By Patrick McArdle
Jennifer Scott, the new president of College of St. Joseph, is optimistic about the small, independent college’s future, despite the difficulties reported earlier this year.
Trustees from the college said in April they were considering shutting it down due to financial difficulties. CSJ had lost money in an unsuccessful attempt to start a physician’s assistant program and had spent about 90 percent of its $5 million endowment.
In May, trustees voted 13-3 to keep the doors open.
“The concerns for CSJ have been primarily financial so there’s no question about the quality of our academics. That’s what we intend to focus on, to sort of recapture the community’s faith in what CSJ has to offer and to promote those programs,” Scott said Friday, shortly before a public event at which she would meet prospective students and their families.
Having arrived in Rutland about two weeks ago, Scott said she had an opportunity to get to know CSJ staff members and educators.
“I’ve been so impressed with their passion, with their excitement for their school, with their love for their school. I feel privileged to be in this position, to lead them forward on looking at ways that we can financially support the school,” she said.
Scott said the educators she has met are “certainly hopeful and ready to move forward.” She said CSJ is trying initiatives like rapid enrollment in July, a tuition reset and free laptop computers for incoming students.
“This is not the first time that an institution has struggled financially, and in my 26 years experience, I’ve seen institutions rebound with having the right people in the right places, having positive attitude, having prudent decision-making and having a collective effort to move forward. Things can be righted very quickly. I see that here. I don’t see that as being insurmountable. I think we have some important decisions to make. I think we have acknowledged, openly, the struggles that we have,” she said.
Scott said she hoped to help the college build relationships with students, their families and the Rutland community.
Despite the changes that may be coming to CSJ, Scott said the college would remain committed to having students perform community service in the Rutland area. She said CSJ would continue its outreach to students who might be the first in their family to attend college.
“My heart is in small schools because they offer so much to students with a close-knit environment. I know the role a college plays in a small community like Rutland. It’s not unlike the community I grew up in, in Ohio,” she said.
Scott said she grew up raising horses on an Ohio farm. She has a master’s degree and a doctorate in clinical psychology, a field in which she is also board-certified and licensed.
Working in higher education has allowed Scott to bring together her various skills and pursue a “passion for educating and building high-quality programs.”
“I’ve always coupled (clinical psychology and higher education) together because I think at my core, I am an educator. I’m a supervisor, I’m a mentor, and I’m an advocate, all of those things rolled into one,” she said.
Her experience has included teaching undergraduates and graduates, working for community colleges, private and public schools and faith-based institutions.
Scott said she has been involved with Vermont for 10 years because her previous employer, Union Institute and University, has a campus in Brattleboro.
With an extensive background in higher education, Scott said she was familiar with CSJ. “The biggest draw for me was that I wanted to help. … I learned that they were in trouble from my colleagues and friends that I have in the area, and I really just wanted to help,” she said.
Scott said she’s already been invited to meet with local groups such as the Rutland Young Professionals and the Rutland Economic Development Corp. She said she welcomes the invitations to meet Rutland County’s community leaders.
“I see my role as president here to get out there and meet those folks and remind them that we’re here, we’re open, we are excited about our future and to talk about the things that we offer and the things that we can connect with those folks about. How we can all move forward together,” she said.
Scott said she understands community members will have concerns about CSJ, but said she hopes they will ask their questions.
“We have a lot to offer here. It’s a great little school,” she said.