PROFILES IN EDUCATION
St. Francis College President & 1960 Alum Frank J. Macchiarola Going Strong
It’s the day before the St. Francis College Birthday Party for Frank J. Macchiarola, the man who has been at the helm of St. Francis College for the last twelve years, and when he is told that it is also the birthday of William Wordsworth, he shoots back without missing a beat that it’s also the day when OTB was introduced in New York. The fast response captures the essence of a man who has had an extraordinary career in and out of St. Francis College. His resume boasts, among numerous prestigious positions, being Dean of Yeshiva University/Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Chancellor of New York City Public Schools, Chairman of the New York City Charter Revision Commission and faculty member at CUNY. Dr. Macchiarola is leaving office at the end of June but will be assisting the incoming president, now chairman of the Board of Trustees, Brendan J. Dugan (`68), with fundraising.
Under the leadership of President Macchiarola, the Brooklyn “Small College of Big Dreams,” a private, independent co-educational liberal arts college, has distinguished itself in several ways, not least of which includes thriving for 150 years as an educational institution dedicated to serving students of the city’s poor and working class. Founded by the Franciscan Brothers in 1859, and dedicated to the principles of St. Francis of Assisi, the college offered him, Dr. Macchiarola says, not only an opportunity to receive a first-class education, but affiliation with a community that encouraged and still encourages giving back. He points with pride to the fact that he, himself, has funded full-tuition scholarships for every one of the teachers who influenced him when he was a student there—not to mention also endowing scholarships in perpetuity named for members of his and his wife’s family. “People want to remember good people,” he adds, and he hopes, indeed he feels confident, that his Birthday Party / Charter Award dinner, to which over 600 people attended, will yield even more largesse.
Although colleges with missions similar to St. Francis’ claim to be special, Dr. Macchiarola indicates that data support his declaration: a steadily increasing graduation rate—60 percent, after six years (with almost no gap between white (58%), African-American (56%) and Hispanic (51%) graduation rates); a small, caring institution that has managed to keep class size down to 21 (only a handful of classrooms seat for more than 35); a motivational requirement to declare a major immediately, even if it’s changed later on (as Yogi Berra said, Dr. Macchiarola recalls, “you come to a fork in the road, take it!); a 75 percent retention rate; a 16-1 student to faculty ratio—“we know who our kids are,” we track them, we give them midterm exams, we follow up, with scholarship incentives and tutoring help, especially for “Project Access Students,” provisional admits who guidance counselors say hold promise. He visits classes, challenges the students and is “in their face” in the best sense of the phrase, knowing them by name, their performance records, their potential. And, until this last semester, he has been in front of them also as a teacher, introducing Business Law (the favorite major), Latin American Political Institutions (his doctoral specialties at Columbia), and Philosophy.”
Who goes to St. Francis? Still, first-generation and immigrant populations (more than 80 countries), most of whom, he reports, hear of the college through word of mouth. Though most students hail from Brooklyn and have “limited experience” of life outside the borough, President Macchiarola delights in noting how he greets freshmen by stating that “they may think they live in Brooklyn, but they now live in New York City.” He would open up “the world” to them. Of course, he also delights in anecdotes that show how attached some freshmen can become. One young man who could not yet qualify for NYU went to St. Francis with the idea of bringing up his grades and transferring. He did supremely well, an English major who worked on the student newspaper, and when he was offered free tuition to NYU, he decided instead to stay at St. Francis, where he was subsequently awarded a full-tuition scholarship.
Of the 2007 freshmen class of 481, 257 came from Catholic schools and other private high schools. What distinguishes the college from like institutions? No hesitation here. Dr. Macchiarola is justifiably proud of the college’s extraordinary endowment. Noting that a sister institution in Manhattan has $15 million to serve a population of a little over 2000, he points to St. Francis’ endowment of $78 million to serve a similar number. This astonishing donor generosity translates into low tuition and an unusually high number of scholarships for students with exceptional GPAs, not to mention support for those who qualify for TAP and Pell grants. And, of course, the endowment ensures that all students receive ancillary services, that the college’s over 40 clubs and activities are well funded, and that students and faculty alike enjoy the benefits of state-of-the-art classrooms.
Frank J. Macchiarola retiring? In fact, yes; in spirit, hardly!#