What are University Mission Statements Telling Us?

For this post, I considered the mission statements of two higher education institutions, both of which I attended: Nazareth College and Syracuse University. (See full mission statement texts below.) Nazareth College (Naz to those who go there) is located in Rochester, NY and was founded in 1924. Syracuse University is in Syracuse, NY and was founded in 1870. Both are private institutions. Nazareth is a relatively small, liberal arts college, around 2,000 undergraduate and 800 graduate students, while Syracuse is a “highest research activity” university and has nearly 22,000 students, undergraduate and graduate. Both schools confer undergraduate and Master’s degrees. Nazareth also offers Doctorate of Physically Therapy degrees. Syracuse offers a wide array of Ph.D. and professional degrees.

Right from the beginning, there is an interesting difference in what the two mission statements emphasize. Nazareth opens their statement with a commitment to providing a “learning community” that educates their students in many fields and with many intellectual competencies. Syracuse, however, opens their statement with a commitment to attracting the “best scholars from around the world.” Syracuse also notes the ways in which their faculty can “support student success.” The impression that comes across is that Nazareth prioritizes its students and what it can provide for them and Syracuse prioritizes or highlights its faculty and its competitiveness. Why this is the case, I can’t say for sure. Having attended both schools, I found the administration, faculty, staff, and others to be equally attentive to student needs.

Additionally, Nazareth emphasizes how it seeks students who want to make a difference in the world and are committed to service. (Not unlike Virginia Tech’s motto: Ut Prosim.) Syracuse does not seem to have a similar emphasis. While Nazareth makes a point of noting its commitment to various values such as service, ethics, and aesthetics, Syracuse focuses on “innovation” and entrepreneurship. In fact, a little over 100 words, Syracuse’s mission statement mentions innovation twice. The implication seems to be that Nazareth wants to connect the education it offers to developing well-rounded, active and engaged citizens. Syracuse seems to be positioning itself on the “cutting edge” of an economy and culture that increasingly values “start-ups” and an entrepreneurial ethos.

Finally, as a brief aside, Nazareth was founded by the Roman Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph. However, in the 1970s, the college became independent of the church and is currently non-denominational. Despite this, it is interesting to note that their mission statement still specifically mentions fostering a life informed by “spiritual” values. In my experience, spiritual life is still very much present on Nazareth’s campus, of many denominations and faiths. There was at the time of my attendance a two course religious studies requirement (I took Introduction to Religion and Buddhism) but there are no religious requirements such as compulsory church attendance.

I don’t want to read too much into short documents, such as mission statements, in isolation. In order to get a full picture of how these schools view themselves, their students, and their faculty, one would need to speak with those groups of people and perhaps enroll in a course or two. However, mission statements are part of the public face that these schools put forward.

With this in mind, if I were looking for a college or university in which to pursue my education and the only information I had to make my decision were mission statements, I would choose to attend Nazareth College. Its emphasis on students first and foremost is more appealing to me than the emphasis on prestige of faculty emphasized by Syracuse. Finally, even though Syracuse uses the term “liberal arts” in its mission statement, Nazareth’s commitment to its liberal arts values comes through more clearly and appeals more to my intellectual and normative orientations than the more research focused language of Syracuse.


Mission Statements:

Nazareth College

The mission of Nazareth College is to provide a learning community that educates students in the liberal arts, sciences, visual and performing arts, and professional fields, fostering commitment to a life informed by intellectual, ethical, spiritual, and aesthetic values; to develop skills necessary for the pursuit of meaningful careers; and to inspire dedication to the ideal of service to their communities.

Nazareth seeks students who want to make a difference in their own world and the world around them, and encourages them to develop the understanding, commitment, and confidence to lead fully informed and actively engaged lives.

Syracuse University

As a university with the capacity to attract and engage the best scholars from around the world, yet small enough to support a personalized and academically rigorous student experience, Syracuse University faculty and staff support student success by:

  • Encouraging global study, experiential learning, interdisciplinary scholarship, creativity, and entrepreneurial endeavors
  • Balancing professional studies with an intensive liberal arts education
  • Fostering a richly diverse and inclusive community of learning and opportunity
  • Promoting a culture of innovation and discovery
  • Supporting faculty, staff, and student collaboration in creative activity and research that address emerging opportunities and societal needs
  • Maintaining pride in our location and history as a place of access, engagement, innovation, and impact

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