Franklin Pierce launches new academic reorganization; stays steady while other liberal arts colleges shutter

  • Dr. Matthew Konieczka Courtesy photo

  • Dr. David Starrett Courtesy photo

  • Dr. Sarah Dangelantonio, the executive dean for academic affairs at Franklin Pierce University, heads a class.  Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. Norman Faiola Courtesy photo

  • Dr. Maria Altobello Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. Sarah Dangelantonio Courtesy photo—

  • Dr. Maria Altobello, the new dean of the College of Health and Natural Sciences at Franklin Pierce University, meets with honors students. Courtesy photo—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 9/9/2019 4:26:37 PM

Franklin Pierce University is launching a new academic model this year, seeking to streamline its program offerings and urge students to continue on to graduate programming.

Franklin Pierce University’s Rindge campus is exactly the kind of small, private, liberal arts institution that are being squeezed by dropping enrollment and lack of finances.

Multiple New England colleges – mainly small liberal arts schools – have closed their doors over the past few years. Mount Ida College and Newbury College both announced abrupt closures. In Vermont, the College of St. Joseph, Green Mountain College and Southern Vermont College have shuttered – all just this year. Other colleges are merging with bigger schools, such as Wheelock College merging with Boston University. 

Franklin Pierce hits many of the same marks as its fellow liberal arts colleges that are currently struggling.

It boasts small classes: A 12-to-1 student to teacher ratio. That’s a draw for students seeking an intimate college experience, but also creates a financial burden. It provides a heavy amount of financial aid: 100 percent of its Rindge campus students receive some amount of financial aid, and the university awards $30 million in institutional scholarships each year. 

But while enrollment at Franklin Pierce’s Rindge campus isn’t large – about 470 new students entered this year – it’s also remaining steady, while other colleges of its ilk are struggling to attract students.

The Rindge campus only boasted 97 students in its inaugural class in 1962 – three short of founder Frank S. DiPietro’s goal of 100. Enrollment grew over the years by 1968 enrollment was 900 students, and the college had 150 faculty and staff. But it soared in 2007, when the college became a university and entered the NCAA Division II athletic conference, shooting past 1,000 undergraduates. 

It’s current enrollment includes 1,420 undergrads, 210 online undergraduates, and 544 post-graduate students. 

Enrollment this year has stayed steady – which was its goal, Mooney said.

“I think we’re in a good, stable place in terms of our enrollment,” Mooney said.

And the university isn’t limited to its Rindge offerings. 

The university has expanded its graduate programs and has a growing number of degrees that can be earned online. 

It has also been aggressive in adding programs with in-demand job fields. The university added majors in in-demand health fields before the small-college crisis really became apparent, Mooney said, and within its first year, it became the university’s most popular major. 

“In that regard, we were way ahead of the curve,” Mooney said. “We’ve continued to diversify our academic portfolio, and provide more degrees fully online, and we’ve been able to stay relatively financially healthy.”

But she’s not unaware of the current climate around small liberal arts colleges, Mooney said, and the college is taking steps to promote its best features. This year, it’s presenting a new format for its academic re-organization. 

Previously, Mooney said, the university organized mainly based on the location of its programs – its undergraduate campus in Rindge, its graduate campus in Goodyear, Arizona, and its centers in Manchester, Portsmouth and Lebanon.

Last year, the college piloted a new model, in which the organization is by discipline. A single dean will head a college based on academic content – all business degrees will be under one umbrella, for instance.

To that end, the college has appointed four new deans: Sarah Dangelantonio as the executive dean for assessment and academic affairs, Maria Altobello as dean of the college of health and natural sciences, Norman Faiola as the dean of the college of business and Matthew Konieczka as dean of the college of liberal arts and social sciences. 

The university has also appointed David Starrett as an interim provost and vice president for academic affairs. Starrett will provide administrative oversight to all of the new college divisions, as well as the Registrar’s Office, DiPietro Library, Institutional Research, and Assessment and Academic Affairs.  

Creating colleges that focus on its most popular tracks helps to highlight them, Mooney said, and make it easier to pitch those paths to incoming students – who are increasingly coming to college campuses with research under their belt about emerging careers and with an educational path in mind. 

“This generation comes to college with strong intentions about what major they want and what they want to do professionally,” Mooney said. “They’re more prepared than I think they’ve been in the past.”

Mooney said the new organization puts the kinds of majors students are seeking to the forefront. Streamlining all of the programs opens up opportunities for teacher collaboration and to ease students from an undergrad path into a graduate one.

For professors, it will mean more opportunities to work together with other members of their disciplines, both on their own campuses, and those in the graduate satellites.

“I think most of the faculty are excited about the cross-pollination opportunities,” Dangelantonio said. “It’s easy to see ourselves in individual silos, with our individual turf.”

Dangelantonio said professors have already begun to have “hallway conversations” about how to better collaborate. There’s interest in crafting a Spanish-language course specifically for criminal justice or health and natural science fields – fields where specialized terminology might be used. Writing is used across most curriculums, and more classes could be tailored to fit individual disciplines, Dangelantonio said.

“Before, we had to break through this divisional structure. But the more we’re all in the same room together, the more opportunity there is for collaboration,” she said. “Things that might give our students an interesting advantage as they go out into their fields.”


Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT. 


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