Quinnipiac University is probably best known nationally for its political polls, especially during election cycles. But this midsized institution in the heart of Connecticut has another story to share. It features nine different schools and is one of the very few in the U.S. to boast both a law school and a medical school. It also ranks among the best in the nation in outcomes for graduates and the employability of students long after they’ve left the university.
Still, President Judy Olian knows that in order to stay competitive, both within higher education and in serving students, it must evolve. So it is designing what it calls “the university of the future,” building on four goals: preparing students for 21st-century careers, creating a more inclusive community, ensuring the well-being of its populations and fueling lifelong connections.
“We are executing an ambitious plan going forward,” said Olian, who became Quinnipiac’s ninth president after a 12-year stint as dean of UCLA’s Anderson School of Management. “We’re building three new buildings [$244 million toward two academic facilities and a residence hall]. We launched a transformational partnership that will not only change the pipeline into healthcare careers but in multiple fields across the university. We’re making investments in new programs that represent where our marketplace is headed and where we’re headed—in computing clusters, cybersecurity and environmental sciences. What you’re going to see is a transformed university, physically and in the academic, intellectual and personal growth opportunities available to our students.”
Olian has a sterling track record around student and faculty support, having led big hiring boosts and capital campaigns at UCLA Anderson. A native of Australia, she also held dean positions at Penn State and the University of Maryland and chaired the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. With that experience, her connections and her mission to be forward-thinking, she is leading Quinnipiac on a quest to boost student success and lifelong learning, most notably through a transformative new partnership with Hartford HealthCare that will be a model for shared opportunities.
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University Business sat down with Olian to learn more about Quinnipiac’s four pillars, the partnership and how it is positioning itself for the future.
Talk about the University of the Future model and Quinnipiac’s desire to reskill and upskill students. How does all of it factor into the mission there?
Our four pillars are preparing people for engaged citizenry and careers of the future. The first is agility and innovativeness. The second is inclusive excellence. The third is focusing on the well-being of our internal and external community, which is never more important than now. And the fourth is about lifelong connections. Part of what we’re doing is creating both content and pedagogy and delivery models that enable us to reach the people that are currently employed, whether they’re alums or not. In all of our corporate partnerships, we’re creating incentives and lowering the barriers to coming in and studying with us or returning to Quinnipiac.
Tell us more about the unique partnership with Hartford HealthCare and its benefits.
We’re very well known for accelerated degrees, so whether you’re coming from an employee base or you’re doing it as a student, you’re getting back into the workforce quickly. The Hartford HealthCare partnership is unusual in its comprehensiveness. Three of our nine schools are in health sciences, and the richness of the way that partnership is going to work builds on both sides’ interests. We’re going to create content that meshes with their technical needs. We’re going to leverage their spaces, labs, simulation spaces, operating rooms, and so on. And we’re building an expanded pipeline in demand areas where there are extraordinary shortages.
Then we’ll be expanding the pipelines to the number of students we can take to fill the gaping voids in nursing and medicine, in OT, PT. A place that has 35,000 employees also has accountants, has finance people, communications people, lawyers that specialize in healthcare and engineers. So the breadth of fields students will draw on is very unusual.
How will it serve current employees at Hartford Health?
We’re going to be helping them around lifelong learning and developing programs, badges, certificates and accelerated programs that benefit them. They’ll use our spaces. They’ll use some of our faculty for motivational purposes, or their faculty will teach in our classes around the technical areas. Once we understand them, it will be easier to forge alignment around what we’re teaching and what we’re learning. They’re going to also help us attract students into fields because students will have a preview of these very advanced learning opportunities.
What was it that initially drew you across the country from Los Angeles to Quinnipiac?
What attracted me about Quinnipiac was its nimbleness and agility, which isn’t true of a lot of other institutions, and also its comprehensiveness. There is an amazing dedication to the purpose and mission of learning and teaching and learning. The institution had a very practical and pragmatic impact on students’ lives. There are some institutions where ‘to do no harm’ is the objective. Here, there’s a transformational process where you hear from students that ‘I really grew’ or ‘I really was transformed.’ We have amazing outcomes around placement and long-term success here.
From four years ago to now, with the pandemic driving change for nearly half of that, has the vision or strategy changed at all?
Yes and no, but there have been silver linings. We certainly accelerated this transition to anywhere, anytime. What we were very conscious of is the fact that you’ve got to deal with the here and now. We had to be incredibly, obsessively focused on problem-solving. At the same time, we had to continue advancing the strategic agenda. We have systematically kept our foot on that pedal because there is a tomorrow.
What sorts of changes have you seen in the way in which prospective students and families are viewing higher education?
Parents are looking for tangible outcomes. They want their kids to be able to have fulfilling lives and careers. But I also think students are looking for preparation around well-being. Emotional care needs today are unprecedented. We have to be very mindful of preparing the whole person for life and not just career-wise or cognitively. Our Recreation and Wellness Center is designed around the whole person. In our new residence halls that we’re designing, and in all of the buildings, there are social spaces for people to connect and to exchange ideas.
What are some of the biggest challenges for higher education right now?
There are some obvious ones. Access and cost are the two biggies. Our country is changing, and our educated population needs to change. We need to make it affordable and accessible so that our society is knowledge-based. That’s the competitive advantage of our country. We’re seeing today that 60% of the university population is women. What’s happening to men? What’s happening to diverse communities? We’re growing in terms of our diversity, but we’re not where we need to be.
Another key issue is preparing people for a life of learning because the pace of change is accelerating. We’re going to have a huge population divide societally if people don’t go to college. We know that long-term outcomes are much worse—life expectancy, quality of life, divorce rates, not to mention economic attainment. People are working longer. We have to build continuous rapid learning into the repertoire of people.