- Fairfield University, a 5,800-student four-year Jesuit institution in Connecticut, will open a new two-year campus in nearby Bridgeport in fall 2023, it announced Wednesday.
- The new location, to be called Fairfield Bellarmine, will aim to educate students so they can land good jobs or transfer to bachelor's programs at four-year institutions, the university said in a news release. It will focus on serving local students between the ages of 18 and 22.
- The campus will be located at a site that used to host the former St. Ambrose School and a church, operating initially in a former rectory and convent.
Fairfield's expansion plans show that even in a time when college enrollment has been falling nationwide, and when institutions have been closing, some leaders will see local markets and underserved student populations that they believe can support new offerings.
It can also be seen as an example of a strategy touted by higher ed leaders: partnerships between colleges and other types of organizations. Fairfield University is working with the Diocese of Bridgeport on the new location.
"The Bellarmine initiative is another innovative partnership providing greater opportunities and pathways to achievement for students of promise," Fairfield president Mark Nemec said in a statement.
The diocese said in 2013 that it was closing St. Ambrose School, an elementary school that was attached to a shuttered church, the Connecticut Post reported. The site needed repairs, and the school faced financial challenges. The move was part of a reorganization of diocesean schools that came amid a wave of Catholic school closures across the country in the face of falling enrollment and donations.
But the location wasn't the first to be considered for the new campus. Fairfield University and the diocese initially sought to set up a 200-student campus in a different location in Bridgeport before encountering local resistance, including concerns about traffic and whether the new campus would be located near the underrepresented student populations it seeks to target, the Connecticut Post reported.
The diocese will continue to own the property where the new university campus will be located.
Fairfield University's writing and math center will maintain a presence at the new campus. The university is promising to have mentoring and peer tutors. Students at the two-year campus will be able to take part in Fairfield University activities like clubs and intramural sports. They'll also be able to access the university's main campus, about 7 miles away.
"By creating a pathway to higher education, we’re also creating a pathway to hope and to achievement for students with untapped promise and potential," the Most Rev. Frank J. Caggiano, Bishop of Bridgeport, said in a statement.