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Dillard University improves retention and career placement after one year of Rochelle L. Ford, Ph.D., APR serving as president


July 18, 2023
Contact: Victoria Alexis, valexis@dillard.edu


As Dillard University transitioned presidents on July 1, 2022, they promised to perform like a championship relay team passing the baton in a race. The results of the first year of Dr. Rochelle L. Ford, APR serving as Dillard’s eighth president of Dillard University demonstrated that approach worked as evidenced by continued improvement of retention and career placement rates, improvements in campus facilities, staff and faculty support, and new external funding to support scholarships and infrastructure.

Student employment outcomes improved from 62% in 2021-2022 to 72% in the 2022-2023 graduating classes. The university also improved student retention from Fall 2022 to Spring 2023 by three percentage points.

“The university staff, faculty, alumni, board of trustees and community members worked collaboratively to activate our commitment to cultivate leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely and act courageously to make the world a better place,” said Ford. “This collaborative effort has resulted in advancing what is now called the DU3: facilities that withstand the forecast, fortifying our staff and faculty, and financing the future.”

One of these key advancements was securing approximately $40 million from the Department of Education to build a new mixed-use facility on Norman Mayer Avenue that will also serve as a new living, learning serving community, residential housing for 200 students, multiple apartments for faculty and staff, and space dedicated to serving the Gentilly Community.  Working with Dillard’s Vice President of Facilities and Real Estate Management Marion Bracy, the design build and owners representative team leading this effort include New Orleans-based firms Landis LLC, Landmark Consulting, CDW Services, and Trapolin Peer Architects.

Another major accomplishment under Dr. Ford’s tenure was the approval to offer a master of science program in nursing, which will have its inaugural class in the fall semester of 2023. With concentrations in education, entrepreneurship and administration, this nursing graduate degree is the first master’s program offered in the 153-year history of the university. 

“The commencement of this master’s program re-ignites the legacy of Dillard nurses who were instrumental in starting nursing programs throughout the city, state and nation,” said Dillard University Trustee Dr. Michael Griffin ’94, President/CEO, Ascension DePaul Services of New Orleans. 

To complement the university’s General Assembly and Academic Senate, which represent Dillard’s faculty shared governance model, Dr. Ford established a staff council to be “the Voice” of all Dillard full-time and part-time staff members. The council, with 12 representatives  from the University’s six divisions, selected assistant Rachel Mercadel, who has worked at Dillard for over 34 years, as its chair. The council  immediately began developing and executing strategic plans to address staff interest areas, while enhancing communication and collaboration between the staff, faculty, students and administration.  

Staff and faculty have increased their grant writing and involvement in university advancement resulting in more than $13.7 million in private and public contributions.  Some of the funded grants include $1.3M from the Department of Education to fund the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, $700,000 from the Mellon Foundation to support the University’s Food Studies Program, $750,000 from the Department of Interior to preserve Howard House, and $225,000 from the United Methodist Church Black College Fund to support Lawless Chapel Renovations.

“The University exceeded its fundraising goals by 10%, with the private donors contributing more than $720,000, including UNCF’s emergency fund support, toward the University’s Emergency Sustainability Fund established as the campus recovered from power outages this year,” said Stephanie K. Rogers, new Executive VP for Institutional Advancement. “We appreciate our generous alumni and friends who have established endowed scholarships to support our students including the James J. Smith McGregor Foundation Endowment, the Banks Family Safe Fund Endowment, the Simmons / Georges Endowment, the New York Presbyterian Health Transfer Endowment and the Dr. Joyce M. Verrett Endowment.”

With a continued focus on student engagement, this year also marked the re-establishment of Dillard’s study abroad programs, with students participating in short term research in Cuba, Italy, Germany, and Japan. Dillard students won the prestigious Rangle Fellowship through the Department of State and had a student qualify as a Fulbright Scholar finalist.

“As an international scholar athlete and physics and chemistry double major, I not only competed in a sport I love, I completed undergraduate STEM research, learned about semiconductors in Japan, participated in community service, and served as a summer mentor in Dillard University – Quantum Computing – Women in STEM High School Experience (DU-QC-WISHES) summer program,” said Anja Hribljan, a junior chemistry/physics double major tennis player from Serbia. 

Under the direction of Dr. Linda Bell, athletic director, Dillard garnered significant achievements in sports this year, winning GCAC championships in baseball (in its inaugural year), women’s cross country, and women’s track and field. 

Making a commitment to being a communiversity, Dr. Ford has moved onto campus to reside at the newly restored President’s House to round out her first year, marking the first time in 18 years that Dillard’s president has lived on campus. 

“I appreciate Dr. Ford and Dillard renewing their leadership role in the city. She was recently selected as the chair of the GNO Inc. Higher Education Consortium,” said Mr. Michael Hecht, President and CEO of GNO, Inc.  “She has engaged meaningfully in efforts to advocate for economic development in our community including our fall Capitol Hill visit, Washington Mardi Gras, H2TheFuture grant, and GNOu Summit.”

After a first year of major accomplishments, Dr. Ford plans to keep the momentum in her second year. Looking ahead, her key focuses for next year include:

  • Continuing facilities upgrades for HVAC, external and internal lighting systems and sustainability
  • Expanding staff and faculty grant writing expertise and grant funding
  • Launching student financial and wealth management services
  • Launching an office of family engagement
  • Adding softball to the roster of athletic programs 

“During the interview process, students, faculty, and trustees alike were blown away by Dr. Ford’s insight, passion, and drive. Within her first few weeks on campus, Dr. Ford solidified her position as a dynamic, charismatic, and visionary leader. After one year in office, she continues to lead by example, generating excitement for investment in and partnership with Dillard while demanding excellence without excuses from her team and herself,” said Michael D. Jones, Esq. ‘82, Chair, Partner, Kirkland & Ellis LLP. “She has us laser focused on issues that will enhance the student experience, such as enhancing our facilities, making it easier for students to navigate financial aid, and more broadly and more clearly sharing the Dillard story of a historical University, still producing history makers.”###