Three graduate degree programs are likely to be added. The specific degree programs haven't been determined, but speech pathology is a primary one being considered.
The graduate program will be small, with perhaps about 120 students total, President Carol Ann Mooney said.
Federal regulations require that graduate programs be open to both men and women. Thus, men will be admitted as graduate students and will be eligible to earn Saint Mary's graduate degrees, Mooney said. But Saint Mary's will remain predominately a women's residential undergraduate college, and housing will not be available on campus for male students.
In addition, Mooney's contract has been extended to May 2016, with the possibility of further extension. The current contract was through May 2014. Mooney has led Saint Mary's since 2004.
The announcements came Monday, the first day of spring semester classes at the 169-year-old college.
"Speech pathology is the primary program we're working on. It's in huge demand right now," Mooney said.
As the nation's population ages, there is increasing demand for speech pathologists to serve such individuals as stroke patients, she said. A speech pathologist is required to have a master's degree to practice, but for every four bachelor's degrees awarded nationwide there is only one spot available in current master's degree programs, Mooney said.
Other master's degree programs being considered, according to Mooney: nursing, with a specialization in a specific clinical area, such as gerontology; human services administration; and a professional master's in mathematics. A professional master's degree program typically is developed in partnership with a business.
Mooney said it's unlikely graduate programs will draw large numbers of male students. "In most instances, these are more female-dominated fields. But we will be open and welcoming to men," she said.
Some men already take classes at the women's college. Under a long-standing co-exchange program, University of Notre Dame students are eligible to enroll in classes at Saint Mary's, and vice versa. Some Notre Dame students, particularly those seeking to become teachers, take their teacher training courses at the college, but earn Notre Dame degrees.
The addition of graduate programs will require approval from the Higher Learning of the North Central Association of Colleges & Schools. Some graduate programs might also require approval from specific accrediting bodies.
Saint Mary's used to award graduate degrees, back when the college operated a graduate program in theology from 1943 until 1969. Called the School of Sacred Theology, the program provided master's and doctoral-level courses each summer during those years.
The school primarily drew religious sisters, but it was open to anyone, including men. College records show a total of 76 Saint Mary's doctoral degrees and 254 master's degrees in theology were issued during those years, including degrees conferred on three men, according to Saint Mary's archivist John Kovach.
The School of Sacred Theology was established because, in the 1940s, no Catholic theology graduate programs admitted women as students.
Mooney's additional goals for the college are detailed in Saint Mary's new strategic plan, titled "Boldly Forward."
The plan's others goals include:
- Grow the college's endowment from its current $130 million. Mooney's goal is an endowment of at least $200 million. "Financing for higher education seems complicated, but it's really very simple. There are three ways to get money: tuition, outright gifts and payouts from the endowment," she said. A higher endowment means Saint Mary's could more improvements sooner, she said.
- Expand the college's honors program, which started as a pilot program this past fall.
- Expand to the entire college the Sophia program, a new curriculum based on learning outcomes.
- Reduce each professor's teaching load from four courses one semester and three courses in another to three courses each semester. This may require a few more hires, Mooney said. Saint Mary's has about 120 full-time faculty and about 400 employees total.
- Encourage more students to study abroad (more than 50 percent do now) and build on a new global studies major that was introduced in fall 2012.
- Increase for the campus library.
- Grow and stabilize enrollment. Current enrollment is about 1,500 and Mooney would like it at a minimum of 1,600 students.
- Recruit and retain more U.S. minority students and international students.
- Expand intercollegiate athletic opportunities, including adding a lacrosse team and increasing the number of full-time coaches. Twenty-five percent of current first-year students were captains of high school varsity athletic teams, and they want to continue at the college level, Mooney said. "We know we lose students to other schools because we don't have their sports," she said.
- Develop a new master plan for campus facilities. The greatest need is to upgrade Angela Athletic Facility, which was built before the college participated in intercollegiate sports.
- Improve work environment and compensation for faculty and staff.
- Increase annual giving to the college from alumnae. About 30 to 32 percent of Saint Mary's graduates make gifts each year, and Mooney would like to see that reach at least 35 percent.