A noted music historian and trained pianist, Boomgaarden, who previously worked at Jesuit schools in Scranton, Baltimore and New Orleans, believes some of the school’s programs can become national.
“There are people all over the world who want to come to Brooklyn,” he said. “For the future, we need to think a little bit more nationally and internationally about our programs.”
The college has two campuses, one in Clinton Hill and another in Patchogue, Long Island. Their total enrollment tops 5,000 students, with roughly 1,000 attending the Brooklyn site. Boomgaarden said the enrollment numbers have been steady for the last five years.
“Every school wants to increase its enrollment,” he said. “It’s actually starting to come up a little bit, but we’re in a good place with those numbers.”
St. Joseph’s College has a reputation as a commuter school; approximately 98 percent of students commute to the Brooklyn campus.
Boomgaarden said they have a goal of creating residence halls in Patchogue, but are uncertain if they can accomplish that in Brooklyn. Though, creating dorms would provide students a more holistic educational experience, he said.
“I would love to have a larger option here in Brooklyn,” he said. “That’s certainly something we can look at.”
Boomgaarden grew up on naval bases and moved every two years. His father, a naval officer, was raised on a farm in Minnesota and joined the Navy at the start of World War II. He worked his way up from seaman to commander.
Prior to coming to St. Joseph’s College, Boomgaarden taught at Ithaca College, St. Mary’s College in Maryland and Loyola University Maryland. He was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of Vienna’s Eastman School of Music, and also graduated from Harvard University’s Institute for Management and Leadership in Education.
He last served as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the University of Scranton. Before that role, he was the dean of the College of Music and Fine Arts and a music professor at Loyola University New Orleans.
Though he didn’t know much about St. Joseph’s College initially, he knew about the sisters of St. Joseph, whose theology was similar to the ideals of the Jesuits.
“The idea of educating the whole student, the care of the whole person, is something the sisters are into,” Boomgaarden said. “When I started looking at this school, I saw all of the similarities in terms of the basic philosophy.”
Boomgaarden said he felt “a lot of affinity” for the school’s mission: “Esse non videri,” or “to be, not to seem.” When he came for the interviews, he began liking the school even more.
“When I looked at St. Joseph’s, I thought this was perfect. This is exactly the kind of school I’m most comfortable with,” he said. “The worst thing presidents can do is try to come in and turn them into something they’re not. They’re already what I would like them to be.”
The new president said he likes that the school has a liberal arts core, but also has professional programs tailored for specific industries. He often tells parents that the jobs of the future “don’t even exist yet,” so schools should instill skills and deeper training for students.
“We need to train them in critical thinking, creativity, writing and reasoning,” Boomgaarden said. “Those are the kinds of things we can do here.”
For example, Boomgaarden said he can take his training as a pianist and apply the skills to other fields like science, philosophy or language.
“If you’ve ever had to sit down and analyze a Beethoven sonata and memorize it, it’s not that different,” he said. “You take tiny pieces of it and you work on it really hard and play it hundreds of times until you get it right, then you move on to the next page.
“Once they have those keys, they can open the doors into almost any career,” he added. “Not only will they get that kind of education, but they’ll get it at a lower price point than many other schools.”
With annual tuition at roughly $26,000, St. Joseph’s College, a private institution, provides an affordable education, Boomgaarden said. The school gives out close to $25 million a year in scholarships, including discounted rates for some students.
With their graduation rate at 70 percent and retention rate at 89 percent, above the national average of 68 percent, Boomgaarden said that translates to students graduating on time with less debt. On average, St. Joseph’s College graduates come out with $23,000 in debt while the national average exceeds $30,000.
“We want to provide an education which is affordable and doesn’t leave families and students in deep debt,” he said.
Boomgaarden also discussed the type of campus environment he hopes to cultivate at the school. He said the school looks for students who “have a strong desire to learn” and who bring different life experiences.
One of the missions of the sisters of St. Joseph is to “reach into the community” and transform it through students, he said. Given the diversity of the Brooklyn campus, particularly first-generation students, Boomgaarden said he wants to “build a campus around them” to help transform the community.
“I’m interested in having well-rounded students who understand they’re here to learn, but they’re also here to work together towards a greater goal,” he said. “This is just to go out and do something to transform the world for the better.”
Boomgaarden also believes college can be a place where young people can “get a taste of what spirituality is all about.”
“We’ll often get students who are culturally Catholic, but they’ve never really gone deeply into that area of their lives,” he said. “They come to you ready to be filled up with some kind of deeper knowledge.”
Boomgaarden has a variety of interests and hobbies. He still plays piano regularly, including performing one large recital a year, and he also likes to ride motorcycles.
“It’s your way to connect with the students,” he said. “That really opens a lot of doors. You can have a lot of conversations with young people.”
Looking ahead into his tenure, Boomgaarden said he’s already felt a sense of good will about the school and what it can become under his leadership.
“There’s something kind of magical about it,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it’s got a kind of quality that is really special.”