology has been a driving force at SJC since we pioneered online learning. Now the expectations of students raised on personalized digital learning paths demand that we advance it even further. We will renew the content of our online offerings around the Leadership for Sustainable Communities theme as we renew the user experience that delivers them. We can reduce waste in our data systems by doing more with less – deploying Salesforce to track engagement across departments and throughout the life of the members of our community. Our physical infrastructure will continue to be improved as well, to accommodate hybrid learning environments and new community spaces. And we will continue to invest in new platforms that promise to exceed student expectations, enhance our instruction, and serve the life of our community in responsive and productive ways.