Fordham Demographics Change with the Bronx Community


Fordham went from a small commuter college to a nationally ranked institution.

By Jake Shore

Fordham went from a small commuter college to a nationally ranked institution. (Courtesy of Wikimedia)

“New York is my campus, Fordham is my school.” Some feel this commonly-heard admissions phrase used by Fordham to bring in students from all over the country and world was actually truer in the 1970s than it is today.

Before a Finlay, O’Hare or Walsh Hall existed, the Rose Hill campus was made up of mostly commuters, and seldom had students who lived outside of New York City. Fordham in the early 1970s was approximately 85 percent commuters from the New York metropolitan area with one-third of students from the Bronx, according to Thomas Shelley’s book “Fordham, A History of the Jesuit University of New York.”

As a regional commuter college, Fordham began to undergo changes when the Bronx began to decline. Between 1970 and 1980, the Bronx was deteriorating as seven census tracts in the borough lost more than 97 percent of their buildings to fire and abandonment. As violent crime went up in New York City overall, many middle class Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans — Fordham’s largest demographics — fled the Bronx and metropolitan areas to the suburbs outside the city. Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of history and African American studies and the longest standing faculty member at Fordham University, said he remembers the era well.

“At this point money and middle class people were fleeing the city in the 70s and 80s. And there was actually a debate, should Fordham move to Westchester?” Naison said.

When the Bronx faced rapid neighborhood change and decline, Fordham was transforming as well, according to Naison. Instead of picking up and moving to Westchester, he said the university decided to hold on to its demographic of middle class students who moved out of New York City by keeping them in residence halls.

“They basically made the decision we’re staying here but, to find people who can pay the tuition, we’re going to have to bring people in and become more residential. I have a sense that decision was made in the late 70s and early 80s,” he said.

During the 1980s, around 700 new dormitory rooms were constructed in three new buildings on campus. While the Bronx was still burning, James Finlay, S.J., president from 1972-83, helped save the neighborhood around Fordham as the school itself was taking steps to become residential. Finlay supported community organizations to help end the Bronx fires and economically stimulate the borough. One of the changes Finlay made in terms of affecting Fordham’s populations today was expanding the application pool.

In his book, Shelley wrote on Finlay’s introduction of new scholarships to establish Fordham’s national presence. “The scholarships were not awarded on the basis of financial need but were designed to attract bright students to Fordham from throughout the country in an effort to broaden the demographic base of the student body and reverse slipping academic standards.” Shelley writes, “The program succeeded in drawing applicants from as far away as Texas, California and Hawaii.”

Mark Naison said he started to notice changes in the types of students in the classes he taught. “[When I started] I was teaching black students, Latino students, Irish students, Italian students, but all real New York kids. . . But by God, what we have today? I didn’t have a student from California in the first 20 years [I taught] here!” Naison said.

Today, Fordham’s class of 2020 is the most “geographically diverse” in our school’s history, according to Fordham’s website. One hundred ninety-two international students study here, and 18 percent of students coming from New York City.

The change to a geographically diverse school happened during the 1990s when New York City began to flourish financially. In Thomas Schroth, S.J.’s book, “Fordham: A History and A Memoir,” he wrote that Fordham began to turn around under the Presidency of Father Joseph O’Hare.

“When enrollment, the financial situation, and New York’s reputation all brightened . . . a handsome new set of brochures exploited Fordham’s fresh face— urban, competitive, Jesuit, and diverse,” wrote Schroth.

As tuition has risen since Fordham’s days as a commuter school, the cost of attendance sits at $47,850 per year for the 2016-2017 term. That is around $8,000 less than NYU, which is the most expensive private college in the US. Students have become more incentivized to come to Fordham because of increased inclusivity from other New York colleges like Columbia and NYU and because of the city’s prominence. “Fordham’s in New York. It becomes a hot school. If you can’t get into Columbia or NYU, Fordham’s the next step,” said Naison. “As New York booms, [Fordham] benefits.”

As Fordham arose as a newly residential college in the 1970s resulting from the deterioration in the Bronx, some of today’s problems in the borough are also reflected in demographics of the Rose Hill campus, according to Dr. Mark Naison.

Recent controversy has been cropping up over a perceived wave of gentrification in the Bronx in the form of coffeeshops, luxury student housing for Fordham students or as Naison put it, “the $19 truffle burger they’re serving at something-hall.” The “Truffle Shuffle” burger at Clinton Hall on 189th is actually $21 but still serves his point about how new and pricey businesses can act as warning signs for gentrification.

Naison said many of the students who attend Fordham now are from affluent families, and he thinks that is what is affecting the change in neighborhood. He said that because, at one point in time, one-third of Fordham students came from the Bronx, Fordham today is doing a disservice to the borough by choosing to attract mostly wealthy, out-of-state students who are impacting the neighborhood negatively.

In 1992, a New York Times article on Fordham asked a similar question about the university’s changing role in the borough: “As it does, many people are asking how Fordham can preserve, and even expand, its traditional role in the Bronx when its students and teachers are increasingly from somewhere else,” he said.

However, 92 percent of Fordham University expenses come directly from student tuition. These expenses include services to the community, adjunct pay, faculty health care in addition to the regular costs of running a university. Schools like Columbia have $9 billion endowments to use for financial aid, Fordham has $721 million in endowments, some of which goes towards financial aid.

With regards to enrolling more Bronx students, mostly black and hispanic students coming from schools with low graduation rates, the school does all it can for these students, according to Fordham’s director of communications Bob Howe.

“Fordham recruits nationally because the cohort of high school graduates has been shrinking since 2011. That said, we do recruit students from the Bronx, but every year we have to cast a geographically wider net,” said Howe in a statement.

Howe also cited the millions of hours Fordham students devote to community service in the borough and Fordham’s unique role in programs like JumpStart, where students help teach preschool-aged students in four Bronx schools.

On Fordham’s website, the “ethnic breakdown” shows that 66.6 percent of students are caucasian, 13.6 percent are hispanic, and 5.3 percent are black. While the Bronx is mostly black and hispanic, less than 20 percent of the newest crop of Fordham students hail from New York City. The website states that in Fordham’s class of 2020, “[more] than 20 students are enrolled from each of the following states: California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.”

Fordham students are frequently in service to the Bronx community today according to Howe. He cited the 8,000 Fordham students who “contributed over 1.1 million hours to hundreds of community organizations, schools, not-for-profits and governmental agencies in the Bronx, Manhattan, in New York City, and around the world.” 

While Professor Mark Naison credited Fordham for its rehabilitative role in the Bronx during the tumultuous 70s, but he said he is disappointed with how the borough is beginning to gentrify now because of the influx of mostly monied out-of-state students.

“Fordham helped save the Bronx, and now it’s in the process of ruining it.”