President Bertolino Optimistic About Stockton’s Future

State of the University Address

Stockton President Joe Bertolino discusses his Ethic of Care during his State of the University Address in the Campus Center Event Room.

Galloway, N.J.
— Stockton University President Joe Bertolino confidently declared that “the state of the school’s future is optimistic and filled with opportunities and possibilities” during his inaugural State of the University Address on Oct. 30.

Bertolino, who took office as Stockton’s sixth president on July 1, spoke before a crowd of people in the Campus Center Event Room and on Zoom. He detailed some of the university’s accomplishments over the past year and discussed some of the plans and challenges Stockton faces in the future.

“Dr. (Terricita) Sass and myself have spent our first 120 days meeting with and intentionally listening to every constituency here at Stockton and beyond,” Bertolino said. “It’s been a busy four months, and we are committed to continuing our understanding of this community.”

During the nearly-one-hour speech, Bertolino pointed out several highlights and accomplishments at Stockton over the past year, including:

  • A dual credit program that enrolls 1,857 high school students in 49 schools working toward more than 10,000 credits, which is an increase of 7% from last year.
  • The addition of six new academic programs: Bachelor of Science degrees in Accounting, Business Analytics, Finance and Esports Management, the Bachelor of Arts in Digital Studies and the Master of Science in Accounting.
  • 52 different grants totaling approximately $9.4 million, a $2 million increase from last year.
  • First-time student enrollment continues to reflect diversity with 46% of the fall cohort identifying as minority or mixed race. New graduate enrollment has grown to 400.
  • Division of Student Affairs has increased student access to health and wellness resources, including a partnership with telehealth and wellness provider UWill and expanded Counseling and Psychological Services to the Atlantic City campus.
  • The opening of the Multicultural Center on the Galloway campus and a second residential facility, Parkview Hall, in Atlantic City.
  • Development raised $4.5 million to support scholarships, purchase equipment and support students in need, and secured gifts from more than 1,000 first-time donors — an increase of 20%. The Ospreys Give campaign surpassed its goal with 1,100 donors.

“Stockton has longstanding relationships with our community of supporters,” Bertolino said. “However, this is not a time to be complacent considering the challenges facing higher education. We must continue to cultivate and build upon these relationships.”

Joe Bertolino

Stockton University President Joe Bertolino presents his inaugural State of the University Address on Oct. 30.

Building on those relationships is just one way the university must adapt to meet its goals for the future, he said.

“And let me be frank — there are challenges. We are not immune to the issues facing much of higher education in the country,” Bertolino said, adding that Stockton has several goals built into its Strategic Plan.

First, the president said the university is in the final stages of a national search for a new provost.

“Academics are at the core of our mission, and it is imperative that we secure and support strong academic leadership,” he said. “The provost will be a ‘first among equals’ on the leadership team.”

Bertolino then spoke about a frequent term in higher education — “the enrollment cliff” — which refers to a national trend in which fewer students are enrolling in colleges and universities, including Stockton.

“It is not a myth. The number of high school students graduating in the next five years is on a sharp decline,” he said.

But Stockton has positioned itself well to tackle this issue, he said, through the dual credit and the Goals/Gear Up programs, both of which increase access to higher education for high school students. Bertolino also mentioned an increased emphasis on retention efforts and analyzing data to keep students enrolled through graduation.

“We have an obligation to every student to have them leave Stockton with a quality education and a degree,” he said.

We have an obligation to every student to have them leave Stockton with a quality education and a degree."
Stockton President Joe Bertolino
A big part of that obligation is to support those who are already attending Stockton by creating a place where students, faculty and staff can support each other and “develop a sense of belonging,” the president said.

“You will hear me say these five words again and again: We must treat each other with dignity, kindness, respect, compassion and civility. These are the pillars for an Ethic of Care,” Bertolino said. “Similarly, we must commit to providing an inclusive environment where everyone feels seen and heard.”

Finally, Bertolino discussed the university’s fiscal picture going forward. Stockton ended the 2023 fiscal year with a $10 million deficit, which was offset with available cash and short-term investments. He added a deficit of $12 million is projected for 2024, unless there are changes to current spending practices.

Bertolino admitted these numbers may be surprising, but they are driven by the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and inflation. Revenue has not been enough to match the increase in costs, primarily due to declining enrollment.

“We have already begun taking steps to mitigate this impact and will continue seeking input from budget managers representing each area to address, communicate and implement measures without compromising our commitment to students and families as well as supporting our faculty and staff,” he said.

But Bertolino added “we cannot cut our way out of this deficit.” He said Stockton must strategically seek out opportunities to expand revenue streams, for example booking new conferences, events and creating new continuing education programs. He also mentioned a strategic and business plan must be developed and implemented for Stockton’s involvement in Atlantic City as an anchor institution.

“Yes, there are challenges to be faced,” Bertolino concluded. “But I am confident that we have what it takes to face these challenges with tenacity, strategic thinking and execution, along with the willingness to work together and communicate openly.”

-- Story by Mark Melhorn, photos by Lizzie Nealis