Dr Prisco's State of the University Address

State of the University Address - Spring 2023

On Wednesday, March 1, 2023, Anne Prisco, Ph.D., President of Holy Family University, presented a State of the University Address to the Holy Family University community. Below is a transcript of the address. View the State of the University slide deck.

Good afternoon! It’s wonderful to see so many of you here today for my inaugural State of the University to the Holy Family community.

Thank you for returning for a second try at this. I hope you enjoyed last week’s luncheon and spending time with our Trustees.

As a society, we have experienced so much tragedy – from violence and crime, to war, and natural disasters. Our hearts go out to all those affected in our region and across the globe, and we pray for peace.

Last spring, Pope Francis spoke on the idea of “rediscover[ing] the value of the family as the source and origin of the social order, as the vital cell of a fraternal society capable of caring for the common home.”

He went on to note that, “The family humanizes people through the relationship of 'we' and at the same time promotes each person's legitimate differences.”

When I think of the value of family, which has been at the core of Holy Family’s mission since its inception, Pope Francis’ words assure us that we are on the right track when it comes to the progress we’ve made, as well as the work that lies ahead. And that leads me to the concept of Cathonomics.

Renowned economist Jeffrey Sach’s work on Cathonomics postulates that economic and political objectives should be informed by Catholic social teaching.  Pope Francis animates this concept by noting that these objectives, “must be sustained by ethical objectives, which presuppose a change of attitude: what the Bible would call a change of heart.”

–Pope Francis, March 8, 2019

Predicated on this and as a reminder of who we are as a mission-based university, my goal today is to share with you some of the important progress we’ve made, as well as our plans for the future.

In a global economy, through a national lens, and at the local level, the social fabric of society is being tested as we emerge from the pandemic.

We see this in issues of safety, mental health, and content on social media.

People are questioning the value of a college education–and yet, higher education has never been more important and exciting as we introduce new ways of teaching and learning, and new programs and pedagogies.

The University is in its second year of a five-year strategic plan, and during this brief span, we have launched a number of transformational initiatives—projects we have been able to achieve based on a collective desire to uplift and uphold Holy Family’s deep-rooted tradition of serving the community.

As with any strategic plan, it is actualized in a manner that best serves the evolving needs of our students. So, I begin with the vision. 

The Vision

For Holy Family, the vision begins right here in the neighborhood – just where it began when the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth created Holy Family College as a means of providing access to educational excellence for the local community. 

Having served as president for 18 months, the thread that ties our accomplishments together has been elevating and innovating our programs by taking a data-informed approach to short- and long-term growth and development.

Understanding the economics and demographics of the students we serve – the majority of whom live and work within a 50-mile radius of our campus – means taking knowledge of today’s job market and shaping academic programs that will best equip our students to succeed in productive and meaningful careers.

We know that the current state of higher education has been in flux even in a pre-pandemic world. Students and their families need to see a definitive return on their investment. 

Today’s students tell us that past models just aren’t working. They need flexibility when it comes to modality of instruction, balancing school and work, and expectations about resources – from mental health, to academic support. 

The needs of commuters and residents alike continue to evolve, and we are grateful to our Student Life, Residence Life, Counseling Services, and Advising teams for all of their good work and care on behalf of our students. 

As one of 14 schools in Philadelphia, Holy Family has been singularly focused on developing programs and services for students in Philadelphia and Bucks County that reinforce the value of higher education in terms of economic mobility not just for our students but for their families and their future. Holy Family is designated as a Tier 1 institution.

Holy Family is uniquely from the neighborhood and for the neighborhood. Our students, faculty and staff live here, they go to school and teach here, and they pour their knowledge back into their communities. What a unique value proposition for the future of the Northeast and Bucks County!

And we continue to bring real value to our students. The average net cost for a Holy Family degree remains lower than other Pennsylvania schools, while Holy Family alumni have higher average salaries than other Pennsylvania colleges. We are extremely proud of this.

Innovation and Entrepreneurship

I noted upon my arrival what a gift it was that Holy Family was in a sound financial position. This enabled us the freedom to explore critical opportunities.

While many smaller, private universities are struggling, Holy Family’s financial standing remains healthy, thanks to austerity measures and a sound enrollment strategy. While areas such as graduate studies and Second-Degree Nursing have seen some decline, the University balanced this with some increases in undergraduate enrollment and retention of existing students, and will continue on a path to positive revenue. We expect to generate a similar revenue margin as in prior years. 

As we come out of the pandemic, our retention rates are higher than the pre-pandemic rate at 79%. This helps to sustain our overall enrollment. Our graduation rate is up to 59%, the highest in four years.  That said, we continue to make strides toward our goals of retention at 82%, and graduation above 60% by implementing intentional and data-driven measures.  

The University has made strategic investments in growing our academic programs and growing our presence both in partnerships in and around Philadelphia, and in expanding our footprint in Bucks County.

I’d like to take you through this visual which exemplifies how our vision is being realized. 

With new programs created virtually and on-ground through strategic partnerships, the University is able to grow its academic offerings at an accelerated pace. 

Recognizing the need for market-driven programs, we partnered with RIZE to establish new academic programs in Applied Computer Science, Cybersecurity, Digital Marketing, and Esports & Gaming Administration – all areas in demand in the job market. Building on our internal expertise, we have also established a Healthcare Administration program which will launch in Fall 2023.

We expanded our renowned Second-Degree BSN program through Keypath by offering a hybrid to select regions nationwide, and we expanded Radiologic Science with the addition of a Bachelor’s degree to meet the ongoing demand for skilled radiologic technicians. 

We have reignited our Early Childhood Education Pathway Program by offering additional in-person and online options to meet students where they are in their journeys toward teacher certification.  

And our partnerships with local high schools continue to blossom, offering college courses to high school students with a pathway into college. Little Flower, Archbishop Ryan, and Bensalem High School are just a few of the new partnerships we have solidified.

And across all schools and programs, every student in every major now has an internship or field experience to better prepare them for the workforce.

Our faculty are conducting intriguing research and initiatives – from Dr. Carroll and Dr. Waddell’s Campus Greenhouse to Facilitate Environmental and Animal Welfare Research, to Dr. Pat McElwaine’s Collegiate Recovery Program – our faculty continue to push boundaries that will not only take the University to new heights, but will also provide our students with opportunities for research.

And as a result of our newly created Corporate Partnership program, we now offer discounted academic programs for employees at partner organizations, thus reinforcing our place as a hub in Northeast Philadelphia and Bucks County.

And I am pleased to announce four of our newest Corporate Partners: Trumark Financial, Potential, Inc., The Springtime School, and Honoria Wellness.

In the Fall, we will launch a new core curriculum which is truly unique for its flexibility and responsiveness to students’ needs.  The new core features four tiers: Foundations, Breadth, Integration, and a Capstone, enabling students to build a core based on their passions and their intellectual curiosity.

Within the scope of the core, we have created a plan called BLUEprint, designed to enhance retention and keep students on track so they’ll graduate on time. I would like to thank the faculty and staff who worked so diligently on this new core curriculum and BLUEprint–which are as visionary as they are thoughtfully crafted for the benefit of our students. Thank you. 

As a Catholic university, we are rooted in a philosophy of inclusion in which all are welcome – an intentional approach that has long been the hallmark of Holy Family. 

As we continue to serve the needs of the community, our Justice, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee began new programs designed to encourage dialogue and understanding

They started last summer with a Juneteenth event which was a beautiful example of how learning from one another not only informs us, but also transforms us.

In similar fashion, we hosted our first Interfaith Symposium which brought a range of religious leaders to share their views and to broaden the community’s understanding of the common spiritual ground shared by all.

And last night, the School of Arts & Sciences’ Pam Flynn and Pat Griffin presented "An Evening on Non-Violence" as part of our participation in the Coalition to Reduce Gun Violence. 

Our outreach extends to the needs of the surrounding community with programs such as our free ESL classes for Ukrainian refugees, which has been so generously funded to ensure that all those on our waiting lists can receive English-language training for which they are so grateful. 

Within all of our programs, we are better utilizing technological innovation to create synergy and subsidiarity – so that individual units feel confident that their work is part of the larger plan and that they are empowered to run their programs with the autonomy necessary to capitalize on opportunities and to be nimble in course correcting as needs evolve. One example of this is our reimagined website.

From upgraded internet services throughout our campus to allow for high-speed streaming and gaming, including our new Esports Center, to building efficiencies into our technology platforms to create a more seamless experience for our students—from class scheduling to registering for classes, we continue to harness technology in a way that elevates the Holy Family experience.

Transformational Change 

As many of you have heard me say, the University campus is our sacred space.  It is where we come together to learn from one another, to listen for understanding, and to deepen our knowledge based on the common goal of advancing our world.

This fall, we brought in a consulting firm to conduct a space utilization study to understand how we are using our two existing campus locations, and to provide recommendations for how best to organize the spaces. The study was based on a set of guiding principles:

  • Optimize existing space
  • Reinforce and energize the sense of community
  • Enhance future resiliency
  • Provide opportunities to leverage existing resources

On the Philadelphia campus, we are developing a welcoming hub in front of the Education and Technology Center, which includes the relocation of the sculpture of Jesus and the Students to a more central location. The ETC is now the new home for Undergraduate Admissions, and will soon house a Saxbys coffee shop.

In our Library, we have created new huddle spaces for students, and this spring we will break ground on our multimodal project which will provide the University with a stunning new stone entryway on Stevenson Lane, and cornerstone signage on Frankford and Grant avenues.

And it’s a great time to be a Tigers fan!  Last night, our women’s basketball team advanced to the semifinals in the CACC tournament. They’ve had a really strong season.  We were up by an 11-point lead. The game was tight. But ultimately, we prevailed. The next game will be played on Saturday at Jefferson so be sure to come out and cheer our Tigers to victory!

And last night, we honored our women's indoor track team who won the ECC Championship, and the men's team which tied for the Championship. Congratulations to all our teams and our tremendous Athletics staff.

Our Athletics program continues to grow and make us proud.  In fact, in a recent report, the NCAA Division II Academic Success Rate for Holy Family student-athletes was 92 percent – compared to the national average of 76 percent. With the creation of women’s bowling, eSports, acrobatics & tumbling, and men’s lacrosse, we now have 17 varsity programs. 

Our programs produce divisional champions, coaches of the year, and scholar-athletes. 

And thanks to a $2 million RACP grant, plans are underway for a stunning new atrium space for Holy Family Hall, which will become a centerpiece for our campus. 

Speaking of grants, we have had a stellar year in terms of grant funding for key initiatives, which demonstrates an impressive effort from our Advancement team.

As most of you are aware, Newtown East has long been a hub in Bucks County for the University’s Nursing and Counseling Psychology programs. 

And as the data shows, approximately 25% of our total population–students, faculty, and staff–hail from Bucks County. 

We continue to make enhancements to our existing Newtown campus space, including plans for an Interfaith Reflection Room in addition to our beautiful chapel.  

Newtown West, our newest campus acquisition, is located just half a mile away. 

We are currently in the planning stages to determine how best to utilize the space. Some potential plans include exploration of life sciences or biotechnology as well as a business incubator, all of which would provide research and collaborative opportunities for students and the business community.


The Future

So, what’s next this Spring? 

To begin, our students are once again hard at work with Habitat for Humanity, holding a record-breaking fundraiser to offset the costs of their travel to North Carolina to build homes during Spring Break – Well done!  

We will hold our Honors Society Inductions and Honors Convocations, which are always impressive celebrations.

And in March, our students will travel to Costa Rica and in May a contingency will travel to Italy (at last count we had 62 students signed up!). These experiences not only enrich our students; they enable them to gain critical skills.

This spring, our faculty will host a Faculty Development Day.  Topics include: 

  • Chat and A.I. Learning Philosophical Thinking with Thomas Aquinas – and Taylor Swift!
  • Student Success: Using Early Alerts 
  • Digital Course Content Delivery

Demonstrating our commitment to civic engagement, on April 18, we will host a Philadelphia Mayoral Debate which will be aired live by PHL17. And beyond our civic engagement, our economic impact is estimated at more than $100 million.

And of course, we look forward to our Tigers on the Loose scholarship celebration on May 4, Alumni Reunion on May 13, and Commencement on May 20.

In the Fall, we will celebrate the 50th Anniversary of our School of Nursing, so stay tuned for some exciting plans!

These milestone events serve as a measure of our progress as an institution. 

Moving forward, we will continue executing on the strategic plan. Based on our space utilization study and ongoing program development, we will continue to reimagine existing space and programming

In sum, we have some exciting work ahead!

In the words of poet and activist Amanda Gorman in her Presidential Inauguration poem, The Hill We Climb, “There is always light. If only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”

I’ll conclude where I began, which is that none of this is possible without the dedication, support, and hard work of each of you. Whether you are advising our students, educating in the classroom, maintaining our grounds and facilities, serving in administrative roles, or bringing innovation to campus through research and participation in your chosen field, or by serving as a trustee or volunteer–your work matters

I am grateful to each of you for the critical role that you play as we continue to build upon our ongoing successes, preparing Holy Family University for generations to come. 

Thank you and may God bless you, and may God bless Holy Family University.