All in the numbers: A look at ‘astonishing’ accomplishments at Stevens

School’s dominance in U.S. News online rankings this week is just 1 measure of its recent wins

Nariman Farvardin. (Stevens Institute)

Forgive Stevens Institute of Technology President Nariman Farvardin if he’s into numbers. After all, he’s the head of one of the top STEM schools in the country. He’s a geek (his words, not mine — and more on that later). And he needs numbers to fully explain what’s going on these days at the school in the heart of Hoboken.

“What is happening at Stevens is nothing short of astonishing,” he said.

He then proves it. With data.

At a time when schools are struggling to find students, undergraduate applications at Stevens are up for the 11th year in a row. Up 10.6%, Farvardin said. Or more than enough to easily fill the two new landmark-defining dorms that will house approximately 1,000 students while offering a perfect view of Manhattan when they open next fall, he said.

Graduate school applications somehow are exponentially better. Farvardin said Stevens had more than 5,000 students apply for 750 spots for this spring — a year-over-year increase of 164%. Applications for next fall’s graduate courses already are up 57%.

“I told you, it’s astonishing,” he said. “It used to be that we would be very happy if we got 2%, 3%, 4% growth. We don’t have single-digit growth anymore.”

Of the 750 graduate students who entered Stevens in January, approximately 30% are doing so as online students.

Which leads to the next number.

Of the seven rankings for online learning released this week by U.S. News & World Report, Stevens had the best ranking in New Jersey in six of them. Its master’s in information technology was ranked the No. 8 program in the country.

Farvardin, who celebrated his 10th anniversary at the school last summer by signing a contract for five more years, admits words can help describe the scene, too.

“Stevens has been doing very well in a number of areas for a number of years,” he said. “I think now, we’ve reached that tipping point. I think there’s a buzz about Stevens.

“Everybody knows about the quality of education. Everybody knows about our placement record. Everybody knows about the starting salary. Everybody knows about the importance of technology. So, all of these forces are coming together to create a buzz about this university.”

The numbers keep coming.

Last year’s graduating class broke its record for placement, as 97.3% either landed a job — with a starting salary of approximately $80,000 — or a spot in graduate school.

Farvardin credits the school’s relationship with technology for so much of this — especially its success in online learning.

While Stevens has had virtual classrooms going back two decades, it put an emphasis on online learning four years ago, starting its current program. It was an initiative that was not driven by the pandemic, but a recognition of the future.

“Four years ago, we said, ‘Online is going to be disrupting technology in the coming years,’” he said. “And, whenever there is a disruption in any business, there are losers and winners. We wanted to be winners. So, we made a conscious decision to make a lot of upfront investments.

“You cannot just say, ‘I want to grow my online’ and go from zero to 800 students in four years as we did. It requires a lot of market study and very sophisticated and targeted communication to find the right students and get them to apply to a program. I think we’re seeing the fruit of those investments.”

In theory, the beauty of online learning is there is no limit to the number of students a university can enroll. Schools such as Arizona State University, Purdue University and the University of Maryland are testing that idea every year.

Farvardin said he’s not interested in being a winner in that race.

“What really matters is building a program where quality and prestige and impact are central,” he said. “So, we want to grow, and we want to have a very significant footprint in online education.”

How much? Glad you asked. Farvardin was speaking to ROI-NJ after taking a break from an off-site meeting with the board of trustees. The question of size just came up, he said.

“Our total online enrollment, as of a couple of days ago, was about 850,” he said. “We are talking about the possibility of growing this to almost 10 times that in a decade.”

Doing so will be a challenge, but one Farvardin said the Stevens community is eager to take on. Unlike other schools, there has been no pushback to online learning at Stevens. In fact, it has been welcomed.

Call it the geek factor.

“For starters, we are called Stevens Institute of Technology,” he said with a laugh. “There is a certain level of comfort and certain level of proficiency that our community, faculty, staff and students have with technology that those at a liberal arts school do not.

“And, No. 2: A lot of our people are geeks. Don’t forget that. You ask a geek like myself, ‘Can you deliver your lecture online … can you enhance your lecture using technology?’ and we say, ‘That’s a great opportunity, give me the tools to try it.’”

Farvardin knows this isn’t the reaction given by others around the country. And that’s OK. It’s what sets Stevens apart, he said.

“We are a different breed of people,” he said. “We are very technology-savvy. We look forward to the opportunity to deliver education using a different vehicle.”

The numbers show they are doing all that and more.