Gratz Looks to Grow, Will Add Executive

college president headshot
Paul Finkelman | Courtesy of Gratz College

Gratz College, which has seen its enrollment grow 31% in the last year, is planning a continued expansion, including hiring another top executive.

The Melrose Park-based college announced Aug. 13 that President Paul Finkelman will become its chancellor at the end of the 2020-’21 academic year, with a replacement hired for his presidency role.

“What the college is trying to do is essentially create a high-level administrative position that isn’t focusing on the day-to-day operations,” Finkelman said.

In his new role, Finkelman will be tasked with big-picture issues. He said he wants the college to educate both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities worldwide.

“As chancellor, I will have more time to send this message out to the world,” he said.

Finkelman said the new position will give him more of a chance to teach — he also was named the Haym Solomon Distinguished Professor of History — as well as write a book on the history of Jews in the United States legal profession.

One of Finkelman’s main goals will be to continue growing the student body, which has increased to about 500 students, up 35% since he took office in 2017.

“I would like to see Gratz double in size over the next few years,” he said.

Finkelman noted that there are no real growth inhibitors online except perhaps available bandwidth.

While the pandemic has wreaked havoc with many institutions of higher learning that have struggled to adjust to online learning, that wasn’t the case at Gratz, Finkelman said.

“When the pandemic began, Gratz was about 95% online in terms of our credit program,” he said, adding that programs such as adult education, which had been held on campus, are now online as well.

“We know how to do online,” he said.

By focusing online, Gratz, which was founded in 1895, has drawn a worldwide base of students, including in countries without large Jewish populations or where it is difficult to be Jewish, Finkelman said. For example, two Gratz students are located in Turkey.

Finkelman estimates that only about half of all Gratz students are Jewish these days.

“I can’t be certain because I can’t ask,” he said, noting that that doesn’t deter from Gratz’s mission or heritage. “We’re building friends and allies.”

Expanded relationships with other Jewish organizations is on the table, too, Finkelman said, noting that talks are ongoing between both a domestic university, as well as an international institution. Gratz recently renewed its teaching arrangement with the Women’s Institute of Torah Seminary and College in Baltimore.

Although Gratz is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, the pandemic prompted the postponement of its annual gala, which was to feature CNN’s Jake Tapper as speaker. An online version with Tapper is planned for December.

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