President Capuano on Higher Education: A Fight-or-Flight Business

By Maya Page


The 21st century has forced changes in almost every aspect of day-to-day life. We live in a constantly changing world, which does not exclude higher education.

Advances in technology mean new skill requirements in the workforce. Some 65 percent of primary school students will be working in jobs that don’t yet exist, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Educational institutions must make the necessary changes within faculty roles, curriculum, and student learning in order to keep up with changing times and new trends in the 21st century.

FDU has addressed these concerns in the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. The university responded to the growing issues within higher education by developing a restructuring plan to gain a competitive edge and raise the value of a Fairleigh Dickinson University degree.

In an interview with The Equinox, University President Christopher Capuano said that in order to meet the changing market, it is important for universities to have a relationship and continuous dialogue with different industries and corporations.

“You have to do this on a continuous basis because everything is evolving. You have to adapt, you have to be agile, you have to adapt your programming to meet those demands, otherwise they’re probably not going to be interested in hiring your students,” Capuano said.

Capuano is determined to act as a pipeline for future employees that industries are going to hire. By establishing these linkages and open communication, the University can better predict what programs will be useful for workforce in the next five, 10, 15 years. If universities don’t do this, it is more than likely they will lose value or close.

“Higher education, because there are so many schools, has become a business. So, you have a marketplace, you have a lot of people in the marketplace, but the market is diminishing. The number of students that are going to college is declining. So, now what happens is you have greater competition because there are so many schools including for-profit schools, competing for a smaller pie. If you don’t make these changes institutionally, you are not seen by prospective students as a destination where they want to go,” Capuano said.

The goal of the strategic plan is to “develop multiple centers of excellence” and improve things around campus such as facilities and athletics.


President Capuano highlights one of the main problems on the Metropolitan campus is that there is not enough social space. According to the most recent (2015) enrollment report, the Metro campus is 40 percent commuters. Providing this type of space will create more of a sense of belonging to a community.

“We want more kids to look at this campus and say ‘I want to go there, I want to live there for four years, I don’t just want to be a commuter.’ Most students who live on this campus are student-athletes or international. I hope in five years we’re going to have double the number of students who live on this campus, and more of them will be non-student athletes,” Capuano said.

The president hopes that the changes will make FDU Metro a destination school and attract residential students.

Another pressing issue for institutions is the high cost of a college degree. The increasing expense of higher education and the student debt crisis are at the forefront of issues across the country. With student loan debt in the trillions, and many college graduates still unprepared for the workforce, it leads to the question, is higher education worth the money spent? What is the actual value of an FDU degree?

According to the FDU website, the estimated cost for an undergraduate degree on the Metro campus is $43, 118 per academic year. That does not include the extra $13, 824 that residential students pay for room and board.

President Capuano responded to the tuition costs, “You have to differentiate the school and distinguish it in some way. People are willing to pay more for something if they perceive it is worth paying more money for. If it’s not worth paying more money, they would be foolish to pay more for it… It is basic consumerism is what it comes down to. Higher ed is a business.”

Capuano went on to describe the university’s effort to keep tuition down. He said, “We award an incredible amount of institutional aid. More than $100 million a year in institutional aid on both campuses. Almost 100 percent of students get some form of aid from us and the average scholarship is significant. We are doing everything we can, understanding that the cost of going to school here is high, to support as many students as we can.”

President Capuano spent the majority of his adult life on the Metro campus, starting off as a faculty member, then a school director, then a department chair, a vice provost, and university provost. On July 1, 2016 he was sworn in as the eighth president of FDU.

Although he is the president of all four FDU campuses, Metro is where he grew up, so this campus is especially important for Capuano in terms of growth.

“I’m an internal candidate, I know the university well. The good news is I know everything, the bad news is, I know everything,” Capuano stated. “It’s true because a lot of things I wish I didn’t know, that I know need to be fixed. But it’s good because you have to fix them, but you worry about them. So, if you are coming from outside there’s a lot of things you wouldn’t know that you wouldn’t worry about until you’ve discovered them. And you never discover everything unless you’ve been somewhere 30 years.”

Among the changes that Capuano described for the future of the Metro campus within the next two to four years are, significant changes in the landscape, a new footbridge, a new campus center to become the centerpiece of campus, a new hotel and conference center and home for the hospitality school, more varsity sports, more club sports, and higher engagement in commuter students.

“I want this to be truly a destination campus where people are dying to come to school here. That’s what we’re after and we’re going to get it done,” President Capuano said.

FDU is now in the fourth year of the 2015-2020 Strategic Plan. Time will tell how FDU fares in this fight-or-flight business of higher education.